Oregon has long-been a national leader in supporting farm to school. Since 2011, funding for local food purchasing and educational activities have been budgeted through the state legislature with strong bipartisan support. Earlier this year, in preparation for the next two-year budget cycle, the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee passed House Bill 2038 unanimously to provide $5.4 million for local food purchases and education to Oregon school districts over the next two years. However, this past week, supporters received news that funding for the Farm to School program has been completely eliminated from the budget, despite previous legislative and public support.
Currently, 144 school districts receive these Farm to School funds to buy, serve, and promote foods produced or processed in the state of Oregon. Funds can be used to purchase products from farm-fresh vegetables and fruit, to frozen berries, to beef, grains, fish, and dairy products, or even processed foods like hummus or soups. Currently, the funding is available to any school district in Oregon that opts-in, which means that all Oregon students, regardless of family income, geographic location, or school district budget, have the opportunity to eat local food on the lunch line. The other portion of the program, a competitive grant process, supports districts and community partners in providing educational activities surrounding local Oregon foods. Currently, 24 school districts or partner organizations, including several FoodCorps service sites, are receiving these additional funds to teach Oregon kids where their food comes from and how to grow, raise, or catch their own.
In 11 districts where FoodCorps members currently serve, over $300,000 was awarded from the state funds to purchase local products in the last legislative session. These are funds that were able to circulate in the local communities where FoodCorps serves, from Lakeview to Tillamook to Portland. In the Port Orford-Langlois School District our site partner, Curry Watershed Partnerships, used educational funds to provide field trips for hundreds of students visit to local farms. Last week at Valley Flora Farm, service member Amelia Clements helped 40 Driftwood Middle School students plant potatoes and they will return again to harvest them in the fall. The potatoes will then be served in the school cafeteria, bringing on-farm education full circle to the lunch tray. When students plant vegetables like this, they are more inclined to try them when they are offered them to eat. As one student on the field trip said, “Wow, I didn’t realize there was more than one kind of potato. I want to try the purple kind.”
Farm to School is gaining traction in Lakeview, where service member Rachelle Hesford is placed with Lakeview Health Partnerships, leveraging the state program funds with community support to create opportunities for local food to be produced and served on school grounds—even in a place that is the “tallest town in Oregon,” at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet! The new greenhouse and garden plans were just unveiled to a group of visitors, including the Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Alexis Taylor, and County Commissioner, Ken Kestner, after sampling local nettles in the cafeteria with elementary school students.
Oregon’s facing a tough budget situation, but it is important to explain to our elected officials why this program is a valuable investment that needs to be protected for the health of our kids, our farmers and our communities. Final decisions about the state budget are not made until mid-June, so there is still time to save the funding so critical to leveraging the service that our sites, service members, and schools are doing across Oregon. If you are an Oregon resident, call or write your legislator using the suggested language below and let them know why the Farm to School Program, via House Bill 2038, should be preserved.
I am a constituent, and I’m writing/calling to ask you to do all you can to protect important investments in Oregon’s Farm to School and School Garden program. through HB 2038. I understand that funding for the Program has been eliminated in the current version of the legislature’s budget.
The Farm to School program is a win for Oregon on so many levels. It invests in local economies across the state by expanding market opportunities for local producers. It helps connect kids to local agriculture. It introduces kids to healthy, local foods. And, it teaches kids in new and innovative ways through agriculture-based education.
The Farm to School program is a wise investment that leverages federal dollars and provides valuable support to Oregon’s agricultural community and schools. (add your own words about why this is important to you).
Please do all you can to preserve funding for this important program!
(Sign with your name and address)