Background image of two students stand in a garden bagging a zucchini

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Investing in the future of farm to school

New funding in Oregon gives all schools the opportunity to bring local food to the table

Earlier this summer, Oregon passed landmark legislation to provide $4.5 million in funding for the state’s school districts to purchase local food and support farm to school programming through 2017. The bill, which is the first in the nation to offer funds to all school districts that participate in the federal school lunch program (not just those who receive competitive grants), will mean great things for kids, schools, and farmers.

Broken down, that $4.5 million adds an additional four cents to every meal served to every school child throughout the state to be spent on local food — including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and minimally processed products that come from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen.

This bill will directly benefit local food producers, and, according to our 2011 report “The Impact of Seven Cents,” there will also be a downstream impact, as these dollars ripple throughout the state’s economy. According to our assessment, Oregon’s economy overall can expect a boost of $8.4 million.

The largest school district in the state, Portland Public Schools, serves 11,000 school breakfasts, 21,000 school lunches, and 1,800 suppers to students daily. According to Director of Nutrition Services Gitta Grether-Sweeney, PPS allocates only $1.38 per meal to spend on food. An extra four cents per meal will help Grether-Sweeney’s budget stretch, while supporting producers and positively impacting the local economy.

In addition to providing more money directly for food purchases, the bill also supports other farm to school activities like school gardens, farm visits, and in-classroom education. The importance of supporting these auxiliary activities is best expressed by Kasandra Griffin of Upstream Public Health:

“Kids will do many things with beets if you serve them in a cafeteria. They make great projectiles, they make great face paint. But if a kid grows a beet in a school garden, they will actually eat beets when they are served in the cafeteria or at home, because it reminds them of the time they grew a beet themselves, and they liked it.”

Regardless of how you feel about beets, that kind of change in behavior has ripple effects of its own — not only for the child eating at school, but for their families. And our school kids are some of our most vulnerable citizens. According to the Oregon Department of Education, half of all school kids in Oregon qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.

For more than ten years, Ecotrust has been deeply involved in farm to school work in Oregon and throughout the region. During that time, we have had the opportunity to see farm to school grow to a movement leading the way for transformative and holistic food system change. This most recent legislation is just the cherry on top.