This week, Ecotrust received new federal support through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Program – an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. The total award of nearly $100,000 will help establish baseline data for farm to school programs in school districts across the state of Oregon in order to better measure progress, set goals and grow programs strategically for impact.
Ecotrust’s project is one of 71 spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia that received support from the USDA this year.
“In rural and urban communities across the country, farm to school is teaching students where food comes from and how it gets to their plate, and encouraging them to make healthier food choices in the cafeteria and at home,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Farm to school programs are an investment in the health of our nation’s children and in the vibrancy of rural economies.”
USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.
Ecotrust will use the funds to establish an easy-to-use tracking system to collect baseline data for farm to school programs in Oregon. It will share the results in a format that is user-friendly, dynamic, public-facing, and will allow individual programs to measure progress toward statewide goals that have been developed by the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network.
“This funding comes at the perfect time to take farm to school programs in Oregon to the next level,” said Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe, Farm to School Program Manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We have set out goals for our state, and thanks to this grant, Ecotrust can now create the tools and roadmap that empower people to move more rapidly toward those goals together.”
Ecotrust is in a unique position to lead this type of data collection and evaluation project: The organization specializes in developing practical, user-friendly tools and systems for collecting, analyzing, and sharing complex data with those who need it most. We also collaborate with diverse partners who are working in the field, having served as the Western Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network since 2007 and co-founding the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network.
“I am so excited about this project, which will help farm to school practitioners set ambitious goals to purchase and serve more local foods in schools, better integrate garden-based education, keep money in Oregon’s agricultural economy, support farmers and food producers, and reconnect students to where food comes from,” says Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust Farm to School Manager. “This will give us the tools and information to move towards a unified vision for farm to school in our state – one that provides high quality, nourishing food to all Oregon children.”
The project will involve close partnerships with a wide range of farm to school stakeholders in Oregon, including: Oregon Department of Education (ODE), Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), The Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network, Willamette Farm & Food Coalition (WFFC), Upstream Public Health (UPH), Portland Public Schools (PPS) and the North Powder School District. To learn more about the Ecotrust Farm to School program, visit: www.ecotrust.org/farmtoschool.
USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food. USDA’s Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods.