Farm to School and School Garden pilot program proposed to Legislature

Release Date: 01-16-2008

Oakley Brooks

Senior Media Manager
503.467.0779

Urgency linked to unprecedented changes in school food landscape

What: Hearing on a farm-to-school and school garden legislative concept
When: January 23rd, 9:00 a.m. (check legislative schedule for changes)
Where: Oregon State House, House Education Committee Room

PORTLAND, Ore. – Locally grown foods will become more prevalent in school cafeterias by the end of this year under a new farm-to-school and school garden concept now under consideration in the Oregon Legislature. Introduced by the Oregon Farm-to-School and School Garden Network, a broad coalition of agricultural, economic, public health and environmental organizations, the legislative concept (LC 79) will be considered at a hearing before the House Education Committee on January 23, 2008.

LC 79 would create a pilot farm-to-school and school garden program in the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) Child Nutrition Program (CNP). The CNP administers the state’s school meals program and is the sole state agency with the technical expertise and relationships necessary to assist schools, interpret current regulations, and facilitate the purchase of food products that meet state and federal guidelines.

During the regular 2007 legislative session, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) was authorized to work with Oregon’s agricultural community to capitalize on the purchasing power of K-12 schools around the state. To maximize ODA efforts, it is critical to create and fund a corollary position and program in ODE to work effectively with ODA’s farm-to-school program. The proposed 2008 legislation will fill a critical inter-agency coordination gap so that both state agencies can work effectively with schools around the state to develop farm-to-school programs.

“It is crucial that the state agency responsible for school food be an integral partner in implementing farm-to-school programs,” said Deborah Kane, Vice President of Food & Farms at Ecotrust. “For farm-to-school programs to be successful, we need a position within ODE immediately to help schools and ODA interpret the tangle of federal regulations related to school food purchases.”

The new ODE position will also promote food- and garden-based educational activities in schools throughout the state, and coordinate these projects with districts’ Wellness Policies. Farm-to-school and school garden programs have been shown to increase access to healthier foods and are identified by experts as important strategies to help reverse an epidemic of obesity among children. The proposed bill would also enable ODE to accept private sources of funding to support the farm-to-school and school garden program.

Urgent consideration of LC 79 during the 2008 mid-term session is also being driven by multiple changes occurring in the landscape of school food regulation, as well as unprecedented interest in the farm-to-school movement. Specifically:

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation authorizes grant to pilot farm-to-school programs in two public school districts. Demonstrating the private sector’s interest in farm-to-school programs, in December 2007, the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation authorized a significant investment in a farm-to-school pilot project. With a total grant amount of $296,000, funds are designated to (a) increase schools’ purchasing power related to Oregon products by allocating an additional $0.07 per meal served, thereby testing the concepts inherent in HB 3476, presented during the 2007 General Session, in a rural and urban district: Gervais and Portland, and (b) perform detailed analysis and evaluation of the one-time pilot program to inform policy considerations in the 2009 general session. This privately-funded project would benefit greatly from closer coordination with the CNP. The funds to pilot the farm-to-school program in two full districts were secured by Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program, a non-profit conservation organization based in Portland.

School districts will be changing their food offerings during 2008 and 2009 in response to changing state nutrition standards. On July 1, 2008, school nutrition standards from HB 2650 go into effect for vending machines and student stores. On July 1, 2009 they go into effect for a la carte items sold in the cafeteria. In response to the new nutrition standards passed during the 2007 legislative session, school districts will be changing their school food offerings during 2008 and early 2009. In particular, foods high in fat, saturated fat or sugar will be phased out of vending machines, student stores and a la carte items in the cafeteria. This means that this year food processors will begin to reformulate several main course items that may also be served a la carte.

Changing Wellness Policies create time sensitive opportunity. During the 2008-2009 school year, many school districts will draft administrative rules that specify how their Local Wellness Policies will be implemented. The timing of action planning creates an opportunity for ODE to help schools during the 2008-2009 school year strengthen their wellness policies and incorporate farm-to-school and school garden programs during a critical time in policy development.

Farm-to-school programs taking root statewide. In a 2007 ODE survey of nearly 200 food service providers, more than 50 percent reported that they would purchase local foods from farmers and food processors if price and quality were competitive and sourcing was consistent. The study reported that the greatest motivations for buying local were supporting the Oregon economy and community and the opportunity to offer fresher, higher-quality foods to students.

“We cannot wait another two years to act on proven programs that have been endorsed by both sides of the aisle and urban and rural areas alike,” said Kane.

For more information visit www.ecotrust.org/farmtoschool

The Oregon Farm-to-School and School Garden Network, a broad coalition of agricultural, economic, public health and environmental organizations, includes Ecotrust, Upstream Public Health, Growing Gardens, Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, Community Health Partnership, Willamette Food and Farms Coalition, Oregon Food Bank and many other public and private organizations.