By Rachel Pettit, Farm to School Program Coordinator, Food Roots
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 all 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. While people know Tillamook for dairy foods, there’s a market basket of locally produced foods grown here. Sometimes, you just need to know where to look. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, seafood, eggs, sheep and goat 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 May, a class of students from Nehalem Elementary School spent almost their whole day on a field trip to Nehalem River Ranch. This summer, students from Nestucca Valley Elementary School harvested 147 pounds of produce and sold it at the Pacific City Farmers Market. And this year, students at eight schools in Tillamook County will taste new foods grown in their school garden or on a farm nearby.
Farm to school programs may be small, but they have big impacts on 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 is part of student life at Nehalem Elementary, Garibaldi Grade School, South Prairie Elementary, Tillamook Junior High, Nestucca Valley Early Learning Center, Nestucca Valley Elementary, and Neskowin Valley School. Our partnerships with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and 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 we’re also celebrating National Farm to School Month in October by hosting three local food open houses! All district families are welcome to attend these events! 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 .