PORTLAND, Ore. — Farm to school and school garden education programs are one step closer to blossoming throughout Oregon following a hearing yesterday of HB 2800 in front of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities Committee. Testimony from a panel of economists, garden educators, health experts, farmers, school food and food manufacturing professionals convinced lawmakers that HB 2800 will nourish Oregon’s children, pump millions of dollars into the Oregon economy, create hundreds of new jobs, and grow a generation of food literate, healthy eaters.
“Members of the committee clearly understood the impact that purchasing school food locally can have on the economy — across hundreds of sectors — and enthusiastically supported the bill,” said Deborah Kane, vice president of Ecotrust’s Food and Farms program. “In Oregon, we currently spend $70 million per school year on food. HB 2800 provides an incentive for schools to source food expressly from Oregon farmers and food manufacturers and keep more of that school food dollar in Oregon.”
HB 2800 provides grant money for food and garden-based education. Additionally, for every meal served, schools would receive 15 cents per lunch and 7 cents per breakfast for Oregon food purchases. In order to access state funds, districts must first demonstrate a one-to-one-match using federal funds provided by 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 is compounded.
“I’m interested in using the purchasing power of government to support industry in Oregon and the economy,” said Representative Tina Kotek. “We want to support our school lunch program, but do it in a strategic way.”
Key testimony highlighted the degree to which investing in school food is a “fork ready” economic development opportunity for the state. Economists provided testimony predicting that a small investment of state resources could provide just the incentive necessary for schools to substitute Oregon grown products for products that otherwise would have been bought out of state, such as the teacher’s favorite: apples. The catalytic effect of trade substitutions could provide a healthy return on investment. Advocates of HB 2800 predict $100+ million in economic development during the biennium and creation of as many as 477 new jobs in the state of Oregon.
For example, a farm to school pilot program currently underway in Portland Public Schools and Gervais School Districts, funded by a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation, brought new business to the doorsteps of Truitt Bros., a family-owned Salem-based food processor and cannery. In response to orders from just two school districts, the company has added half a shift in their special products division and six hours to their seasonal canning operations. Moreover, its volume in its seasonal canning increased by 10 tons of Willamette Valley grown green beans and 96 tons of Columbia Basin pears.
“In a time of uncertainty this is about as close as you can get to a sure bet,” said Peter Truitt, president of Truitt Bros.
Jeff Rosenblad owner of Happy Harvest Farm in Mount Angel, Ore., explained that income from schools in Bend and Gervais has helped stabilize his farm business by creating a market for his products in between farmers market seasons. With these two new school districts as customers, he’s now planning his plantings with their needs in mind.
“We’re always talking about the new economy. Well the new economy rests on the old economy — timber and food, for example.” said Representative Mike Schaufler. “This bill is good for the food industry here in the state — good for farmers, schools and students. It builds on our local and established food sector in an innovative way to net an economic gain.”
For HB 2800 updates, action alerts or further detail on the economic analysis visit https://ecotrust.org/farmtoschool/
About Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network
The Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network, a collective founded in 2007, is comprised of more than 100 governmental, community-based, and for-profit organizations, and individuals working together with the following mission: “We convene statewide leadership to promote the health and well-being of children, families, farms and the environment by increasing access to locally grown and processed food in schools and by supporting food and garden-based education in Oregon.”