Find Your Farmer Cultivates Connections
This article was in Sunday’s (January 19th, 2020) Herald and News
Written By: Holly Dillemuth, H&N Staff Reporter
Finding your local farmer wasn’t hard to do Wednesday afternoon at the fourth annual “Find Your Farmer” event, hosted by Blue Zones Project – Klamath Falls in conjunction with the OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Research Center (KBREC).
One needed only to open the doors of the Ninth Street Venue, as numerous business owners and agriculture producers mingled and talked products over local fare cooked on site.
This year, the event followed a Farm to School training for school officials, agricultural producers and business owners interested in the process of buying local products and those interested in selling their products locally to school districts and nonprofits. About 35 to 40 people signed up for the training, which featured speakers on how to get involved as a buyer or seller, and that sourcing local products is possible with planning and preparation.
In addition, attendees learned about the latest funding provided through USDA for schools and those offering summer lunch programs so that that they can get local products into their school menus.
State funding for Farm to School programs increased from $4.6 million to $15 million, funding that includes three new grant programs.
“There’s a lot of different partners that might be eligible and they have increased the variety of people or entities that might be eligible for these projects,” said Nicole Sanchez, assistant professor of horticulture with KBREC, who was filling in for Amy Gilroy, ODA Farm to School Manager at Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Sanchez encouraged fruit and vegetable producers specifically to work in cooperation with other producers or sell to a distributor.
“Very few of you in this room have the capacity to deliver what the schools need, but cooperatively you have a lot of strength and ability to do that,” Sanchez said. “It will require that you work together, that you do some planning and sit down and be willing to share information.”
Among options is a procurement grant available to Head Start for access to local food and a grant available for summer lunches programs, as well as a grant for infrastructure and equipment.
“The idea is to help you guys overcome barriers to sell to the schools, childcare centers, and summer meal sites,” Sanchez said.
Patty Case, associate professor at KBREC, and grant manager for Farm to School grants, said the training stemmed from hearing from growers in the past on what schools need.
“There’s just a lot of additional money through the Farm to School grant that came through the Legislature that we definitely want people to be aware of,” Case said.
The Oregon Department of Education grant provides $75,000 over the course of two years to school districts in Klamath County for use to source local products through June 2021, according to Jordan Rainwater, coordinator for the Farm to School Program.
Case said smaller daycare centers and Head Start, as well as the summer lunch program, also have allocated funds to use to buy local products this year.
“That was advocacy of Farm to School that allowed that to happen,” Case said.
“It’s just a win-win because the kids get a lot of good stuff out of it …. They’re more likely to appreciate it and they can grow it themselves or at least understand what farmers do to produce that food.”
The sounds and aroma of hamburger patties cooking wafted into the main hall from the kitchen as Rainwater shared with the group about the district’s grant-funded program.
Following the training, attendees, with plates of locally sourced and crafted cuisine in one hand and a beverage in the other, took their questions to those with experience in an informal networking social following the training.
Jeanette Wendell, outgoing director of Dining Service for Chartwells Co., for Klamath Falls City School District, was in attendance.
“We have enough money for produce going through Department of Defense (funds),” Wendell said.
While she couldn’t say what the district would consider as far as purchasing more local products for school meals, she expressed excitement about the event.
“What an opportunity to meet these farmers and we would like to understand where they’re coming from and hopefully they understand where we’re coming from,” Wendell said.
Kent Simons, one of the agricultural producers in attendance, emphasized the importance of understanding where produce and meats come from as well.
“I grow 35 things,” Simons said. “They each have their own production requirements.
“It’s not worth it to me to sell something for less than it costs me to grow it,” Simons added.
For Simons, he needs to find out what a buyer wants to buy before making a commitment, but he’s interested in the concept.
“There was a lot of good information here, I did learn a lot,” Simons said.
Integral Youth Services representatives were among attendees considering partnering with agricultural producers, and specifically for summer lunches.
Craig Schuhmann, outreach program director of IYS, said while the nonprofit is still considering the option, the event was a great way to open communication with producers, like Simons.
“All of our lunches have to have a vegetable, a fruit, a grain, a protein, and a milk,” Schuhmann said.
“Last year, we got away from sandwiches,” he added. “We started serving a lot of hot foods.”
The nonprofit is looking into the process of what it would take to source local foods in their summer lunch program, utilizing the grant funds provided through the Legislature.
“We’re kind of just exploring,” Schuhmann said. “We haven’t sourced any local food yet.
“We’re interested but we need to figure out how feasible this is going to be for us.”
For individuals interested in learning more about buying or selling local products, contact any of the following: Kelsey Mueller, policy manager at Blue Zones Project – Klamath Falls by email at email@example.com, or by contacting Patty Case or Jordan Rainwater at 541-883-7131.