SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Department of Education officials announced today the outcomes of two surveys commissioned to measure the potential for and interest in Farm to School programs which are proliferating around the state.
The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) school garden survey gathered data on existing school gardens and the role they play in education, wellness and skills development, while a comprehensive poll of statewide food service providers sought to determine the level of interest and engagement of school food administrators in regards to sourcing local food products.
Promising statistics include: 160 functioning gardens rooted in schoolyards across the state with students ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade getting their hands dirty in these plots. More than 50 percent of these students spend four or more hours weekly in the garden or engaged in a related activity. A wide variety of subjects linked to school gardens are incorporated into curriculums ranging from physical sciences to horticulture, agriculture, arts, nutrition and math. The survey found nearly 30 percent of students cooked and consumed their garden yields.
The poll of nearly 200 food service providers found 30 percent of schools purchased food from a local farmer or Oregon food processor, with more than 50 percent reporting that they would purchase local foods again if price and quality were competitive and sourcing was consistent. Less than 10 percent were willing to pay a higher price for locally produced foods. The biggest motivations cited for buying local were supporting the local economy and community, and the opportunity to offer fresher, high-quality foods to students.
“The interest for and value of farm to school programs is evident in the number of educators, PTAs and cafeteria staff that are already committed to using gardens as classrooms and purchasing high-quality, locally produced foods for their lunchroom,” states Joyce Dougherty Ph.D., R.D., director, Child Nutrition Programs for the Oregon Department of Education. “We want to be prepared to support this growing movement.”
The results of these two surveys are welcome news to Oregon Farmers Feeding Oregon Kids, a broad coalition of organizations representing the education, health care, agricultural and food processing sectors that has introduced a trio of Farm to School bills to the State’s Legislature this session. The three bills work synergistically to support Oregon communities, economy and the environment. HB 3476 (Kotek) allocates up to seven cents per school meal served for sourcing Oregon agricultural products, while HB 3307 (Clem) creates a full-time Farm to School position within the Oregon Department of Agriculture. HB 3185 (Clem) provides mini-grants for school gardens and other agriculture-based learning opportunities.
“These results clearly reinforce the benefits of the pending legislation,” says Michelle Ratcliffe, Ph.D., lead researcher on both surveys and a representative for Oregon Farmers Feeding Oregon Kids. “School-aged children gain access to nutritional, seasonal food, Oregon farmers and food producers have school markets opened up to them, and ultimately the economy and environment both benefit from a strong local food economy.”
The two surveys were done in collaboration with Portland State University Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning Program and led by adjunct faculty member Michelle Ratcliffe and PSU graduate student Haley C. Smith. The outcomes of the surveys will be released today by the Oregon Department of Education and also available via Ecotrust at www.ecotrust.org/farmtoschool. The reports will be distributed to legislators at the capitol building by citizen advocates.
Oregon Farmers Feeding Oregon Kids Encourages You to Stay Informed on the progress of these bills by visiting www.ecotrust.org/farmtoschool to find updates or sign up to receive action alerts.