By editorial board • 

School nutrition programs focusing on local products

Oregon has been a leader in bringing more nutritional options to school meal programs. It’s one reason why, in 2010, the state was recognized for having the lowest rate of childhood obesity. 

In recent years, the movement has taken a further step by emphasizing the delivery of local products to schools. These types of programs promote a healthier society in the long run, of course, with the added benefit of spurring economic growth. Again, Oregon lead the charge. 

The News-Register reported last week that the Yamhill-Carlton School District recently forged a partnership with McMinnville-based Betty Lou’s to serve breakfast bars. So far, the healthy snacks have been a hit with the students, and the district now is considering other local companies to contract with for food services.

Similar programs and partnerships are developing around the state, and state officials are pushing for more. 

The state’s Farm to School program connects schools with local farms in order to serve healthier meals, improve nutrition and provide health education. In 2011, the state Legislature passed HB 2800, the Farm to School and School Garden Bill, in a unanimous vote. The bill resulted in a first round of grants totaling $189,140 to 11 districts in the state, and those pilot programs will pave the way for other Oregon districts to implement effective, proven Farm to School programming. 

No local districts were chosen for grants, but it would serve our communities if school administrations prepared for the next round, which could see a large influx of funding. There is a push in the current legislative session to expand Farm to School funding with a new $5 million bill. This would be a sound investment, not only in children but in the economy, too.

A study by Oregon State University economist Bruce Sorte shows that for every Oregon job directly created by school districts purchasing local food, additional economic activity creates 1.67 more jobs.

Another growing trend is for schools to grow their own. The state reports that 33 percent of Oregon schools have gardens. Yamhill County trails in the category, with only five of its 29 schools (17 percent) raising gardens. Considering the rich farmlands of the county, we would like to see this number at least equal to the state average. 

It’s about more than simply providing healthier options in schools these days. Local food programs develop a smarter, more economically conscious generation that can pass these lessons to generations to follow.

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