Bend-La Pine Schools received $67,000 from the state to help serve its kids fresh Oregon fish and meat over the next two years.
A total of $1.2 million was awarded to 19 school districts through the second round of the Farm to School and School Garden grant. Sisters also received money from the grant, helping it fund its Seed to School program, which allows students to eat and even grow local fruits and vegetables.
This is Bend-La Pine’s second time receiving funding through the program, though the district has a long history of utilizing local and fresh ingredients.
“Around 2005, we went straight to some local farmers and asked if they could provide us with food that would beat wholesale costs,” said Katrina Wiest, the district’s wellness coordinator. “They actually came out well under, which makes sense, as we were cutting out the middleman, and now our ingredients come straight from the farm.”
Wiest was able to use the relationships she developed managing farmer’s markets in Bend to grow the district’s Oregon supply chain. The school district began with local fruits, moving on to vegetables, meat and finally ingredients for its bakery. Other more unusual items have worked their way into district cafeterias, such as popped wheat berries from Wheat Springs Bakery.
“Instead of giving our kids bacon bits, they get to put these wheat berries on their salads,” Wiest said.
Last year, Bend-La Pine was able to add locally sourced fish to its lineup through the Boat to School program using its grant money.
This year’s funding will be used to continue this program in addition to supporting a project in which Future Farmers of America students raise and slaughter pigs for use in school lunches.
“When we first introduced shrimp fettuccine at Bear Creek Elementary, the students said, ‘No way!’” Wiest said. “They said that they didn’t get food like that at home. Just to see their eyes was really special.”
When asked if the Boat to School program would be able to continue beyond the next two years, Wiest expressed cautious optimism.
“We don’t know what will happen when the funding ends,” she said. “We hope the Legislature sees the importance of this and continues to support our efforts. With the grant, not every student in Oregon gets to benefit. It would be great to see something statewide. However, using fresh ingredients is possible without state support — look at what we’ve done.”
Oregon school districts receive federal funding to help cover the cost of their food, but unlike most other states, there is no supplemental support from the state government. Nonetheless, Wiest said that not only are they able to survive using local products; they even give money back to the general fund. As a result, 2.1 million meals featuring a good helping of local ingredients were produced last year in the district’s production kitchen located at Bend Senior High School.
“We can’t do everything, though,” Wiest said. “Hot dog and hamburger buns are not local; we’d just need too many of them.”