Healthy schools important
Oregon likes the pioneering spirit. The state was first in the nation to impose a five-cent deposit on beverage bottles and to save its beaches for public use and enjoyment. The state takes pride in having the nation’s deepest lake — Crater — and the nation’s shortest river, the D at Lincoln City.
Now our state also has the distinction of leading the nation in embracing farm-to-school programs. The recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census shows that Oregon school districts are directing 24 percent of their food budgets to purchase local foods. What’s more, two-thirds of all Oregon school districts are participating in farm-to-school and school garden activities.
In this time of worry over a childhood obesity epidemic, and an obesity epidemic in general in our population, and a resulting spiraling of health care costs, it’s good that Oregon is taking a lead in this effort. After all, food is everywhere. Temptations are everywhere. Every day, three times a day, people can make good or bad choices that can lead to vibrant health or lingering illness.
Schools have not always been the best role models in nutrition. Like all of us, students prefer good-tasting foods, and we are a nation with an addiction to sugar, fat and salt. Too many of us prefer deep-fried chicken nuggets to celery.
But good nutrition can be learned. Tastes can change. Students, and the rest of us, can learn that even broccoli tastes great, and tomatoes are a sweet treat, especially ones grown in the school’s own garden.
Schools, after all, are not just about the three Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic. They’re for learning lifetime skills, and areas of health and nutrition are critical. Most of us eat three meals a day, for life. We can incrementally take a path of self-destruction or a path of increasingly good health. Learning what to eat and how to eat are important lifetime skills that schools help build.
Nutrition starts in the home, of course. That is where the most important lessons are passed along, by parents modeling positive behavior and making healthy food choices. But schools also play an important role in providing healthy diets for students in their cafeterias. If the menu moves away from deep frying and sugared beverages to learning about what is right and wrong about the latest USDA food pyramid, to building good habits of shopping and consumption, all the better.
The education students receive in school, and at home, can lead to a lifetime of good habits.
School gardens provide hands-on opportunities and build lifetime skills. Students take home the skills they learn and pass them on to their families. Everyone benefits as a result.
Purchasing local foods is good not only for local farmers but for the environment, cutting down on shipping and waste. Oregon schools are heading in the right direction, and should continue efforts to increase purchase of local foods and to build ever stronger farm-to-school relationships.