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Local Lunch

Pete Springer/OPB

Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup may not seem like the advance guard of a revolution, but that’s exactly what Representative Brian Clem (D-Salem) is hoping for. Along with Rep. Tina Kotek, he’s sponsoring House Bill 2800, which would provide up to $19 million in state money for schools that spend some of their federal dollars on Oregon food. What’s Oregon food? Anything that was “produced, packaged, packed or processed” in the state. This is where the grilled cheese sandwiches come in.

Portland Public Schools is one of two districts taking part in a Kaiser Permanente-funded pilot program to see what happens when schools are given seven extra cents per meal to spend on local lunches. PPS chose to concentrate those pennies into monthly “local lunches” (grilled Tillamook Cheese sandwiches and Pacific Natural Foods’ tomato soup were on offer this week). Gervais Schools decided to spread their grant money around more broadly. According to a recent report, the grant money triggered more in-state spending from the schools’ existing coffers: grants of about $66,000 dollars turned into more than $225,000 spent on local products. What’s more, argues Clem and other Farm to School supporters, that money in turn will itself have a multiplying effect as it makes its way around the state. The result, they say, will be healthier students, healthier farms, and a healthier economy.

As always — and especially these days — there are questions about finances. The money to pay for this would come from the economic development slice of the lottery pie. But as we’ve talked about recently, that whole pie is shrinking. If you were going to spend upwards of $22 million dollars for a new school program, would you focus on the food? If you’re a parent who normally sends your child to school with a packed lunch, would more local ingredients convince you to go for the hot option? How much is a local lunch worth?


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