Bill would give schools funds for food programs

Oregon schools that buy local food products or grow their own produce to serve in cafeterias would be eligible for a share of $2 million in state economic development Lottery funds in the next biennium under a proposal pending in the state Legislature.

House Bill 2800, which would establish a farm-to-school program and school garden program, is still pending in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee.

"Oregon is one of the only states that doesn't help pay for school meals; only the federal government does," said Tracy Harding, executive director of Rogue Valley Farm to School. "It's encouraging that this (funding mechanism) is for farm to school."

The bills would provide $2 million in funding to reimburse a portion of the cost of meals made of local food products and to give out grants to establish school gardens.

School gardens would not only allow schools to grow some of their own food; it also would provide a venue for educational activities, the bill's supporters said. The bill is expected to be referred to the Legislature's budget committee for consideration next week.

The Ashland School District is the only public school system in Jackson County that now has a farm-to-school meal program. Other school districts, including the county's largest, Medford, which contracts with Sodexo for food services, occasionally incorporate local foods into salad bar offerings and meals but have not adopted the practice on a large scale.

Organizations such as Rogue Valley Farm to School help connect schools with local food products, organize student field trips to farms, help schools establish gardens and provide educational programs for students on nutrition.

The idea is to feed children food produced by their local communities, thereby supporting the local economy and consuming fresher and healthier food. The programs also help teach children where food comes from, Harding said.

The bill's supporters say farm-to-school programs create jobs.

One study by Bruce Sorte, an agriculture economist at Oregon State University, estimates the $2 million would in the first year create 24 jobs from increased demand for local food products. Over time, that number could triple to about 75, said Mel Rader, of Eugene-based Upstream Public Health, citing the Sorte's research.

About 10.5 percent of students would be served by the bill, said Marah Hall also of Upstream Public Health.

"It would at least establish a framework we could build on to include other school districts in the fold," Hall said.

Meanwhile, an ongoing fundraiser in Ashland will help Rogue Valley Farm to School.

Buy a 3-pound bag of apples produced by the Organically Grown Company and sold for $2.99 at the Ashland Food Co-op, and $1.08 of the purchase will go to Rogue Valley Farm to School.

Paris Achen is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. She can be reached at 541-776-4459 or email

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