Proponents of getting more nutritious and locally-grown foods into Oregon schools may have additional support thanks to a project just completed by Oregon State University and one just starting by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Both efforts are connected to the Food Innovation Center in Portland, Ore., a joint OSU/ODA facility that has assisted food companies and commodity groups through a variety of on-site services.
For OSU's part, the so-called farm-to-school effort, the on-site services were taken off-site. The Oregon State Fair offered an ideal venue to reach a cross-section of adults and kids – both targets of a survey and taste test centered on getting healthy local food products into schools.
"More than 260 people took the test and represented all parts of the state, all age groups, all incomes, and educational backgrounds," says Ann Colonna, manager of the FIC-based Sensory and Consumer Program, who took her staff, eight portable computers, survey questions and locally-produced breakfast bar to Salem to get some answers.
"It looks like the results are encouraging for those who would like to get more local foods into Oregon schools," she says.
A different set of survey questions were given to individuals in each of three categories: elementary school children, secondary students and adults who were most likely parents of the kids. The results will not come as a surprise to advocates of the farm-to-school movement.
"According to the survey, about 40% of those tested disagreed with the statement that purchasing a school lunch is a nutritious alternative to packing a lunch," says Colonna. "Yet, over half said they would be willing to pay a little extra to have locally-grown food in schools."
The information helps ODA in its efforts to hire a new full position dedicated to farm-to-school efforts.
The farm-to-school survey conducted by OSU will be enhanced by an ODA project recently funded through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Federal State Market Improvement Program. The money will support efforts that started last year to help increase purchasing of Oregon products by Oregon schools. The focus is on bringing together local food processors with representatives of school districts.
"Getting Oregon products into Oregon schools fits with the 'buy local' trend seen throughout the state and country," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "We are fortunate Oregon has a vast array of local fruit and vegetable growers and processors, dairies and bakeries that product top quality products needed by schools."