Oregon Rural Action, school district grant recipients

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer November 14, 2012 03:47 pm

Funds distributed by Oregon Department of Agriculture will help promote speciality crop production, nutritious eating program at North Powder Charter School District  

Oregon Rural Action and North Powder Charter School District will boost their efforts to support local agriculture and nutritious eating thanks to grants awarded this fall through the threatened-with-extinction federal farm bill.

According to recent announcements, Oregon Rural Action will receive $68,200  and North Powder School $23,600 in federal speciality crop block grant funds, money distributed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.   

Statewide, 53 project proposals were considered, with 22 selected to share in $1.48 million in grant funding. 

“We are excited to announce our 22 projects,” said Katie Pearmine, the Oregon department’s specialty crop block grant coordinator. “For a state like Oregon, where we grow more than 200 crops on about 37,000 farms, this program has been critical.”

Oregon Rural Action will forge ahead with its program “Growing Markets and Next Generation Farmers in Eastern Oregon.” 

Oregon Rural Action Staff Director Nella Parks said the non-profit group will partner with several agencies and organizations to bring previously unavailable training to the area. The partners include the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon State  University Small Farms, the Austin Family Business Center.

Parks said Oregon Rural Action and NEOEDD will also work with local FFA and 4H programs to bring training, mentors and internship opportunities to aspiring specialty crop producers.

“The hope is that these young people will be able to develop successful businesses they can carry on after graduation,” Parks said.

As a member of the Union County Fit Kids Coalition, Oregon Rural Action is working to increase purchase and consumption of healthy, fresh, locally produced foods. North Powder Charter School, another Fit Kids coalition member, will use its specialty crop block grant money to further its Farm to School food program.

North Powder’s program will educate community members and students on availability of local fresh fruits and vegetables, and learn the process of preserving those items to be used year-round.

Students will use the school garden and local produce to learn techniques in preserving fruits and vegetables safely, using basic methods and a steam oven.

The school said that project will enhance the successful Farm to School program already in place, and will increase the demand for Oregon specialty crops to be used by other schools and utilized year-round.

Vicky Brogoitti, head of the Union County Commission on Children and families, said she is excited that two coalition members were chosen for grant funding. She said Farm-to-School has been included in the coalition’s action plan because it is widely recognized as an effective tool for improving school meals and getting kids excited about healthy eating.

“Our community assessment shows much concern about the  quality of school meals,” she said. “We’re thrilled about the recent grants to Oregon Rural Action and North Powder School, and hope one day all schools can benefit by integrating Farm-to-School into their programming.”

The specialty crop block grant funds are made available to states through the U.S. Farm Bill, legislation that expired this year. Talks to renew or extend the bill will resume as Congress convenes in the current session to deal with “fiscal cliff” issues.

Over the past five years, Oregon has received more than $6 million in funding from the specialty crop block grant program, making possible 112 projects in the state. Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba said the federal program has a direct, positive impact on the state’s growers, and should continue.

“The program is a reminder of the need for Congress to pass the new Farm Bill so that Oregon and other states can count on future projects that keep our specialty crops competitive,” she said.

Bruce Pokarney, ODA’s director of communications, said the department is watching the Farm Bill situation closely.

“They’re in the middle of talking about whether to extend the bill or fund a new one,” Pokarney said. “We really want to see this continue. It’s really important to Oregon.”