PORTLAND, OR – The first school assembly of the new academic year will take place today at 10 a.m. at Atkinson Elementary in Southeast Portland, where school food and education leaders will gather alongside farmers, food producers, grocery retailers and government officials to cheer a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation that will subsidize approximately 2,640,000 meals with the funds needed to serve more Oregon grown and processed foods in Portland Public School and Gervais School Districts.
The grant, secured by Ecotrust’s Food and Farms program, will bolster existing efforts to bring more regionally produced food into two distinct school districts in the immediate school year and kick-off a six-month study to measure the impact of nourishing the minds and bodies of young school children with fresh seasonal produce and locally processed foods while directing dollars spent to feed Oregon students back into the local economy. Additionally, the study will provide a rigorous test of policy concepts originally introduced in the 2007 Oregon legislative session to reimburse schools for purchasing Oregon agricultural products. Data gathered from the pilot will provide the 2009 Oregon State Legislature with hard evidence to consider a similar proposal this January.
“The generous grant will allow us to start making a difference now,” said Michelle Ratcliffe, Ph.D., Farm to School Manager for Ecotrust Food & Farms Program. “The interest in local sourcing, food traceability and school gardens is on the rise, and these elements of the farm to school movement have overwhelming support from Food Service Directors and front line staff across Oregon.”
“The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund recognizes the nutritional significance that school prepared meals play for thousands of Oregon children and their families, so we see this program as a meaningful and effective way to set kids on a lifelong path of healthy eating,” said Chris Kabel, program officer with the Northwest Health Foundation. “We also were motivated to support this program because the foundational data that will be gathered will inform new policies supporting children’s health and nutrition in the upcoming legislative session and beyond.”
The expanded Harvest of the Month program will launch in September in the state’s largest district, Portland Public Schools, and in the smaller, rural Gervais School District. The two distinct districts were selected for the initial study based on their significant populations of vulnerable students, measured by high percentages of children eligible for free and reduced meals. In addition, the nutrition service directors in both districts have demonstrated farm to school leadership at the local, state and national levels and are committed to program execution.
“These two diverse school districts were chosen to study how different procurement regulations may apply and how agricultural operations will need to be scaled to meet the food demand of each district,” said Ratcliffe. “We anticipate learning how to scale this program to fit any number of school districts across Oregon in coming years.”
In preparation for the new program, Portland and Gervais school food service directors spent months in the field – literally – forging relationships with local farmers willing to grow fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables for harvest during the school’s calendar year, or frozen in peak season, in the case with Oregon berries. They also knocked on doors of Oregon food manufacturers capable of developing specialty items using local ingredients for the center of the lunch plate.
“Portland is the first large, urban school district in the country to make such substantial gains in the farm to school programming,” said Kristy Obbink, Director of Nutrition Services for Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services. “This process has inspired us to incorporate local ingredients in products that we use every day, such as the Northwest grown wheat in almost all of our baked goods.”
The Cafeteria as a Classroom
Guided by the idea that bringing healthy food into the cafeteria is also a critical component of education, promoting Oregon agriculture will span from the cafeteria to the classroom, and in some settings, the school garden. Kids will see colorful Harvest of the Month posters heralding farmers as heroes and produce as pop art. In collaboration with the Portland Farm to School and School Garden Coalition and OHSU, teachers will be offered activities that tie Harvest of the Month foods to classroom and garden-based learning. In addition, parents will be encouraged to follow along with the Harvest of the Month calendar and purchase the same foods from local grocery retailers to serve at home. And beginning in October, one day each month, Portland Public Schools will transform an entire meal with locally sourced foods, inviting kids and teachers to enjoy a “Local Lunch.”
“We’re reinventing the lunchroom one meal at a time and excited to show what a little more money spent on school food can do to form life-long healthy eating habits among school aged children,” said Obbink.
About Ecotrust’s Food and Farms Program
Ecotrust’s Food and Farms program works to create a vibrant regional food system where sustainability is the underlying value of the mainstream food system — the norm rather than the exception. Ecotrust is a regional leader in food systems work, and has developed extensive farm to school expertise. Ecotrust was recently named the Western Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network, extending its sphere of influence as a farm to school leader across eight Western states.
About the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation
The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the 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.