The largest school district in Oregon, the Portland Public Schools (PPS), is composed of 47,000 students in 81 schools. PPS is a diverse district with 46 percent of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. About half of its student body is white, 16 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are African American, eight percent are Asian, and seven percent are multi-racial. Portland’s Nutrition Services1 serves 11,000 school breakfasts, 20,000 school lunches and 1,800 suppers daily and employs approximately 240 staff, including seven registered dietitians, child nutrition program managers, food service leads, and central distribution personnel.
Portland Public School’s Nutrition Services is taking many steps to put more locally and sustainably grown food on students’ trays. Students have participated in the Harvest of the Month program since 2007. Each month, a regionally-grown fruit or vegetable is highlighted in the classroom and then served in the cafeteria. Nutrition Services also offers Local Lunch Days, which feature regionally grown and minimally processed foods, including antibiotic-free meat.
The most significant component of Portland’s Farm to School efforts focuses on the procurement of foods offered in the cafeteria as part of normal meals on a daily basis. Over 30 percent of the food purchased—including fresh, preserved, and frozen items—comes from local farmers and local companies.
PPS’ Nutrition Services partnered with the nonprofit organization Ecotrust,2 the western regional lead for the National Farm to School Network,3 to build its local purchasing program. Gitta Grether-Sweeney, Director of Nutrition Services,4 says that she wanted to support local companies through food service procurement while introducing students to more minimally processed, locally grown foods. Through Ecotrust, the district was introduced to many regional growers and processors, including Truitt Family Foods, a certified sustainable food processor, and Shepherd’s Grains, a cooperative of wheat growers using sustainable farming practices. Both vendors, along with a cluster of other suppliers, have played key roles as Portland has expanded its offerings of regionally grown legumes and grains.