Farm to School

Empowering school food directors to buy local

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by

Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust Farm to School Manager

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at

Four years ago, under the fluorescent lights of the Salem Conference Center, I stood at a table heaped with Oregon apples free for the taking, trying to catch the eyes of some 300 school district food service staff. I found myself engulfed by the scents of hot pizza and french fries and the sound of clanging metal warming trays. The attendees of this annual trade show have the daunting task of collectively serving meals to over 300,000 Oregon schoolchildren, many of whom rely on school meals as their primary form of sustenance.

My goal was to encourage these food buyers to begin building relationships with local farmers, food processors, and distributors and to use Farm to School programming to revolutionize their menus in support of our local agricultural economy.

But much as it can be hard to coax a kid to choose a carrot when a chicken nugget is within reach, it was equally difficult to lure these food buyers from the hot food samples that other vendors had to offer. And so, as my crisp apples remained untouched, I became determined to make it easier for local food suppliers to have a strong presence at this trade show, and for school food buyers to make new relationships closer to home. So many decisions are made within those halls. How could we make it possible for local food to be a viable option, when up against powerful national food companies?

For the last three years, we’ve transformed the entrance to this conference into a hall of Oregon ranchers and fishermen, farmers and food processors, and suppliers of local grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, and more. We call it the Farm to School Showcase, and within this hall, Oregon’s farmers and food suppliers meet and connect with school food buyers face-to-face. We entice conference attendees with a Farm to School trivia game, support vendors with scholarships to attend, and make it easier for those 300,000 daily meals to include a little bit more local food.

Stephanie Powers (left) from Camas Country Mill near Eugene shares a sample and information about their Oregon-grown grains with a school food buyer at the 2013 Oregon School Nutrition Association food trade show.

As a result of connections made over the past several years, the Bend-LaPine School District is now purchasing Oregon-grown wheat from Camas Country Mill near Eugene; Salem-based Truitt Brothers is supplying locally-grown beans to cafeterias across the state; and school food service staff have an abundance of new sources for fresh and frozen local produce.

I’m excited to introduce the Farm to School Showcase Toolkit, published by Ecotrust, in which we’ve compiled our resources and lessons learned, typed up our checklists, and included lots of photos from the past three years. This toolkit makes it easier for Farm to School and sustainable food advocates in every state to put on Showcases of their own, paving the way for more local producers to make headway in the school food market.

In Oregon, that means approximately 300,000 meals per day, but nationally it’s over 31 million. That’s an $8.5 billion annual market. The potential impact of putting more of those dollars into the pockets of local food producers is astounding.

Together, school districts across the country have the power to radically shift institutional purchasing away from business as usual and towards the vision of a new economy represented by those Oregon apples – one that offers fresh, healthy food to all residents, economically viable food value chains that fairly compensate and respect the dignity of all participants, and methods of food production that renew our resources. Our schools are the place to start.

New Farm to School grants put local foods in Oregon students’ lunches

Monday, February 11th, 2013 by

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at

This semester, school lunch for nearly 60,000 Oregon students is transforming thanks to an infusion of local food and food education.

The Oregon Department of Education has announced that eleven school districts are the recipients of competitive Farm to School and School Garden grants totaling $189,140. The majority of the funds (87.5%) will be spent on purchasing Oregon food products, with a smaller portion (12.5%) dedicated to food-, agriculture-, and garden-based education activities.

Local food is on the lunchline and garden programs are on the rise in Oregon, thanks to new Farm to School funding from the state. Photo by Shawn Linehan.

The funding goes to diverse districts and schools across the state, from the tiny rural community of Joseph nestled in the Wallowa Mountains, to Oregon’s second largest city, Eugene, in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

Local food is on the lunchline and garden programs are on the rise in Oregon, thanks to new Farm to School funding from the state. Photo by Shawn Linehan.


Latino Community Farmers in Oregon Feasting on New Market: School lunch

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at

La Esperanza farmer Araceli Roman and her daughters at the Forest Grove Farmers Market. Photo by Shawn Linehan.

In 2010, the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres saw a clear challenge when the Latino farmers on its 12-acre La Esperanza Farm in the city of Forest Grove, Ore. continued to struggle selling their abundant harvests. Adelante Mujeres provides courses in sustainable agriculture to low-income Latinos, and offers graduates small farm plots and a booth at the Forest Grove Farmers Market to sell their fresh produce. But daunting social, linguistic, and technological barriers were making it difficult for the La Esperanza farmers to find diverse buyers for their organic vegetables.

Over two years, Portland State University and Ecotrust worked in close partnership with Adelante Mujeres to pilot a program that connects La Esperanza farmers to local wholesale buyers seeking fresh, organic produce. In the process, they took a hard look at how these farmers could support greater community health among the low-income residents of Washington County. (more…)

Schools: Make local food sourcing a snap with FoodHub!

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by

FoodHub hosts National Farm to School webinarHave you been trying to get a local sourcing program off the ground for your school, but don’t quite know where to start? FoodHub is the tool that helps schools kick-start relationships with local producers, bringing healthy, delicious foods to kitchens and cafeterias. Now is your chance to learn more about how FoodHub can help your Farm to School program thrive.

Join us as we host a Lunch Bites webinar through the National Farm to School Network, March 13, 12:00 PM – 12:20 PM CDT. (more…)

ODA offers cost share program and “mock audit” for Good Agricultural Practices certification May 26, 2011

Friday, May 13th, 2011 by

Message from Michelle Ratcliffe, Oregon Department of Agriculture

Oregon farmers currently selling to schools and other institutions, or those interested in doing so, are invited to learn more about Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification by attending an onsite mock audit, farm tour, and discussion presented by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Institutional buyers interested in learning more about GAP certification requirements are also invited to attend.


Food Producers: Be a Part of a New Local Foods Feature at the Oregon School Nutrition Association’s Annual Tradeshow

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by

The Oregon School Nutrition Association is pleased to announce a new local foods feature to their annual trade show March 11 and 12, 2011. All Oregon, Washington and Idaho producers are invited to participate and be showcased, but we will have limited space to only feature 12 in the main gallery.

The recent passage of federal legislation and increased attention on local foods in schools has created more opportunities than ever for regional food producers. If you are looking to engage in, or deepen, your connections to the growing school food market, this is the one event not to miss! The event will be held at the Salem Conference Center, and 250 school food buyers will attend.  If you are ready to register, please download and complete the vendor application posted here.

Deadline to submit applications is February 28. All vendor booths are filled on a first come first serve basis, so if you’d like to be part of the Local Foods welcoming gallery, please submit your form as soon as possible to guarantee a spot. When you do, select booth options between 89-100 and make a special note that you’d like to be a part of the Local Foods main gallery.

If you have already registered for a booth and would like to make sure that you are part of the Local Foods gallery or have other questions, please feel free to call or email Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Farm to School, 503.872.6620 or

Friday, March 11

1:00-5:30 pm – Exhibitor Move In Time

7:00-9:30 pm – Friday Fun Night with a live band

9:30 pm on – Free to have hosted broker/vendor rooms


Saturday, March 12

10:00-11:00 am – designated for Directors and Purchasing agents only

11:00 am-2:00 pm – All members will be welcome

5:00 pm – Closing ceremony

BOOTH RENTAL:                               Booths will be $650.00 each.

A booth consists of the following:

  • Admittance to “Vendor Friday Fun Night”
  • One ticket to the Saturday Night closing Ceremony, additional tickets are $35.00 each
  • 1 – 8’ x 10’ Draped Booth
  • Waste Basket with Liner
  • 110 Volt outlet/500 Watt outlet per booth
  • A sign for your booth

FoodHub: A Tool for Farm to School

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 by

“Quite frankly, I had no idea of the farms that were in our area.” – Lisa Vincent, Nutrition Services Operations Supervisor, Beaverton School District

Have you ever wondered how many farms are located close to your school district and how to get in touch with them? Check out FoodHub’s video featuring Susan Barker and Lisa Vincent of Beaverton, Oregon School District Nutrition Services. They explain how FoodHub helps make it easier to execute their Farm-to-School program by finding local farms and local products. Springbank Farms’ Brian and Michelle O’Driscoll talk about the pride they take in selling to schools.

Nudging kids toward healthier lunchroom choices

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by

We’ve seen that changing procurement practices is one of the most high-impact, meaningful ways to transform school food, but it can be helpful to tackle the issues from multiple angles. Smarter Lunchrooms is a new project from Cornell University that aims to design sustainable, research-based lunchrooms that subtly guide students to make smarter choices.

The project’s creators explain:

What can a well-meaning school do to help their students eat healthier? One way might be to raise the prices on the less healthy foods. Another way might be to eliminate unhealthy choices from the food service menu.

Many schools are hesitant to go this far. They are in the very real position of also balancing concerns of profitability, compliance, variety, and unfairness to those who are income disadvantaged.

Another set of solutions has been largely overlooked. These are the lunchroom changes – the environmental changes – that can lead a student to unknowingly make healthier lunch choices without knowing they were “nudged” in that direction by the way the lunchroom was designed.

The Smarter Lunchrooms site provides robust research, real-life case studies and plenty of tips for how to change the lunchroom to “nudge” kids toward healthier choices, such as re-naming menu items to sound more appetizing, making vegetables and fruit the “default” sides to a main dish, and displaying healthy foods in appealing, well-lit ways.

Is your district employing any of these tactics? If so, we’d love to hear about it!

Calling Washington farmers interested in selling to local schools for Taste Washington Day

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 by

Washington School Nutrition Association (WSNA) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture Farm-to-School Program are partnering to celebrate Washington agriculture on September 29 with TASTE WASHINGTON DAY. Schools around the state will be serving a locally-sourced meal and providing education and activities to celebrate the farms that feed us.

WSDA Farm-to-School Program will provide support to match up farms and schools and facilitate the purchasing process. Many school nutrition directors are off for part of the summer, so we’d like to start the process as soon as possible.

We will also help schools add educational activities to the day, whether that’s posters in the cafeteria, inviting a farmer to lunch, or visiting or lunching in a school garden.  We want Washington’s kids to spend that day considering the farmers who grow their food, and we want Washington farmers to help us bring that to life!

For more information, to be listed as a participating farm, or to get help linking to your local school districts, please contact Tricia Kovacs, WSDA Farm-to-School Program Manager, at or 206-256-6150.

Gervais School District finds local lettuce

Monday, May 10th, 2010 by

In late April, Clare Columbus, Nutrition Services Director for the Gervais School District, found out that her regular farmer would not be able to supply the lettuce she needed for the April Harvest of the Month she had planned. (The Harvest of the Month is a program in which the cafeteria features one seasonal ingredient from a local farmer in their menu.) Instead of panicking, Columbus used FoodHub to send a quick message out to several farms nearby that listed themselves as having lettuce, as well as posting to FoodHub’s Marketplace section. By the end of that day, she had found her lettuce! Ivan Maluski from Tipping Tree Farm in Colton (only 6 miles down the road from Clare!) got in touch and delivered the lettuce himself the next week. Now Clare has developed a new relationship with a local farmer, and Ivan has a new customer. Match-making success!

Photo by Scott Trimble