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Farm to School: the ABCs of Fresh Food
by Katie Cordrey
An innovative effort to bring locally-grown foods to Oregon's school children and to help them understand where their food comes from received a big thumbs-up when the Oregon State Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 2800 in July.
HB 2800, aslo known as the "Farm to School and School Gardens" bill provides $200,000 to a pilot program to rev up the provision of Oregon-grown foods and hands-on, garden-based education to public school students. The funds will allow school districts an extra 15-cents per school meal to buy Oregon foods and produce.
This is good news for small farmers whose livelihoods depend upon locavore consumption and for students whose lifelong health will be improved by a preference for fruits and vegetables developed in childhood.
Ecotrust, the Oregon Departments of Education and Agriculture, Kaiser Permanente, and the Northwest Health Foundation, have all been involved in nurturing the Farm to School concept, but others play a role too.
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David Shonk, owner of Twelve Mile Market natural foods market in Gresham, and Bumblebee Farm, a certified organic farm in Troutdale, is one of an increasing number of farmers who supply fresh, local food to school kitchens.
"This is Bumblebee Farm's second season supplying fresh from the field food to Lewis and Clark Montassori charter school," Shonk says. He goes on to state that he's excited to be part of the Farm to School program and enjoys knowing that he is putting healthful food on students' lunch trays.
"I love helping students understand and interact with where their food can come from, our local organic farms and gardens." Shonk posted on the Ecotrust-sponsored Good Grub and Gardens website.
The Farm to School program is a great fit for producers like Bumblebee that have made a commitment to superior nutrition, interactive education, and healthy ecology, but it's not the only way to get field-fresh food on the plates of Oregon's school students.
CREST Farm is a school District-owned producer cultivating a 10-acre parcel of designated farmland adjacent to Boones Ferry Primary School in Wilsonville. The West Linn- Wilsonville District farm meets educational goals by providing hands-on student experiences and bolsters the District's wellness efforts by providing the District's cafeterias with quality, fresh produce for their young patrons.
Weston Miller of OSU Extension faculty has commented that the CREST Farm to School program and site can serve as a model to other districts in the Portland metro region that want to harvest both educational and nutritional benefits for children in their schools.
While CREST is modeling the grow-your-own strategy, Portland Public Schools' semi-monthly Harvest of the Month program started in 2007. It serves a locally grown fruit or vegetable at lunch to help students connect the food on their plates to where it is grown.
The Portland schools' Local Flavors Program also aims to put more fresh, sustainable food on students' trays. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sourced from local farmers and more than 30 % of Portland Public Schools' food purchases are from local suppliers.
To provide hands-on learning, Portland's schools have a resource in Zenger Farm, a non-profit farm and wetland in outer southeast Portland. Zenger offers practical, applied youth education in sustainable agriculture, wetland ecology, food Food/Education continuedsecurity, healthful eating, and local economic development.
Committed students, staff, parents and community volunteers have also provided direct experience and benefited the local community by creating more than 40 edible gardens throughout the Portland School District's area.
With the movement toward healthful eating gathering credibility, supported by national advocates like First Lady Michelle Obama, the vision of serving locally grown produce to students is one fully deserving of citizen support. Oregon's Farm to School and School Gardens projects promote health, provide education, increase mindfulness about the environment, and help to strengthen the local economy. It doesn't get much better than that!
For more information on Farm to School programs:
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