Emily Ritchie writes this blog. As the Oregon FoodCorps Fellow, I will catalyze a Boat to School program in Oregon that may serve as a model for other states. Over the past two years there have been fledgling efforts in Oregon to get a Boat to School Program going. During my fellowship year (2012-2013) I will build on those initial steps and relationships to really launch Boat to School in Oregon, bringing Oregon seafood into Oregon schools.
What is Farm to School in Oregon? While Farm to School programs are unique to the place and people who run them, they consist of a spectrum of activities that both serve up and celebrate our agricultural bounty. These programs connect local farmers, fishers, ranchers, dairymen and food processors with school cafeterias in preschools, grades K-12, and colleges. They include serving more Oregon agricultural products on the lunch line, and activities that directly connect youth to food production.
There is tremendous interest in Farm to School programs nationally and in Oregon particularly. Oregonians are excited about the potential of Farm to School programs to increase local economic development, shorten the urban-rural-coastal divides and support children’s health and academic achievement. In Oregon, there are approximately 90 school districts, out of 198, that indicate that they are purchasing Oregon agricultural products in addition to milk. These 90 districts serve well over half of the school-aged children in the state. Ten years ago when farm to school started, the focus was primarily on procuring and promoting fresh fruits and vegetables. Within the past 5 years we have seen increased attention on developing multi-ingredient and “center of the plate” local meal entrees.
Boat to School: Currently, school food services are very interested in procuring and promoting more Oregon seafood. This interest is fueled by the USDA’s new guidelines that suggest people eat fish twice a week. Schools are also interested in the educational value of using Oregon agriculture, and seafood in particular, to teach lessons related to health, history, geography and science.