PORTLAND, Ore. — In cafeteria kitchens throughout the Portland Public School (PPS) district, paring knives will be sharpened and roasting pans will be pulled out of storage as foodservice staff gets ready to prep and cook fresh, seasonal vegetables from scratch as part of the new Harvest of the Month lunch program. Developed by Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services in partnership with Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program, Growing Gardens, and other community partners, Harvest of the Month is designed to deliver farm direct fruits and vegetables to all area elementary schools for one day each month.
“Harvest of the Month affords Ecotrust a golden opportunity to introduce Oregon farmers into Portland Public School’s food procurement network in a way that works for everyone,” says Deborah Kane, vice president of Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program. “Kids win, farmers win and the local economy wins when we maximize and sustain the agricultural resources that lay just beyond our urban boundaries.”
Winter squash leads the roster of vegetables, debuting in all elementary schools and K-8 schools in February. Kids will be regaled with roasted potatoes in March, then spring vegetables such as asparagus, peas and strawberries in April through June. By proffering one side dish at a time, Harvest of the Month program organizers hope to up the nutritional profile of school lunches, move more local food through the food procurement system and in the process, engage and enlighten children in the joys of eating foods the way nature intended.
“Harvest of the Month is one step toward realizing the vision PPS holds for school cafeterias as a model for health, wellness and food system sustainability,” said Kristy Obbink, R.D., director of Nutrition Services at Portland Public Schools. “We see the cafeteria as a learning laboratory to introduce students to new local foods.”
Harvest of the Month is an outgrowth of the learning at Abernethy Elementary, the school district’s pilot farm to school program, which features among other attributes a cafeteria program serving meals made on site each day using fresh, local ingredients. This new program is the first step in expanding the best lessons learned at Abernethy district wide.
Back to Basics in the Kitchen
To prepare for the Harvest of the Month debut and months to come, nearly 150 cafeteria workers will be learning how to slice, dice, roast and season fresh vegetables during two days of trainings on Tuesday, January 30, at Madison High School and Wednesday, January 31, at Marshall High School.
In addition to wielding knives and learning cooking techniques, cafeteria workers will hear presentations from farmers who are among the first Oregon growers to supply the school district with produce. Vicki Hertel of Sungold Farms in Forest Grove will haul 2,200 pounds of winter squash to PPS to feature in February, Gene and Ilene Thiel will truck potatoes to town in March from Joseph, Ore., and Brandan Maes of Canby Asparagus Farm will supply 2,200 pounds of asparagus for May’s Harvest of the Month.
Community partners will be engaged throughout the year to help expand on the Harvest of the Month offerings by linking students to information about the farmer supplying product, as well as developing activities to enhance nutritional and garden-based learning opportunities.
About Ecotrust’s Food & Farms Program www.ecotrust.org
Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program builds direct market connections between farmers, ranchers, and fishermen and restaurant chefs, grocery retail buyers, institutions and distributors. One of five major program areas of the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit Ecotrust, the Food & Farms program is building a vision for a sustainable food system.