Program bringing local produce to schools is a ‘win-win situation’ for farmers and students
For many, “school lunch” conjures up memories of grey hot dogs and ketchup-as-a-vegetable, but that scenario is rapidly changing nationwide, local community by local community. Bend-La Pine School District is one of hundreds across the country that participate in the Farm to School program, raising the nutritional bar by bringing locally grown produce into the public schools.
Katrina Wiest is the Wellness Specialist for the district and acts as local coordinator for the Farm to School program, in addition to managing Bend’s Farmers’ Market. Four farmers provide $1,500 worth of produce a week for over 14,000 breakfasts and lunches, servicing 14 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and seven high schools and alternative schools. About $1,200 goes for fruit, the remaining $300 for vegetables, negotiated at wholesale prices by Wiest. The produce comes from within the distance of a two-hour car drive.
Shirley Watkins, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said of the program, “It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.” Smaller, independent farmers gain a wider, more consistent market, and children experience a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.
Bend-La Pine has required no additional grants to fund the program. The district, according to the Farm to School website, “…has found that the cost of fresh, local produce is not prohibitive.”
In addition to the Farm to School program, local schools have sought to improve nutrition awareness by their own initiative. Westside Village Magnet School, a public alternative K-8, grows an extensive garden on campus to educate kids about the seed-to-table cycle. Students make pizza sauce from their tomatoes, and bake their own pizza dough and bread.
Tracie Wilson joined Summit high School to create a food service program that would raise both the quality of food and the level of nutrition awareness in teens. Summit offers not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but food made to order as well.
Wilson said, “Some kids are just going to want a corn dog,” but many students appreciate higher-quality choices. “It’s about awareness,” said Wilson. As a newer school, Summit had the advantage of an appropriate kitchen facility, an asset many older schools lack.
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has taken the issue of school nutrition to the airwaves with the television show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC, in which he attempts to overhaul school lunch menus within budget in Huntington, West Virginia, an area categorized as one of the least healthy nationwide. Oliver’s website invites people to sign a petition designed to bring Washington’s attention to improving childhood nutrition in schools. However, while the federal government supports many nutrition assistance programs, most significant change happens locally.
The interaction of schools and community and farmers is what has given strength to successful cafeteria make-overs across the country, and in Bend’s own backyard. The long term benefit of this relationship is people making nutritional choices that contribute not only to their own health, but to the sustainable well-being of their community.
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