Eugene School District 4J in Eugene, Oregon
Around the country, a number of school districts contract with food service management companies to operate their school meal programs. In Eugene, Oregon, this arrangement also supports a growing number of Farm to School initiatives.
On May 26-27, 2010, the USDA Farm to School Team visited Eugene School District 4J (E4J). E4J includes 40 schools, and was the first of two school districts visited by the Team that contract with a food service management company (FSMC) to manage its school meal programs and Farm to School activities.
E4J’s Farm to School activities were first initiated in 2007 when a local nonprofit contacted the District to begin field trips and local food taste tests. Local purchasing also began in 2007 with one Oregon product per month in each of their 40 schools through a “Harvest of the Month” activity. The district classifies their Farm to School activities as “still in its infancy” and recognizes that it is evolving. However, E4J have been able to purchase a variety of local items including apples, berries, cabbage, corn, greens, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, onions, pears, radishes, tomatoes, watermelon, granola, herbs, dried beans, cranberries, mushrooms, cheese, flour, frozen local vegetables, and more.
Locally produced food served in the cafeteria is only part of the district’s story. Farm to School activities at E4J also include 14 school gardens spread throughout the district, many that are used for educational purposes. The FSMC sponsors an annual culinary competition for elementary and high school students, who are encouraged to use local ingredients to develop their culinary creations. The FSMC also runs a Farm to Market event, where kids learn both global and local perspectives regarding food production. One elementary school features a “school garden day” where a meal is prepared from foods harvested from their school garden. A nonprofit partner also provides a six week educational program focusing on how food is produced in an effort to increase students’ knowledge of where their food comes from, as well as to improve nutrition and to provide new opportunities for local farmers.
E4J has also partnered with Willamette Farm and Food Coalition to provide Farm to School educational activities in two schools. These educational activities include an introductory lesson in which students to trace all ingredients in a hot lunch back to the farm, farm field trips, harvest meals, tasting tables, school garden sessions and nutrition lessons. School garden sessions are implemented by The School Garden Project of Lane County and nutrition lessons are implemented by Oregon State University Extension’s Nutrition Education Program.
To date, E4J has put most of their efforts into serving more local foods and in educating students about where food comes from and how it is produced. Their future plans include expanding the number of schools which have gardens, developing a “demonstration farm” to assist with the Farm to School education effort, and possibly purchasing local meat as well.
E4J’s Registered Dietitian and Manager of Nutrition Services, Nicole Zammit RD LD, offers the following suggestions for communities starting Farm to School:
- You don’t need to recreate the wheel – look for existing resources.
- Attend conferences that have a focus on Farm to School as a way to learn from others.