Funding for Oregon’s Farm to School and School Gardens programs is on track to reach $1.2 million in state funding in the 2013-15 biennium.
On the final day of this year’s session, the Oregon Legislature approved $500,000 for the programs in its final spending bill. Lawmakers had already approved $500,000 for the two programs through House Bill 2649.
And the Oregon Department of Education budget includes around $200,000 in grants for the programs, as well. Most of the $1.2 million will pay for schools to buy lunch food from local farms. The rest can help fund food, garden and agricultural education over the next two years.
Kasandra Griffin of Upstream Public Health said she and other advocates had requested $5 million in funding, but that $1.2 million will help achieve their goal of having dedicated staff people and a significant funding stream dedicated to the programs.
The $1.2 million total is a big step up from $189,000 in grants offered to Oregon schools for the Farm to School and School Gardens programs in the 2011-13 biennium. Those grants connected schools with local farmers and fishermen and put Oregon berries, beef, wheat and oats onto student lunch trays across the state.
As I reported earlier this year, one grant even allowed the Bend school district to add some scrumptious Oregon coast seafood – pink shrimp salad and Dover sole fillets – to its lunch menus.
The idea behind funding farm to school programs was to support the state’s food producers economically while improving school lunches, but they can also have the added environmental benefit of fewer transportation miles and lower-impact food production.
Upstream Public Health and Ecotrust coordinated more than 20 legislator visits to cafeterias, gardens, and ride-alongs on school field trips to farms to advocate for more funding, and Griffin said the visits seem to have worked.
“We wanted legislators to see the benefits of Farm to School and school garden programs firsthand,” she said. “Once they saw how excited kids can get about fresh kale they’ve picked themselves, and how much kids can learn about science from a compost bin, the result was overwhelming support for program expansion.”