The school lunch is an important meal for children every day. Often it’s where they gain eating habits that stick with them for their entire lives. In Oregon school districts, as in districts across the country, lunch is a big deal, and October is National Farm to School Month. For years, Oregon has had an aggressive farm-to-school effort sourcing products from farmers, ranchers, fishers and food processors in the state.
To celebrate Farm to School Month, the state is recognizing six producers dedicated not only to providing food to schools, but also to engaging kids in the process. Amy Gilroy, ODA’s Farm to School Program manager, says many school districts have taken on the role of working with local producers.
“Many producers believe deeply in providing healthy, local food to those school districts, as well as connecting on the farm with kids through field trips and other activities,” Gilroy says.
She explains that the program has grown from serving about 25 school districts in the state to about 140 school districts. The Farm to School Program reaches almost half of the 500,000 kids in Oregon public schools, with children getting about half their daily calories at school these days. Last year, school districts in Oregon spent about $14 million on local fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats and grains.
In its second year, the ODA’s Farm to School Producer Awards recognize those who have “gone above and beyond to strengthen the relationship between kids and schools with what’s being locally produced,” according to the department.
Valley Flora Farms of Floras Creek on the south coast is one of the six award winners. The operation works to bring the classroom to the farm. Last year, Flora welcomed more than 220 local students to the farm from Port Orford, Brandon and Gold Beach, and provided fresh vegetables and potatoes to the breakfast and lunch menu.
Another honoree is Rickreall Dairy and its farm tour manager Stacy Foster. Located 15 minutes west of Salem, the dairy offers opportunities for kids to bottle-feed calves, see the milking parlor in action, and watch as milk leaves the cow and heads into cold storage, and later for transport.
Dona Coon of Oak Park Farms, Shedd, has spent more than 30 years helping Oregon students and teachers learn more about agriculture. Visiting hundreds of Oregon classrooms and hosting kids on the farm for hands-on learning, Coon is being recognized for work to educate from the farm.
The other honorees are being recognized because they provide a large amount of what they grow to the menu at local schools.
Gordon Key of Key Family Fruit Farm in Milton-Freewater is working with the Hermiston School District, which purchased 36,000 pounds of plums, pluots and apples from the farm.
Thomas Orchards of Monumont has supplied the Bend LaPine Schools for 12 years. Jeff and Laura Thomas drive their 18-wheeler through all kinds of weather to make sure children have access to fresh fruit; and they’ve even made the occasional classroom visit.
And rancher Will Homer, Fossil, is being honored. Homer and the ranchers of Painted Hills Beef supply Bend Lapine Schools with ground beef and hamburger patties. From taco meat to meatballs, a steady supply of beef is available to the kids.
As part of the October celebration of Farm to School Month, Gilroy says many schools are hosting farmers and serving a lunch where nearly all of the food is locally sourced.
“There will be many events shining a spotlight on what is done to serve Oregon food in the school lunch program,” she says. “One of the favorite parts of my job is sitting down to a school lunch that has delicious and healthy foods sourced from Oregon.”
Source: Oregon Department of Agriculture