Oregon’s North Coast has an abundance of agricultural heritage that keeps our local food system thriving, from land to sea. Our Farm to School program at Food Roots works to connect local students to local producers to create long-term, healthy changes. We also provide hands-on, garden-based learning opportunities for students in the classroom and virtually.
Every October we participate in National Farm to School Month and though our program looked completely different due to COVID-19, there was still a lot to celebrate for Oregon.
As of 2019
● Farm to School has generated $21 million for communities,
● Created 100+ jobs in Oregon and has
● Fed nearly 250,000 Oregon children
● 128 Oregon school districts participate in Farm to School programs
● 160 Oregon school districts have an edible garden
● 724 Oregon schools now have an edible garden
● 245 Oregon schools incorporate produce from the onsite garden into lunches
These numbers indicate a growing interest in local food systems throughout the state and future generations who will be confident and comfortable engaging with them. Students who participate in Farm to School programs 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 behavioral growth. Farmers gain exposure, and families learn where they can buy local foods.
(Source: Oregon Farm to School Counts, accessed October 2020.)
(Image: heirloom tomatoes harvested from the Tillamook Junior High garden. We got these plant starts from Circe's Garden!)
Despite this year’s challenges, we worked with volunteers, local farmers, and community organizations to improve school gardens, share harvests, and encourage exploration of the natural world. Read on to learn more about some of the projects we worked on during National Farm to School Month in Tillamook County!
Our farm to school team started National Farm to School Month by recording a farm field trip video at Corvus Landing Farm in Neskowin. Carolina showed us all around the farm, sharing information about their delicious vegetables, beautiful cut flowers, and why caring about all the creatures from the tiniest soil microorganisms to the seasonal salmon visitors is important for the farm and the environment. We’re excited to share this video (and the farm trips we recorded at Moon River Farm and Circe’s Garden, too!) with students after the winter break.
(Image: Food Roots garden educator Aristotle Decker recording Carolina talking about why they use cover crops on the farm.)
We helped put new plastic on the school garden hoophouse at Nestucca Valley Elementary School. These structures hold the heat from the sun and keep a lot of the wind and cold rain out so we can grow veggies all year round. We also built a new shed at the Tillamook Junior High garden to keep tools and other garden equipment protected from the rain. Thank you to the Tillamook High School Key Club Community 101 grant for helping us fund improvement projects at the Junior High garden!
(On the left, Tana Higdon, NVES garden champion, uses ‘wiggle wire’ to hold the plastic in place over the metal hoophouse frame. On the right: Food Roots volunteer Jake Simondet stands in front of the completed shed.)
One of the tastiest ways to celebrate Farm to School Month is by eating locally grown food. Students got to try red and yellow cherry tomatoes grown by Fawcett Creek Farm and the crunchiest, sweetest carrots grown by Circe’s Garden, and downtown trick-or-treaters got to try ground cherries, also grown by Fawcett Creek. Did you know that ground cherries, cherry tomatoes and tomatillos are all related plants? Ground cherries are one of our favorite things to try with students! They’re small like cherry tomatoes and have a papery husk like tomatillos but are pale yellow and have a tropical fruit flavor kind of like mango or pineapple. We always try to highlight Tillamook County farmers when we do tasting tables, and if you’re interested in buying from local farmers one of the ways you can do that is by shopping Food Roots’ FarmTable!
While schools have been doing distance learning we’ve been taking all of our garden harvests to the food pantry at the Tillamook Junior High. In October alone we harvested 142.5 pounds of fresh produce including bell peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, Swiss chard and winter squash.
(On the left: tomatillos and green bell peppers grown in the hoophouse at the Tillamook Jr High garden. On the right: Tasting Tables To Go include the produce item, info about it, and an online survey for students to tell us what they think of the fruit or veggie they tried.)
The last project we want to celebrate was the creation of Naturalist Kits for all kindergarten through sixth grade students in the three Tillamook County school districts - that’s over 1600 students! These kits include materials to encourage students to explore the natural world, from tiny seedlings to the tallest trees! We worked with the Tillamook County STEM Partnership to put these kits together; shoutout to some great local organizations! Friends of Netarts Bay WEBS, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, TSD9 Natural Resources Program, TBCC, Tillamook County 4-H, Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative, Bay City Arts Center, and the NW STEM Hub.
Each kit contains:
Blank nature journal
Pencil and colored pencils
Tree identification guides and
A canvas bag to hold it all!
(Image: Here’s a peak at the Naturalist Kit items!)
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 manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org .