House to debate funding for farm-to-school program
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on March 8 unanimously moved a farm-to-school bill to the joint Ways and Means Committee, where it will compete with other programs for general fund dollars.
Under House Bill 2649, funding for the program would increase from the current $200,000 per biennium to $5 million.
The program provides funding for schools to purchase Oregon-grown and Oregon-processed foods for school lunches.
Eleven Oregon school districts currently participate in the program.
In addition to increasing farm-to-school funding, HB2649 adds flexibility to how school districts can utilize farm-to-school grant funds.
Under the current program, districts are locked into spending 87.5 percent of program dollars on food procurement and 12.5 percent on school gardens or other educational programs.
HB2649 calls for the Oregon Department of Education to utilize at least 80 percent of the program's dollars on food procurement, and at least 10 percent on education. The bill frees up how individual school districts utilize dollars and allows the state to spend between 80 and 90 percent of the program's dollars on food procurement.
Lawmakers did not fund the program in the co-chairs' budget, which was released March 11, but listed it among 11 priorities for adding back funding if additional funds become available.
"We are delighted to appear on that short of list of co-chairs' priority programs," said Kasandra Griffin, policy manager for food and school health for Upstream Public Health.
Upstream Public Health has been advocating for farm-to-school in Oregon since 2006.
In an earlier hearing on HB2649, backers lauded the bill for providing economic stimulus for farms and food processors, and for providing school children healthy food.
The joint Ways and Means Committee had not set a hearing on the bill as of press time.