15 Cents: HB 2800

Reporter Sarah Mirk of the Portland Mercury had a chance to follow along on some of the events and tours held during the recent Farm to Cafeteria Conference. Her write-up on the Mercury blog shares her experiences visiting the Food Innovation Center, a farmer who supplies public school cafeterias in Kaiser, and the Truitt Brothers Salem cannery.

Outside Salem, a farmer named Matt shows off a different option for school lunches. The 5th generation farmer welcomed us into his cement-floored farmstore with free marionberry crumble and went on to explain how he delivers thousands of pounds of watermelon, pears and other produce to schools around the state (including private colleges like Reed). “The biggest problem is I can’t grow enough,” says Matt, noting that the farthest his food travels to schools is 120 miles.

The article highlights the diversity of the Oregon agricultural economy – everything from food science to local processors to farmers – all of which must play a role in improved cafeteria lunches. To support this important state industry, we’re going to need to legislate for more funding for local purchasing. Mirk mentions HB 2800, which was co-sponsored by Representative Tina Kotek (D- North/Northeast Portland) and Representative Brian Clem (D- Salem), as an important step towards guaranteeing that more Oregon produce ends up on the plates of Oregon schoolchildren.

According to a recent press release from Ecotrust Food & Farms, the extra 15 cents per student meal allocated by the bill would directly help Oregon farmers and food producers, which combined make up 10% of our state economy. While a $22.6 millon bill for healthier, local school lunches may seem like a hard sell with our state facing such massive budget shortfalls, it’s time that we get our politicians to look at the situation holistically and recognize the positive effects such a measure could have on all of the sectors of our state. Ecotrust just completed a preliminary study of a recent pilot program funded by Kaiser Permanente, which granted an additional 7 cents per lunch to 91 schools in Gervais and Portland for buying and serving local foods. Their findings?

… over a 14-week time period (mid-Sept. – Dec. 2008), the two districts received $66,193 in Kaiser Permanente grant funds. Those funds, in turn, catalyzed $225,869 in local purchasing.

The data reveal three key findings. First, as researchers predicted, a small amount of money can leverage much greater investment in local purchasing, as over 71 percent of the $225,869 spent on local products was the result of existing school spending being shifted to the Oregon economy. Second, an input-output analysis was used to estimate the economic benefits of these purchases to the Oregon economy and shows that for every food dollar spent locally by the two school districts, an additional 87 cents was spent in Oregon, generating a multiplier of 1.87 for farm to school spending. Finally, research confirms that the economic benefits of investments made in the Oregon agricultural community trigger successive spending in almost every sector of the Oregon economy. The analysis revealed that dollars spent in Oregon agriculture reverberated into 401 of 409 of the state’s economic sectors.

From those results, it seems like school lunch programs could form a key part of our state’s economic recovery, while also improving schoolkids’ health and offering them a chance to learn about food and agriculture. Now is the time to make these sorts of investments in our local infrastructure.

Please keep an eye on this important bill as it moves through the state legislature. If you are interested, HB 2800 is scheduled for its first hearing in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee at 8 a.m., Thursday, April 2.

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