Farm to School investment yields a healthy return into state coffers
Release Date: 03-18-2009

PORTLAND, Ore. — As state lawmakers search for ways to immediately stimulate Oregon’s malnourished economy, a new economic impact analysis proves that investing in locally produced foods for the school lunchroom fortifies the state’s economy with dollars previously spent elsewhere.

A preliminary analysis of the impact of investing school food dollars in the local food economy was released today by Ecotrust. The analysis was conducted as part of a rigorous review of the local buying practices currently underway in two public school districts in Oregon, Gervais and Portland, where school foodservice directors are using a philanthropic investment made by the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation to test the impact of proposed “farm to school” policies currently being debated in the Oregon Legislature.

Much like the legislation currently under consideration, the Kaiser Permanente grant allocates funds on a per meal basis (seven cents per lunch served) to a combined total of 91 schools in Gervais and Portland for the express purpose of buying more Oregon grown, processed and manufactured food for the lunchroom. Early results indicate that over a 14-week time period (mid-Sept. – Dec. 2008), the two districts received $66,193 in Kaiser Permanente grant funds. Those funds, in turn, catalyzed $225,869 in local purchasing.

The data reveal three key findings. First, as researchers predicted, a small amount of money can leverage much greater investment in local purchasing, as over 71 percent of the $225,869 spent on local products was the result of existing school spending being shifted to the Oregon economy. Second, an input-output analysis was used to estimate the economic benefits of these purchases to the Oregon economy and shows that for every food dollar spent locally by the two school districts, an additional 87 cents was spent in Oregon, generating a multiplier of 1.87 for farm to school spending. Finally, research confirms that the economic benefits of investments made in the Oregon agricultural community trigger successive spending in almost every sector of the Oregon economy. The analysis revealed that dollars spent in Oregon agriculture reverberated into 401 of 409 of the state’s economic sectors. Researchers will continue to study the effects of local buying practices throughout the remainder of the school year, but believe data from the first three months of the pilot project provide early signs of success.

“This research confirms that farm to school programs are a viable investment that can make an immediate impact on nearly every sector of our state’s economy,” said Deborah Kane, vice president of the Food and Farms program for Ecotrust. “We knew the effort would likely benefit the Oregon agricultural community, and of course Oregon’s children. We were encouraged to learn that the benefits extend far beyond the most obvious.”

The study has identified other benefits as well. In Gervais, Kaiser Permanente grant dollars allowed schools to offer a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables than had been served in the prior year. Increased demand for local products expanded market opportunities for more than two dozen Oregon farmers, food processors and manufacturers. In Portland, community partnerships blossomed to support the changes taking place in the cafeteria, with area grocery stores championing school food improvements as part of the grant. And once schools introduced a new menu item, such as a locally produced salsa, the demand and popularity of the product grew and it did not go away after a single serving.

“The extra investment in our lunch program gave us tremendous purchasing power, so that across the board, products that we had been buying outside of Oregon — apples, beef, chili, cheese, corn — we were able to source locally,” said Kristy Obbink, nutrition services director, Portland Public Schools District. “This demonstrates how we can take a few cents and sprinkle it over the entire school meal and drive way more money into the Oregon economy.”

As the farm to school pilot program continues in two districts, interest and momentum for sourcing local in the lunchroom is growing statewide as indicated in a recent poll of Oregon foodservice directors conducted by Ecotrust. From Coos Bay to Milton-Freewater, from Woodburn to Medford, survey participants self-reported that if given an additional 15 cents for every lunch served in their district, they would seek out Oregon grown, processed or manufactured products, with a particular interest in fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, dairy products, beef and bakery products. Of those districts that completed the survey, 88 percent were currently buying some local products for the lunch room, but reported that the number one barrier to purchasing more local products is limited funds.

HB 2800 Would Fund Farm to School Statewide and Generate Revenue to the State
On the heels of the positive results of the study, Ecotrust and partners, is working with State Representatives Tina Kotek (D – North/Northeast Portland) and Brian Clem (D – Salem) to introduce a bill this legislative session (HB 2800) to fund ongoing farm to school efforts statewide. HB 2800 builds upon the existing farm to school infrastructure, which was cast in place during the 2007 legislative session and 2008 special session, and requests $22.6 million during the 2009 fiscal biennium, an investment that organizers forecast will provide a two-fold return in economic impact statewide.

“Given the current economic climate and the Legislature’s focus on stimulating Oregon’s economy, funding farm to school programs in the state is a risk-free investment and proven to return more dollars to the local economy and help shore up agricultural and food-related jobs,” said Clem.

For every meal served, HB 2800 proposes to provide state funding in the amounts of seven cents per breakfast and 15 cents per lunch so that school districts can invest in Oregon grown, processed and manufactured foods for use in school cafeterias. In order for school districts to access state funds made available by HB 2800 to support local purchases, districts must first demonstrate a one-to-one-match using federal funds through the USDA’s National School Lunch and Breakfast program. By leveraging existing federal dollars, the economic impact on Oregon’s agriculture and food manufacturing sectors will be compounded. The bill also provides grant funds to support agriculture- and food-based curriculum and garden-based education.

About Ecotrust
Ecotrust’s mission is to inspire fresh thinking that creates social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental well-being. Over nearly 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $60 million in grants into more than $300 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust is a new kind of organization, one that integrates public and private purpose and for-profit and non-profit structures. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and children’s health, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision-making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it honors and incorporates the wisdom of native and first nation knowledge in its work. More on the Web at

Ecotrust’s Food and Farms program endeavors to make sustainability the underlying value of the mainstream food system; the norm, not the exception. In close collaboration with a diverse coalition of project partners, Ecotrust works on a wide-range of initiatives to promote “farm to school” programs that enable schools to feature locally sourced products in their cafeterias, incorporate nutrition-based curriculum in all academic disciplines, and provide students with experiential agriculture and food-based learning opportunities, from farm visits to gardening, cooking, composting, and recycling. Our approach is multifaceted and includes: combating obesity, hunger, and global climate change; supporting Pacific Northwest farmers and food processors, both big and small; and enhancing regional economic development and community food security. We work at the local, state, and regional levels.

About the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund
The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was established in late 2004 to advance the health of the communities served by Kaiser Permanente Northwest. The Fund intends to achieve this goal by addressing those factors in the social, policy, and physical environment that impact community health. Often referred to as the social determinants of health, these factors have been shown to play a major role in the development of health disparities based on race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.