By Rachel Pettit, Food Roots’ Farm to School Program Coordinator
What is farm to school?
Hands in the soil.
Seeds. Sprouts. Fruit.
Sharing and not being afraid to try something new.
Laughter. Smiles. Teamwork.
Farm to school is also a general term used to describe work being done across the United States to connect students with local food and encourage the development of healthy lifestyle behaviors. Tillamook County is a community rich in agricultural tradition that should be celebrated and shared with children of all backgrounds, farm kid or not.
This agricultural tradition in Tillamook is both deep and wide. Many families hold dairymen and women close, but a full diet of locally produced foods is available if you know where to look. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, seafood, eggs, sheep’s and goat’s milk, dairy, honey, bread, teas, and herbs are all produced in our community. Farm to school seeks to connect students with as many of those producers as possible.
In addition to celebrating agriculture and local food, farm to school programs also provide students with exciting opportunities to explore the world. Children are curious and eager to try new things, especially if those things are outside or involve eating! Students who participate in farm to school activities get to spend part of their school day gardening, cooking, conducting science experiments, spending time on farms, talking with local farmers who visit the classroom, and tasting all different kinds of produce.
Their seeds may not always grow, they may get a little messy, they may not love kale, but all of these students are building lifelong skills and relationships with their neighbors in the process.
In the spring, classrooms at Nehalem Elementary School, Garibaldi Grade School and South Prairie Elementary School hosted visiting farmers including Moon River Farm and Green Fork Farm both in Nehalem, and Leuthold Dairy, Wilson View Dairy, Zweifel Farm Eggs, and Zweifel Custom Farming who all call Tillamook home. In May, two classes of students from Nehalem Elementary School spent part of their school day on a field trip to Nehalem River Ranch. This summer, students from Nestucca Valley Elementary School harvested 100 pounds of produce and sold it at the Pacific City Farmers Market. Throughout the course of the 2017-2018 school year, students at seven schools in Tillamook County tasted new foods grown by local farmers.
Farm to school programs may be small, but they have big impacts on a community’s health and economy. Students who participate are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables at school and are more likely to ask for extra veggies at home. They do better in school, especially in science, and have positive behavior changes. Farmers gain exposure, and families learn where they can buy local foods.
School gardens and Food Roots’ farm to school program are part of student life at Nehalem Elementary, Garibaldi Grade School, South Prairie Elementary, Tillamook Junior High, Nestucca Valley Elementary, and Neskowin Valley School. Grant funding from the Oregon Department of Education, and our partnership with national service organization FoodCorps help us provide regular farm to school lessons that complement what students are already learning in science, math, English, language arts, and social studies.
Our favorite lessons are out in the garden planting and caring for vegetables, or cooking simple, tasty recipes in the classroom with local produce. We also conduct regular all school Tasting Tables, participate in school Family Nights, help maintain school gardens, organize field trips to local farms or farmer visits to classrooms, and we run the School to Market project where students grow produce and sell it at market.
This year is also our second annual participation in National Farm to School Month, an October celebration that helps recognize farm to school programs like ours. We’re marking this season of abundance by harvesting the last of school garden produce and planting vegetables that will grow slowly through the winter for spring eating.
We’ll also be hosting a Tasting Table at each of our partner schools for students to try a special potato variety called the Makah Ozette fingerling. This variety of potato was never cultivated in Europe and made its way from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Northwest via overland trade routes over hundreds of years. Food geneticists have proved this through recent testing, and we purchased the seed potatoes from a farm in Oregon City. Students planted the seed potatoes at the end of the school year and harvested the mature potatoes in September. Now they’ll be able to eat the fruits of their labor and learn a little bit more about how the foods we eat today carry generations of stories. A truly special celebration!
The final way we’re marking National Farm to School Month is with Local Food Open Houses, where school district families have an opportunity to try locally grown products and get to know local growers! Watch the Food Roots website or Facebook page for event announcements.
For more information about Farm to School Month, volunteering with school gardens, hosting students on your farm, or anything at all related to farm to school in Tillamook, please contact Rachel Pettit, Food Roots’ farm to school program coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org .