Setting the Table for Health: Rogue Valley Farm to School is Feeding the Future
Microwaved chicken nuggets, cold tater-tots, cardboard pizza.
When it comes to common perceptions of school cafeteria lunches, these less-than-appetizing provisions are likely among the list of what comes to mind for many parents. (Along with the classic “mystery meat.”)
For parents with children in Jackson or Josephine Counties, however, this school lunch stigma has begun to shift, as frozen French fries are replaced with fresh leafy greens, reheated pizzas step aside for homemade butternut squash soup, and packaged instant pudding makes room for freshly-baked apple pie.
What’s behind this much-needed upgrade? Rogue Valley Farm to School (RVF2S), the Ashland-based organization that has been dedicated to nourishing the next generation for more than a decade. Through their passionate work, RVF2S, a non-profit 501c3 organization founded in 2008, partners with local schools to build a culture of health that starts from the ground up, making sure that meals include locally-grown, nutritious and delicious food to help children develop a love for food and healthy eating at an early age.
“We believe that by introducing high quality, nutrient dense and locally-sourced foods into school meals we are greatly improving the health and diet of our children, while at the same time supporting the growth of our dwindling local farms,” said Executive Director Sheila Foster. “Getting kids excited about their food, where it comes from and how it’s made lays a foundation for healthiness that continues to empower them throughout their lives.”
One of the most significant ways they do this is through their Digging Deeper program, which was launched in 2018 as a targeted effort to further reinforce a culture of health in Southern Oregon school systems. They do this by providing fun and engaging project-based nutrition and agriculture learning activities to educators, ensuring that healthful living and eating is intertwined into core curriculum in a meaningful way.
Activities like twice-yearly field trips to one of four local farms, where students have the chance to awaken their inner-farmer with a hands-on harvest cultivation; gardens on schoolgrounds where kids get their green-thumbs planting and sprouting living growing spaces; quarterly professional development workshops for teachers to brainstorm budding lesson plans; and interactive cafeteria harvest contests that encourage excitement around trying new foods by featuring a different, locally grown fruit or vegetable every month. (Add some Microgreens to the grocery list to try out February’s featured harvest!)
Thanks to a nearly $200,000 grant recently awarded by the Oregon Department of Education, the Digging Deeper program will soon reach even further with the expansion into the Phoenix/Talent School District this fall.
“The state of Oregon has continued to invest heavily into local Farm to School programs like RVF2S because they see the value of our efforts,” said Foster. “The Digging Deeper program does much more than just help grow school gardens – it helps grow good lifestyle habits, citizenship skills and passion about the food we cultivate and consume.”
Aside from state and government funding, RVF2S also relies heavily on the contributions and support of loyal community members. Passionate patrons and local business owners help bring the Digging Deeper program to schools, making it possible for more than 2,500 elementary students to visit nearby farms and ensuring local, fresh fruit and vegetables are served to nearly 5,000 additional students. Community fundraisers play a role too, particularly their largest springtime initiative—the Annual Siskiyou Challenge relay-race. Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, this year’s “Race Towards a Stronger Food System” will be bigger and better than ever, with more music throughout the six-leg course, an expanded Health & Wellness Outdoor Adventure Expo, on-site food trucks and more!
To learn more about the race, the RVF2S programs and all the ways to get involved, visit rvfarm2school.org and check out the calendar of offerings.