PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland-based nonprofit Ecotrust has received a two-year USDA grant for $99,507 to develop an online tracking system for Oregon’s farm to school program.
The grant will be used to establish baseline data for school across the state and provide a starting point for measuring progress and establishing goals.
“This is a significant grant and a very competitive process,” Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust’s farm to school manager, said. “We were pleased and surprised to receive it.”
The USDA awarded $5 million in farm to school grants.
The baseline data project will be an online system that tracks a variety of indicators and will be available for public use.
A coalition of organizations, school food service directors, state agencies, farmers, teachers, school garden coordinators and others created the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Statewide Network in 2007. The 200-member group convened a meeting of its steering committee last summer to assess Oregon’s needs.
“It was clear we needed to develop a tracking system and use that to set goals and measure our impact,” Sobell said. “Ecotrust proposed to establish that baseline and act as the common place for data collection while developing an online, dynamic system that is sustainable and easily accessible to everyone.
“This grant is a great fit for Ecotrust with our organization skills, economic analysts and team of developers who have all had experience assessing the impact of Farm to School efforts in previous studies on Oregon’s economy,” she said.
Ecotrust staff worked with the coalition steering committee in applying for the grant.
The project will develop baseline indicators for several categories, including local food procurement, education, school gardens, policy and health outcomes.
One goal might be to increase the percentage of school districts that purchase Oregon-grown or -processed products at least once a school year. This indicator has been tracked in the past, but only for fruits and vegetables.
Once the baseline is established, it could be used to set goals and policy, she said. School districts could use it, for example, to see how well school garden produce is incorporated into cafeteria meals. Schools within a district could also track their progress.
Since no other state has developed a comprehensive statewide system farm to school tracking, the goal is to make this system one that can be replicated across the country.