Editor’s Note: Results of the first ever USDA Farm to School Census reveal great news for Oregon students and farmers: Oregon school districts are directing 24 percent of their food budgets to purchase local foods — the highest percentage in the country — and two-thirds of all Oregon school districts are participating in farm to school and school garden activities.
Ecotrust has been working on farm to school efforts since 2005, and this census reflects years of hard work by a dedicated network of partners around the state. The summer issue of Edible Portland shares the story of one of these partners, the Bend-LaPine School District, which is taking a hands-on approach to sourcing their meat, from school farm to classroom to cafeteria. Here’s an excerpt from the story. Read the full story at edibleportland.com.
Story by Kerry Newberry
Photos by Joe Kline
At 7:15 on a Friday morning in a large, culinary classroom at Bend High School, 25 energetic students dressed in crisp, white chef coats begin breaking down two half hogs. Over the next two hours, working in teams, the students will separate the animals into primal cuts — shoulder, loin, belly, and leg — and then into smaller cuts.
“The kids can now visualize where their meat comes from,” says Molly Ziegler, the culinary teacher at Bend High School, “and they are learning how to utilize lesser known cuts, or cuts that would often get tossed.” After class today, the students collected bones with tiny scraps of meat to make a simple soup base. “I just took it off the heat,” says Ziegler. “It’s been simmering all day.”
Tomorrow the students will eat the soup in class, sparking conversations ranging from the benefits of nose-to-tail cooking to the nutrition found in bone broth. Class cooking projects span humble stocks and sauces to more haute cuisine. Most recently, slow roasting pork tenderloin was part of a homework assignment. And the source of their pork? Mountain View High School, less than a mile away, where FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) students are raising pigs.
These classes are complementary components of an integrated farm to school program at Bend-LaPine School District, where 29 schools serve more than 16,000 students. Bend-LaPine has students raising animals, butchering animals, and feeding a school meal program. Neatly wrapped packages of pork move from classroom to school kitchen, where they are cooked into succulent carnitas for all 29 school cafeterias.
The program breaks the normal bounds of food in school and has created a whole new arena for students to learn. “It’s a full circle agriculture education experience,” says Katrina Wiest, the manager for the Bend farmers’ market and wellness specialist for the school district.
“Agriculture is a big part of my life,” says Wiest, who was raised on a wheat farm and is married to a farmer. “I feel it’s important that kids know where their food comes from.”
For close to ten years, Wiest has been pioneering the farm to school movement in the high desert of central Oregon: sourcing local food for schools and providing agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities in the cafeteria, classroom, and community.
She is known for her “vivaciousness and contagious energy,” especially when it comes to feeding students, says Michelle Ratcliffe, PhD, farm to school specialist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “She’s able to articulate the big picture about the benefits for kids’ health, education, the economy, and the environment. She knows it, and she can rally people around that.”
After researching the cost of butchery for FFA-raised hogs, Wiest and her colleagues asked: Why not just do it ourselves?
Last year, when the Oregon Legislature awarded nearly $1.2 million in funding for local food and education in schools, Wiest put forth a proposal for a partnership between the Bend-LaPine District Nutrition Services Department and Mountain View High School. The district was one of nineteen to receive this second round of competitive Farm to School and School Garden grants. It’s the only grant focused on the entire life of a livestock animal, from piglet to plate.