Local Lunch Voices – Portland Public Schools

For Slow Food Portland’s upcoming Labor Day Picnic with the Time-Based Art Festival, we’re lucky enough to not only be partnering with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, but also with a collection of excellent Portland-based school lunch advocates. These groups are already working on-the-ground to bring about cafeteria reform, and are a large part of what makes Oregon a leader in improving farm-to-school programs. To clue you in on some of the work they’re doing in Portland, we’re excited to feature a guest post by Melissa Martin and Shannon Stember of Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services. And remember to Bring a picnic to Washington High School (map) on September 7 from 12:30-4 to join PPS, Slow Food Portland, and other local food advocates in a celebration of local eating.

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The Portland Public Schools (PPS) Nutrition Services Department is excited to partner with the Slow Food “National Day of Action for School Lunch Reform” campaign because we support efforts to strengthen our local food system and to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors for children and families.  The PPS Nutrition Services Department has always worked hard to prepare nutritious and appealing school meals for students, and we’ve recently expanded these efforts by serving as much regionally grown and produced food as possible.
Efforts to integrate regionally grown food into school meals have primarily been cultivated through two popular PPS programs: Harvest of the Month and Local Lunch.  The “Harvest of the Month” program helps provide food system education to students and highlights the great agriculture of the Northwest.  Each month, PPS celebrates a local fruit or vegetable by serving it in school meals twice during the month and decorating school cafeterias with posters that highlight the produce and farm of origin.

During the 2008-2009 school year PPS also served a monthly “Local Lunch” composed entirely of locally grown and produced ingredients.   The “Local Lunch” initiative was supported by a variety of community partners, including Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (fiscal supporter) and Ecotrust (evaluation and advocacy for state-wide legislation for funding to support efforts to buy local foods).  The successful “Local Lunch” program will evolve into “Local Flavors” for the 2009-2010 school year.  “Local Flavors” are kid-tested, locally grown and produced food products that have been integrated into the normal menu.

Both the Harvest of the Month and Local Lunch program are enhanced by dedicated educators who integrate garden-based educational activities for PPS students.  Passionate teachers, parents, and community agencies have helped create and maintain school/community gardens to give students hands-on exploration and learning experiences.  These educational opportunities strengthen and compliment efforts being coordinated as part of the school meal program.

The PPS Nutrition Services Department has been a leader in prioritizing local food for local kids, but our efforts are stunted by limited funding and resources.  This is why we enthusiastically support the initiatives outlined by Slow Food’s National Day of Action for School Lunch Reform.  The following Slow Food initiatives address key barriers faced by school meal programs across the county:
Raise the federal reimbursement for school lunches by $1 to $3.57, to better cover the costs of quality food.

We are happy to see the recognition and support of the need for increased reimbursement per meal. The School Nutrition Association is asking for a 35 cent increase and Alice Waters has commented that the ideal reimbursement should be closer to $5.00.  The bottom line is that every increase helps toward our efforts to purchase more locally grown and produced foods.

Create greater oversight of all food sold on school campuses, including vending machines and “a la carte” options from school stores.

Portland Public Schools has been a leader in setting nutrition standards for all food in the school environment. Even before Oregon passed legislation limiting beverages and snack foods, PPS eliminated sodas in high school vending machines (the only grades where they were previously allowed) and dumped “a la carte” foods (such as cookies and chips) in favor of balanced meals.

Provide funding for farm-to-school and school garden learning initiatives, to teach children a lifetime of healthy habits.

PPS is fortunate to be in a community filled with nonprofit organizations and local businesses who support farm-to-school and school gardens. Innovative partnerships have moved the agenda forward much more quickly than if we were working alone.

Establish incentives for school districts to purchase locally, thereby supporting their regional economies.

PPS is committed to continuing our support of the local economy through purchasing locally grown and produced food for school meals and we would be thrilled to have incentives that would make it easier.

Initiate a “School Lunch Corps” that would train community members to work towards improving our school lunch system.

Creating paid intern positions using the AmeriCorps model could provide a full year of support for building connections between the cafeteria, the classroom, the school garden and local farms.

PPS recognizes that the entire school environment is a learning laboratory and local schools can have a big impact on the local economy.  Please join us in educating the public about the benefits of higher federal reimbursements for school meals and funding for farm-to-school and garden initiatives. We need your help to create a “culture of wellness” at every school by monitoring all foods and beverages served on campus and to create gardens that inspire kids to get their hands dirty and explore new foods.   We look forward to celebrating the National Day of Action for School Lunch Reform with our community on September 7!

Melissa Martin, MPH, Nutrition Services Program Manager
Shannon Stember, RD, Nutrition Services Assistant Director

Thanks for sharing