Sherrie Sprenger attends Planting Seeds of Change lunch
LEBANON — Guess who’s coming to lunch?
Supporters of Planting Seeds of Change, the cooperative garden endeavor for Lebanon schools, hope it will be someone who can boost state funding to expand school garden projects.
That’s the philosophy behind the “Bring Your Legislator to Lunch” effort, which brought Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, to Cascades Elementary School on Wednesday.
Students in third, fourth and fifth grades showed Sprenger around the school greenhouse, then joined her in the cafeteria to sample fresh-picked indigo rose tomatoes and roasted delicata squash with cinnamon.
OK, Sprenger sampled the squash, while most of the students eyed it warily and gave it a wide berth. But the exposure to healthy eating, particularly to vegetables they’ve grown themselves, is the important thing, said Pam Lessley, director of nutrition for the Lebanon Community School District.
Oregon’s Farm to School and School Garden Bill passed in the 2011 Legislative session and authorized just under $200,000 in grant funds. School districts, including Lebanon, can apply for a share of those funds starting this week.
The funds can be used for purchasing healthful produce from local distributors for school cafeterias, and for materials and curriculum that support garden programs.
Stacey Sobell, farm to school program manager with the Portland nonprofit Ecotrust, dined Wednesday with Sprenger, Lessley, Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker and other officials with Planting Seeds of Change.
Sobell said the hope is to increase the pilot program to $5 million and take it statewide. The legislator lunches are meant to show lawmakers what those funds can accomplish.
“We want them to see the impact,” Sobell said. “They (school districts) have great ideas, and they can do more with more money.”
Lebanon isn’t the first district to lunch with a lawmaker, but so far, it’s the only one in the mid-valley, Sobell said. More events are being planned through next week as part of the celebration of October as National Farm to School Month.
Wednesday also was Food Day, a nationally recognized effort aimed at supporting family farmers and adding more locally grown produce to residents’ diets. For the second year, Ten Rivers Food Web, Western University of Health Sciences (COMP-NW) and Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital organized a free food fair at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest to mark the event.