New EATS Park City director salivates at new challenge
Jenae Ridge wants to broaden the nonprofit’s influence in the community
July 3, 2017
Jenae Ridge didn't grow up in a particularly health-conscious household.
Fast food and boxed dinners were staples. She guesses that she didn't learn how to cut an onion until she was old enough to drive. Her mission now will be to ensure children in Park City — and their families — learn about the benefits of healthy eating long before she did.
EATS Park City, a nonprofit dedicated to helping local students develop healthy eating habits, recently announced Ridge's hiring as its executive director. Ridge, who will leave her post as a program coordinator for The Green Urban Lunch Box in Salt Lake City, replaces Ann Bloomquist, who helped start the rapidly growing nonprofit in 2013.
Ridge said she's thrilled about the prospect of making a difference in a community like Park City that is passionate about healthy living.
"I just feel like the skills of cooking and eating whole food are ridiculously important," she said. "I found a lot of value in that later in life. I think it's great to be able to bring that not only at the youth level, but also within entire families."
Courtney Caplan, board president of EATS, said in a press release that Ridge is the perfect replacement for Bloomquist, who in various roles shepherded the organization through its infancy and did not draw a salary for her contributions, according to the nonprofit's website. Ridge will be the EATS' first paid executive director, but her salary was not disclosed.
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"Jenae's holistic approach and unique perspective will greatly benefit EATS and the goals we aim to achieve as we work with Park City schools, students, families and the wider community," Caplan said. "We’re thrilled to have her coming on board."
Ridge joins EATS as its impact in Park City continues to increase. It started off small, with the support of just a handful of residents, but has developed a number of successful programs — ranging from student cooking classes to taste tests — that have been implemented within Park City schools. The nonprofit achieved perhaps its largest triumph last fall, when the Park City School District announced it would be phasing out the usage of 15 unhealthy ingredients from school meals.
But so far, the influence of EATS has existed primarily within the schools. One of Ridge's primary goals will be expanding the nonprofit's scope to the entire community. Teaching students about healthy eating and natural foods is wonderful, she said, but educating parents — the people who actually stock fridges and cupboards — can make an even bigger difference.
Ridge envisions expanding EATS' mission to include efforts like teaching adults the basics like how to purchase ripe produce and how to feed a family healthy food on a budget.
"EATS has done a good job of that just being in the schools because that reaches every student," she said. "What I would like to bring to that is getting the families more involved. The kids don't make the decisions. If somebody would have taught me as a kid about some of these things, sure, maybe you reach me. But if you taught my family how to do these things, it would have changed everything."
Ridge brings with her extensive experience. She studied social work at Michigan State University, where she became involved in the healthy eating movement. Her first exposure was working with an group that organized farmer's markets and community gardens. She then spent time in places like India and Hawaii, where her interest in natural food deepened.
Years later, her passion has become clear: She said her ultimate goal is to unite communities through food. Ridge sees leading EATS into a new era in Park City as her most exciting challenge yet.
"I think having a connection to something bigger than yourself is really important," she said. "… I'm excited to be able to bring in some new stuff to Park City."