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Oregon designates $1.2 million for local food in schools

This fall, Oregon school districts will reap local harvests in a big way, thanks to new funding from the Oregon Legislature.

“We envision a day not too far off, when schools across our state will be serving meals sourced primarily from Oregon’s bounty.”

In the session concluded on July 8, the Legislature awarded nearly $1.2 million for Farm to School and School Garden programs for the 2013-15 biennium.  

The majority of the funds will directly reimburse school districts for the purchase of Oregon foods, and are expected to strengthen Oregon’s food economy and contribute to local job creation and food security. The remaining portion is for food, garden, and agricultural education. Distributed to school districts through a competitive grant program, funds will be awarded in August so that selected districts can buy and serve local foods as soon as school starts this fall – during the peak of Oregon’s harvest season.

Farm to School and School Garden programs are a win-win-win for Oregon’s kids, schools, and agricultural community. They have been proven to foster healthy eating habits, improve academic achievement, and increase school meal participation and food service staff morale. The programs also open new market opportunities for food producers and stimulate local economies.

“The magnitude of this round of funding is really a game changer for our state,” noted Stacey Sobell, Farm to School Manager for Ecotrust. “The financial implication is that districts will not only be able to individually seek out and serve more Oregon foods, but they will also be able to collectively use their purchasing power to shift the broader market and persuade food suppliers to provide healthy foods sourced close to home.”

Oregon is a national leader in the Farm to School and School Garden movement. Anupama Joshi, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the National Farm to School Network, says “The progress Oregon has made with Farm to School policies and innovative programming in just a few years is truly remarkable. Oregon is providing a great example for how state level commitments can support healthy children, healthy farms and healthy communities.”

Upstream and Ecotrust kicked off local advocacy efforts last fall by coordinating over 20 legislator visits to cafeterias, gardens, and ride-alongs on school field trips to farms. “We wanted legislators to see the benefits of Farm to School and school garden programs firsthand. Once they saw how excited kids can get about fresh kale they’ve picked themselves, and how much kids can learn about science from a compost bin, the result was overwhelming support for program expansion,” says Kasandra Griffin, Policy Manager on Food and School Health at Upstream Public Health.

Bill co-sponsors Representative Brian Clem (D-Salem) and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-Portland) have been championing Farm to School together since 2007 and were instrumental in securing funding.   Rep. Clem said, “We are tremendously excited about the economic stimulus this investment represents for Oregon farmers, as well as the potential it has to inspire big changes in the types of foods that are served in our schools. We envision a day not too far off, when schools across our state will be serving meals sourced primarily from Oregon’s bounty.” Speaker Kotek listed Farm to School as one of her top accomplishments of the session in her end-of-session press release.

Applications for grant funds are due to the Oregon Department of Education on July 31. The timeline was planned so that awards can be made in time for fall purchases of fresh produce. Only school districts can apply, but community organizations, parents, and other volunteers are encouraged to help school districts with their applications and their programs.

Grant details: http://www.ode.state.or.us/wma/nutrition/snp/hb2649_rfa__final_6_03_13.docx

For more on the proven benefits of Farm to School and school garden programs, see: http://www.farmtoschool.org/files/publications_514.pdf
http://www.upstreampublichealth.org/sites/default/files/F2SHIA_FINALlow-res_0.pdf