Background image of Kids line up in front of a salad bar cart including black beans, carrots, and snow peas at Parrish Middle School in Salem, Oregon.

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Building a better future for kids with healthy, local lunches

Despite living in one of the most productive farming regions in the world, a staggering number of our kids are hungry.

Oregon produces hundreds of varieties of nutritious fruits and vegetables, supports large swathes of grazing land, and enjoys a smorgasbord of seafood from coastal communities.

So why is one in every four children in Oregon living in food insecurity and poverty? Many factors contribute to the growing inequities in our region, but one of the biggest problems we face is a broken food system.

Take school lunch, for example. Where do our at-risk kids eat most of their meals? At school. In Oregon alone, more than 300,000 meals are served in school cafeterias every day. More than 70 percent of those meals are eaten by low-income students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

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Unfortunately, these lunches are often pre-packaged, highly processed foods—poor fuel for active, growing bodies and minds. That’s why, over 10 years ago, Ecotrust started helping school districts put healthy, local food onto kids’ plates with our Farm to School program.

Farm to School is a social and economic win-win: students get the nutritious food they need to thrive, and when school districts direct their dollars to local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, they help create good jobs and drive economic uplift across the region.

Imagine this: if Oregon schools could direct even 20 percent of their food budgets to purchasing local food, it would create $42 million in economic benefit in the state.

In short, when schools spend more dollars locally, they’re helping build up both healthy kids and a healthy economy. Nutritious, locally-sourced meals help children succeed academically today. And with the economic boost provided by schools spending more of their dollars here at home, our kids can look forward to a more economically stable future as well.

We’ve come a long ways, but there’s a lot more work to do. Getting good, local food from the farm to the plate—or in this case, the lunch line—isn’t easy. Small and mid-sized family farmers face huge barriers to making their businesses successful. They’re stuck in the “Ag of the Middle”—too small to sell to big purchasers like schools, yet too large to make a living simply by selling at farmers’ markets. “Ag of the Middle” farms have been disappearing at alarming rates in the last 15 years because of the steep economic challenges they face.

Together we can remove these barriers to a vibrant and healthy regional food system, and get more good local food into our schools. That means helping farmers with the infrastructure they need to survive and to grow—things like distribution, warehousing, storage, and processing equipment. And it means helping schools access the resources and connections they need to bring healthy, local food to those who need it most.

This important work is made possible only by the support of people like you. As we head into the season of giving, we hope you will consider making a gift to Ecotrust. Your support is vital to fixing our broken food system and seeding a healthy future for generations to come. Thank you!

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