School Garden News – Oregon

Growing lunch
by Leslie Cole, The Oregonian

Schools embrace healthier kids with locally-grown foods

Mention school lunches, and it’s hard to find someone who’s not hungry for change.

Maybe you can’t see, smell or taste it just yet, but the shape of public school meals is shifting, in the Portland area and beyond.

Food costs are climbing, money is tight and results that resonate with families across the state will take time. But right now, the future of the school cafeteria looks promising.

Some recent developments:
• Two years after a splashy pilot program of scratch cooking and gardening began at Abernethy Elementary in Southeast Portland, Oregon has new positions in two state agencies dedicated to what’s known as “farm-to-school.”

Cory Schreiber in the Department of Agriculture and Joan Ottinger in the Department of Education are charged with connecting farmers with school cafeterias, encouraging students to eat more local fruits and vegetables, seeding a statewide school garden program and getting lessons about food into classrooms.

• Local purchasing has taken a big leap forward. More than 32percent of Oregon schools buy some of their food for school lunches from farmers and processors in their communities, according to an Oregon Department of Agriculture survey. Recently relaxed rules in the 2008 federal farm act encourage more local purchasing. School districts that buy more than a certain dollar amount must get bids on food purchases. For many years, it was impossible to cite a preference for local products (meaning Washington, Oregon and Northern California) when soliciting bids. Last year, that restriction was removed.

Despite other hurdles — and there are many — school food service directors are buying fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farmers when they can, with little or no additional federal or state money in their pockets.

A yearlong grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Foundation has given enough oomph to two public school districts — Portland and Gervais — to put not just locally grown produce on lunch trays, but also monthly hot entrees in Portland schools using Oregon products.
Doug BeghtelThe food that students grow end up in the cafeteria and could someday, school officials say, defray as much as 20 percent of the cafeteria’s produce costs.
“We want to use it to demonstrate what could be possible statewide,” says Deborah Kane, vice president of the food and farms program at Ecotrust, which supports farm-to-school activities around the West.

What’s missing is permanent funding. Oregon is one of only a handful of states that does not provide money for public school meals. School districts need more resources, say a coalition of food and public health activists working on farm-to-school issues, to create programs that reach every student.

Farm-to-school supporters are gearing up to ask for it: State Reps. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and Brian Clem (D-Salem) plan to introduce legislation in 2009 requesting that the state match a portion of the federal dollars if districts purchase Oregon foods. If the bill is enacted, the state would kick in as much as 15 cents for every lunch and 7 cents for every breakfast to purchase foods produced, packaged or processed in Oregon. The proposed legislation also would provide up to 150 grants for complementary food- and garden-based education, up to $10,000 a school year for each of two years.

Meanwhile, some Oregonians aren’t waiting. School gardens are taking root in pockets around the state, helped along by community members, passionate teachers and parent volunteers. With grants and donations, a new culinary arts program is getting off the ground in the Centennial district, with the hope of introducing at-risk teens to a lifetime of more healthful eating.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, sample a few stories of change, below.
lesliecole@news.oregonian.com

Farm-to-school links:
Ecotrust (events, program overviews, assistance and legislative updates),
www.ecotrust.org/farmtoschool

National Farm to School Program
www.farmtoschool.org

Portland Public Schools’ Local Lunch program
www.nutrition.pps.k12.or.us/.docs/pg/10173

Growing Gardens’ school garden resource page
www.growing-gardens.org
(click on Resources, then School Gardens)

Bend/LaPine farm-to-school program
www.bend.k12.or.us
(click on Parents, Nutrition, Menus, and Farm to School)

Centennial Learning Center
www.centennial.k12.or.us/schools/clc

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