Tasting Tables in the Gorge: Sourcing Local Produce for Schools

Authors: Rachel Suits, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University and Lauren Kraemer, Oregon State University Family & Community Health Extension

Publish Date: Winter 2015

School cafeterias around the state and nation feature Tasting Tables as a way to highlight fresh, seasonal fruits or vegetables. In Hood River and Wasco Counties, OSU Extension sources produce for these Tasting Tables from a variety of local farms in hopes of establishing relationships between public institutions and farms, ultimately strengthening the local economy and creating food security in the region. Not only do school children gain access to seasonal foods, but their parents and other community members also have the opportunity to try the same foods when they are highlighted at local food banks, farmers markets, and low-income housing sites through the Food Hero campaign. Food Hero events throughout the community further strengthen the connection between healthy local food and the farmers that grow it.

This “wrap-around” approach to Tasting Tables was developed by Lauren Kraemer, an educator with OSU Extension’s Family and Community Health Program, as a way to teach her community about seasonal, fresh, and healthy foods.  Rachel Suits, who recently joined OSU as a Program Assistant supporting FCH, Master Gardeners, and Small Farms Programs.  She helps bridge the gap between local food producers and schools in an effort to increase local food security.  During winter and spring production planning time, farmers are asked to “Grow a Row” for the Tasting Table season. The row’s worth of produce is then purchased at fair-market price and served at the schools.

In the future, Lauren and Rachel hope to continue expanding Tasting Tables, food demonstrations and farmer connections to reach additional schools, food banks, low-income housing sites, and grocery stores. Their goal is to strengthen the relationship between farmers and the community, opening new markets for customers and assisting farmers with production planning.

The OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems facilitates collaboration between the Extension Small Farms Program and the Extension Family and Community Health (FCH) Program, to enhance our collective work to strengthen local and community food systems. This work in the Columbia River Gorge and in the article “Recipe to Market” on page 23 are great examples of this collaboration.