Subscribe Today! Please read: Readers of local content on the Herald and News website – heraldandnews.com – will require a subscription beginning today. For the first few months, non-subscribers will still be able to view 10 articles for free. If you are not already a subscriber, now is a great time to join for as little as $10/month!

“Did you really grow this potato I’m eating?”

The question asked by a Keno student as he and his classmates ate locally grown potatoes for lunch was easy for Paul Davitt to answer. “Yes, we grew these,” the representative for Cal Ore Produce responded.

The Keno Elementary School student and his classmates were among more than 4,000 students treated to locally grown, organic potatoes this month during “Feed A Farmer” events in Klamath County School District cafeterias. The event, designed to teach youth about their food and who grows it for them, invited area growers into the schools to “talk potatoes” with students during lunch.

“Potato fields surround the community of Klamath Falls yet fresh, local potatoes are seldom served in school cafeterias,” said Patty Case, an associate professor at OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center who helps manage the school district’s Farm to School program. KCSD and OSU Extension hope to change that and are working with area growers and producers to ways to get more locally grown food on students’ lunch trays.

Baked, mashed, roasted

The potatoes were provided by Cal-Ore Produce, which represents five area farming families. In all, Cal-Ore donated 43 cases – about 4,500 organic russet potatoes — that were served baked, mashed, roasted and in potato salad at lunch.

This is the second year that Cal-Ore has stepped up to provide potatoes for the Feed A Farmer event. Local potato growers also donated their time to visit with students and share information on how potatoes are grown, said Jordan Rainwater, KCSD farm to school coordinator. Growers visited with students in several elementary schools, including Shasta, Keno, Henley, Bonanza, Merrill, and Chiloquin.

“Like many of our farmers, Cal-Ore members have children and grandchildren attending our schools and they genuinely want all children to have the opportunity to eat fresh, healthy food at school,” Rainwater said.

All about potatoes

Tricia Hill and Lexi Crawford, both owners of Gold Dust Potatoes and Walker Farms, were among those who volunteered to help at Henley Elementary, talking to students about how potatoes grow, the different types, and the many ways potatoes can be prepared.

“We have an issue in America where we don’t have a good sense of where our food comes from,” Hill said. “If we are going to have a generation that cooks and eats healthy, we’re going to have to get children to experience food from a produce standpoint rather than from a box.”

Case agreed. “Many children think everything we eat comes in a package with a name brand on it,” she said. “When they meet a farmer who planted, cared for and harvested the fresh potato they’re eating, irreplaceable connections are made between the students, the farmer, and our local economy.”

Events such as Feed a Farmer highlight the important role farmers have in producing food served in school cafeterias as well as the difficulties of doing so on a regular basis. The additional cost, distribution, labor and federal nutrition and food safety requirements present barriers to purchasing local foods for schools, Case said.

Breaking barriers

Chris Dalla, KCSD food services supervisor, is working with Case and others to break down those barriers. “Potatoes are a favorite with our students, and using local potatoes makes it that much better,” he said. “We are currently looking at ways to serve local potatoes and other local items more often on our menus.”

Local growers can learn more about how to sell products to schools by attending a free Farm to School training from 2 to 4 p.m., Jan. 15 at 9th Street Venue in Klamath Falls. For more information contact Patty Case at OSU KBREC, 541-883-7131 or patty.case@oregonstate.edu or register online at www.healthyklamath.org/findyourfarmer.

The district’s Farm to School program is supported by USDA and Oregon Department of Education Farm to School grants. Through the program, KCSD partners with OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center to enhance efforts to promote and source local, Oregon grown products.