Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Portland Elementary School Teaches Great Lesson on Implementing a Comprehensive School Food Program

Photo source: Alicia Dickerson, http://gardenofwonders.org

We at the Organic School Project believe in reconnecting children with their food and encouraging healthy lifestyles through our Grow. Teach. Feed. model. By getting kids involved in their school’s organic gardens, we hope to combat the growing rate of childhood obesity in this country by teaching kids the value of nutrition and the quality of the foods they consume. As we learn more and more each day, we are nowhere near alone!

In 2005, Ecotrust, a sustainability and conservation non-profit out of Portland, Oregon launched their “Farm to School” project in collaboration with Portland’s Abernethy Elementary School. The project was designed to see whether school children would eat fresh foods when given the option instead of the processed, institutionalized food usually offered in their school cafeterias.

Together, Ecotrust and Abernethy designed a comprehensive and innovative school food program, including a “from scratch” kitchen, school garden, and monthly class lesson plans about cooking, nutrition, and the cycle of how food travels from farm to kitchen.

While the plan was undoubtedly noble in its efforts to teach children the importance of the food they put into their bodies and its impact on the world we live in, it all comes down to numbers and the bottom line: could this plan be economically sustainable?

Financial analysis of the project after its initial implementation found that the average “Farm to School” lunch cost $0.05 cents less than the average frozen meal usually offered. And to offset the increased labor cost of hiring 2 chefs instead of 1, the program received a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund. With the grant, the program locked in a $0.07 cent subsidy to each lunch price, aiding them in bridging the price gap between local and nationally distributed produce suppliers. This increased employment of Oregon farmers and growers created a positive economic ripple effect, as each dollar spent toward the lunches created an additional $0.84 in the state’s economy.

The “Food to School” project moved mountains in the fight for local, quality, healthy foods being put into our nation’s schools. From local news outlets like OregonLive and the Portland Tribune, to the national stage of NPR, the project has received a great amount of press since its inception. And more recently, Abernethy’s chef Nicole Hoffmann was invited to the White House’s South Lawn to help launch Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools program this past June.

This story is inspiring to us here at OSP, and motivates us to continue our work in bringing the same type of success to school districts here locally in the Midwest. One garden, one school, and one tasty (and healthy, too!) lunchtime meal at a time, we come closer and closer!

Check out the program’s website as well as the other projects that Ecotrust has been working on.

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