Farm-to-school and garden programs surpass lawmaker's expectations
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- State Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, has advocated for farm-to-school and school garden programs since 2007, when he introduced a bill on the issue during his first term in the House.
The programs help school districts purchase locally grown food and develop school gardens.
Students learn where food originates and gain a better understanding of the importance of good nutrition, program advocates say.
The programs also keep more school-purchase money in-state, benefiting participating farmers and processors, advocates say.
But even Clem was surprised to learn the value participating schools get from the programs.
"This surpasses my expectations," Clem said while participating in a tour of the school garden Oct. 31 at Grant Community School in Salem.
"I totally underestimated the importance of the school garden portion," he said. "The kids are more engaged when they are actually growing the food.
"This has the potential to change kids' behavior," Clem said.
Clem was joined on the tour by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., state Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, and representatives of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Ecotrust, Salem-Keizer School District and Salem-Keizer Education Foundation.
Participants heard from students and the garden coordinator for the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, Brenda Knobloch, who is known by students simply as "The Garden Lady."
In addition to teaching how food is grown, the school garden program introduces different fruits and vegetables to children, said Stacey Sobell, farm to school program manager for Ecotrust in Portland.
"When they taste it, when they grow it, they are more likely to eat it," Sobell said.
Farm-to-school and school-garden programs were initiated in Oregon in 2007, when lawmakers funded a farm-to-school coordinator position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Lawmakers in 2008 provided funding for a second farm-to-school position, this time with the Oregon Department of Education.
In 2011, legislators pumped about $200,000 of general funds into the programs to help offset the added costs schools bear when they purchase locally grown food.
Grants and other funding sources have helped expand the program, Clem said.
Clem is seeking $5 million for the programs in the 2013 legislative session, he said.
The additional funds will enable other school districts to participate, he said.
Clem estimated it would take $20 million for the programs to go statewide.