Corvallis Schools Bring Farm to Table: Partnership With Environmental Center Grows

Corvallis is home to a budding school garden program and local food initiative project that is moving into full swing with the spring season. The school district is developing garden programs throughout the community with the Corvallis Environmental Center Farm to School Program, while the Linus Pauling Institute’s Healthy Youth Program at OSU continues its success with the nutrition and health curricula and school garden programs that it launched in 2009.

The Healthy Youth Program is currently running garden projects at Lincoln Elementary School and the Corvallis High School. Since the fall of 2012, the Spartan Garden at the high school has had three major harvests, and the food grown has been a part of a county-wide education and wellness effort to engage students and families to explore new foods and healthy eating through community programs such as “Chefs in the Garden” and “Fresh Grown Cooking for Families.” The Spartan Garden has also developed a nutrition- and food-based curriculum that includes interdisciplinary projects with departments such as art and woodworking, where students can learn hands-on, practical applications of the skills they are learning. The garden sheds and tables, for example, were built by woodworking students at Corvallis High School, and the ceramic tiles for the tables and the carrot sign were designed by art students.

Candace Russo manages the Healthy Youth Program garden projects. She says one of the most exciting aspects of her work is seeing the students get involved in gardening from soil to table—which invariably translates to them thinking about healthy eating. Growing the food from seed gives the kids a strong investment in what they are setting out to accomplish, and so naturally they are going to try fresh foods that they may not have appreciated before.

“When food is fresh and you’re personally invested in it, you’re more likely to want to eat it and learn more about it,” said Russo. “A classic example is kale, which grows so easily here in Corvallis most of the year, but many of the students were surprised to discover they really liked it—both fresh from the garden and by learning how to make kale chips.”

Another inspiring element of the program is that it trickles out to the families, as students are asking their parents to get involved at home. Parents, who once thought they were lucky to have their kids eating a small repertoire of vegetables, are looking for ways to prepare “whatever vegetables are in season.” The garden-fresh recipes are now available on the LPI-Healthy Youth Project website because so many parents are asking for them.

The garden at Lincoln Elementary was initially built by an Ameri-Corps volunteer, but since that program did not continue, LPI- Healthy Youth Project was able to get the program started again in 2012. It was such a success last year that they will be breaking ground this spring with an initiative to double the garden in size. By this summer, the Lincoln School Garden will have a family garden space in addition to the school garden. Overall, based on both surveys and feedback, it appears that the programs are successful in getting kids to eat more vegetables and eat more nutritiously.

The Corvallis Farm to School program is a partnership between the Corvallis School District and the Corvallis Environmental Center’s Edible Corvallis Initiative. Corvallis Farm to School Coordinator Sara McCune and the director of the Edible Corvallis Initiative, Jen Brown, recently held a webinar to educate the community about the Farm to School program. They will be working with both school garden programs and local large-scale farmers in an effort to maximize the amount of fresh, local foods served in the district’s school cafeterias.

The multi-organizational efforts of the Corvallis community to approach a proactive health campaign for its youth are both inspiring and unusual. Many cities and towns in the United States remain mired in politics and stymied by short-term special interests, despite the facts that childhood obesity and Type-II diabetes have reached epidemic levels. The forward thinking of groups like the Corvallis Environmental Center, the Linus Pauling Healthy Youth Program, and the Corvallis School District are sure to keep Corvallis on the map as a town ahead of its time.

by Maria Murphy

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