Grant From Kaiser Permanente Community Fund Puts Local Food on the Menu in Portland...

Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:01am EDT

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Grant From Kaiser Permanente Community Fund Puts Local Food on the Menu in
Portland Public School and Gervais School Districts
Local Farmers and Food Processors to Profit from Growing and Cooking for
Thousands of Students this School Year; Kids Benefit from Nutritious, Local
Ingredients

PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The first school assembly of the
new academic year will take place today at 10 a.m., at Atkinson Elementary in
South East Portland, where school food and education leaders will gather
alongside farmers, food producers, grocery retailers and government officials
to cheer a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest
Health Foundation that will subsidize approximately 2,640,000 meals with the
funds needed to serve more Oregon grown and processed foods in Portland Public
Schools and Gervais School Districts.
    The grant, secured by Ecotrust's Food and Farms program, will bolster
existing efforts to bring more regionally produced food into two distinct
school districts in the immediate school year, and kick-off a six-month study
to measure the impact of nourishing the minds and bodies of young school
children with fresh seasonal produce and locally processed foods, while
directing dollars spent to feed Oregon students back into the local economy.
Additionally, the study will provide a rigorous test of policy concepts
originally introduced in the 2007 Oregon legislative session to reimburse
schools for purchasing Oregon agricultural products.  Data gathered from the
pilot will provide the 2009 Oregon State Legislature with hard evidence to
consider a similar proposal this January.
     "The generous grant will allow us to start making a difference now," said
Michelle Ratcliffe, Ph.D., Farm to School Manager for Ecotrust Food and Farms
Program. "The interest in local sourcing, food traceability and school gardens
is on the rise, and these elements of the farm to school movement have
overwhelming support from Food Service Directors and front line staff across
Oregon."
    "The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund recognizes the nutritional
significance that school prepared meals play for thousands of Oregon children
and their families, so we see this program as a meaningful and effective way
to set kids on a lifelong path of healthy eating," said Chris Kabel, program
officer with the Northwest Health Foundation.  "We also were motivated to
support this program because the foundational data that will be gathered will
inform new policies supporting children's health and nutrition in the upcoming
legislative session and beyond."
    The expanded Harvest of the Month program will launch in September in the
state's largest district, Portland Public Schools, and in the smaller, rural
Gervais School District.  The two distinct districts were selected for the
initial study based on their significant populations of vulnerable students,
measured by high percentages of children eligible for free and reduced meals.
In addition, the nutrition service directors in both districts have
demonstrated farm-to-school leadership at the local, state and national levels
and are committed to program execution.
    "These two diverse school districts were chosen to study how different
procurement regulations may apply and how agricultural operations will need to
be scaled to meet the food demand of each district," said Ratcliffe. "We
anticipate learning how to scale this program to fit any number of school
districts across Oregon in coming years."
    In preparation for the new program, Portland and Gervais school food
service directors spent months in the field -- literally -- forging
relationships with local farmers willing to grow fresh, seasonal fruits and
vegetables for harvest during the school's calendar year, or frozen in peak
season, in the case with Oregon berries.  They also knocked on doors of Oregon
food manufacturers capable of developing specialty items using local
ingredients for the center of the lunch plate.
    "Portland is the first large, urban school district in the country to make
such substantial gains in the farm to school programming," said Kristy Obbink,
Director of Nutrition Services for Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services.
"This process has inspired us to incorporate local ingredients in products
that we use every day, such as the Northwest grown wheat in almost all of our
baked goods."
    The Cafeteria as a Classroom
    Guided by the idea that bringing healthy food into the cafeteria is also a
critical component of education, promoting Oregon agriculture will span from
the cafeteria to the classroom, and in some settings, the school garden. Kids
will see colorful "Harvest of the Month" posters heralding farmers as heroes
and produce as pop art.  In collaboration with the Portland Farm to School and
School Garden Coalition and OHSU, teachers will be offered activities that tie
Harvest of the Month foods to classroom and garden-based learning. In
addition, parents will be encouraged to follow along with the Harvest of the
Month calendar and purchase the same foods from local grocery retailers to
serve at home. And beginning in October, one day each month, Portland Public
Schools will transform an entire meal with locally sourced foods, inviting
kids and teachers to enjoy a "Local Lunch."
    "We're reinventing the lunchroom one meal at a time and excited to show
what a little more money spent on school food can do to form life-long healthy
eating habits among school aged children," said Obbink.
    About Ecotrust's Food and Farms Program
    Ecotrust's Food and Farms program works to create a vibrant regional food
system where sustainability is the underlying value of the mainstream food
system -- the norm rather than the exception. Ecotrust is a regional leader in
food systems work, and has developed extensive farm to school expertise.
Ecotrust was recently named the Western Regional Lead Agency for the National
Farm to School Network, extending its sphere of influence as a farm to school
leader across eight Western states.
    About The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the NW Health Foundation
    The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation
was established in late 2004 to advance the health of the communities served
by Kaiser Permanente Northwest (http://www.kaiserpermanente.org). The Fund
intends to achieve this goal by addressing those factors in the social,
policy, and physical environment that impact community health. Often referred
to as the social determinants of health, these factors have been shown to play
a major role in the development of health disparities based on race,
ethnicity, and socio-economic status.
SOURCE  Ecotrust

Amy Brown of Seed Public Relations, Inc., +1-503-341-3795, amyb@seed-pr.com;
or Katie Essick, +1-503-916-3053, kessick@pps.k12.or.us, both for Ecotrust
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