Small farmer crowned National Jersey Queen

ALBANY, Ore. — As far back as she can remember, Gracie Krahn has been living and working with dairy cattle.

Her father, who managed the Oregon State University Dairy Research Center for 13 years, once performed a caesarean section on a pregnant cow with Gracie, then a baby, strapped to his back. She competed in her first open junior livestock show at the age of 4, showing a Jersey heifer named Annie Bluebell.

Krahn, now an 18-year-old senior at Santiam Christian High School in Adair Village, Ore., was recently crowned the 62nd National Jersey Queen by the American Jersey Cattle Association, promoting the breed and U.S. dairy industry at events across the country.

“I really want to tell the story of what truly happens on the farm,” Krahn said. “This is a position to give back.”

Krahn and her family — father Ben, mother Amy and sister Clancey — operate Royal Riverside Farm in nearby Albany, Ore., which opened in 2018 as the only farmstead creamery in the Mid-Willamette Valley. The farm milks 15 cows, mostly Jerseys, and bottles milk for sale at over 25 local stores from Hood River to Eugene.

“My sister and I are sixth-generation dairy farmers,” Krahn said. “It is really in our blood.”

Growing up, Krahn spent many months and holidays helping her father milk and feed cows at the OSU Dairy Farm. She came to love being around the animals, especially Jerseys, for their “sweet but spicy” personalities and rich milk high in butterfat and protein.

“There’s not a better way to grow up than around agriculture and around livestock,” Krahn said.

Both Krahn and her sister have competed in countless livestock shows, exhibiting cattle and hogs. In 2013, Krahn, then an eighth-grader, participated for the first time at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., which she described as an incredible experience.

Two years later, Krahn won intermediate showmanship at the All-American Dairy Show in Louisville, Ky., while sister Clancey won junior showmanship, becoming the first siblings in show history to accomplish that feat.

Yet as much as she likes working with the animals directly, Krahn said her passion is sharing her expertise with others and mentoring younger members of 4-H and FFA. She plans to run for Oregon FFA state president at this year’s convention, and has already been accepted to Oklahoma State University, where she plans to study agricultural communications and animal science.

Serving as National Jersey Queen is another platform to tell agriculture’s story, Krahn said. She was selected from a group of nine women on Nov. 9 at the Jersey Junior Banquet in Louisville.

“I knew that my passion and love for the Jersey breed ran as deep as anybody’s,” Krahn said. “I’m super blessed that I’m here now.”

In addition to traveling to and meeting consumers at several national events — including the American Jersey Cattle Association and National All-Jersey annual meeting June 24-27 in Portland, her own backyard — Krahn is also responsible for managing the National Jersey Queen Facebook page, posting photos and factoids about her yearlong journey.

“Every time I get a chance to advocate for milk or promote the dairy industry, I hop on it,” she said. “That’s really where my heart lies.”


Training Latino farmers in sustainable ag

FOREST GROVE, Ore. — Growing up on his family’s 2-acre farm in Guatemala, Alejandro Tecum came to despise the arduous chore of hand-tilling fields to plant crops such as corn, beans and squash.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, Tecum said he was also hurting the soil by robbing it of nutrients and organic matter needed to grow healthy food.

“We have destroyed the soil to an extreme that what we eat, it doesn’t contain nutrition anymore,” Tecum said during a recent interview from his office in Forest Grove, Ore., west of Portland. “We have killed all the life in the soil that provides the nutrients to the vegetable, for example.”

Tecum, 59, now teaches regenerative farming practices for Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit organization that supports Latina women and their families through adult education and youth outreach programs.

Last year, Adelante Mujeres received a $400,000 grant to expand its sustainable agriculture program, working with five other groups in Western Oregon to help minority farmers start their own businesses, while learning to care for the land.

The project includes Rogue Farm Corps based in Ashland; Huerto de la Familia in Eugene; The Next Door in Hood River; Our Table Cooperative in Sherwood; and Zenger Farms in Portland.

A teacher by profession, Tecum was hired as the sustainable agriculture education manager for Adelante Mujeres in 2005. He has embraced regenerative farming, which he says goes beyond organic, and sworn off the conventional growing practices and chemicals he once used nonchalantly.

“It is the care we give to the soil,” Tecum said. “We feed the soil with every single organic matter that we can find.”

The 12-week course, taught entirely in Spanish, covers soil biology, pest management, disease management, composting and irrigation. That includes several hands-on workshops at the local Forest Grove Community Gardens.

“I have seen many changes in the participants,” Tecum said. “The best reward for me is when I go to their garden, their farms, and I see they are putting into practice the techniques that we are teaching them. When I see the soil becoming richer every year, or when they say, ‘Oh, I cannot eat vegetables from the store now, because of the flavor,’ that’s the kind of compliments I get.”

The real challenge, Tecum said, is convincing people to join the program. Most of the Latinos that come to Adelante Mujeres are trying to get away from farming — either they have already spent years working as a farm laborer, or because farming it is seen as a second-class job.

“I tell them that agriculture or farming is a science, and an art,” Tecum said. “I tell them that, if you come to the class, you may change your mind. And they do.”

The USDA grant will help them to reach even more Latino and Hispanic farmers by partnering with other nonprofits, forming the Western Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Collaborative, Tecum said.

According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, Latino or Hispanic producers owned land on 1,666 Oregon farms and rented or leased land on 345 farms in 2017, accounting for about 5% of all farms statewide. That is roughly double the number from five years earlier, when Latino or Hispanic producers owned land on 803 farms and leased land on 186 farms.

Washington County has the highest percentage of Latinos in Oregon, rising from 50,000 in 2000 to almost 90,000 in 2014. Adelante Mujeres originally began as a program under Centro Cultural de Washington County, Oregon’s oldest Latino nonprofit, before spinning off as its own group in 2002.

The sustainable agriculture program started in 2005, in conjunction with Adelante Mujeres relaunching the Forest Grove Farmers Market.

From providing jobs to introducing healthier eating habits, Tecum said the program has proven invaluable to the community.

“I think it is necessary, if we want to live a good life, to eat healthy food,” Tecum said. “The only way to eat healthy food is to take care of the soil.”


Attorney explains pitfalls of farm succession planning

SALEM — As Oregon farmers and ranchers get older, the need for estate planning is growing more urgent to ensure working lands remain in operation.

Maria Schmidlkofer, an Oregon attorney with 13 years of experience with farm succession plans, knows the pitfalls all too well.

Family dynamics, disability or lack of foresight can all complicate the passing of farmland from one generation to the next, Schmidlkofer said during her educational seminar Wednesday at the 50th annual Northwest Ag Show in Salem.

According to a 2016 study by Oregon State University, Portland State University and Rogue Farm Corps, farm operators over the age of 55 now control 64% of the state’s agricultural lands. That means roughly 10 million acres are likely to change ownership over the next two decades.

It is up to lawyers like Schmidlkofer, with the firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Salem, to help that transition happen smoothly with well thought out succession plans.

“If you have a farm in this room, chances are you need a living trust,” Schmidlkofer said. “It’s just so much easier for tax planning, for transitioning (farms) to the next generation. I think it’s just a far superior way of doing that.”

As part of her presentation, Schmidlkofer explained the difference between wills and trusts, and outlined the process of establishing a limited liability corporation — or LLC — to incorporate multiple generations in the farm who may one day take over the business.

Most estate plans also address things like mental or physical disabilities, Schmidlkofer said, to ensure succession does not get muddled in those cases.

While these are sometimes depressing subjects to consider, Schmidlkofer said it is worth it to avoid heartache and family rifts later.

“If there is anything a bad farm plan does, it is tear apart a family,” she said. “You do not recover from that.”

To highlight common errors, Schmidlkofer used several examples from real-life celebrity cases.

Actor James Dean, who died in 1955 at age 24, never wrote a will, meaning his entire estate was passed to his father — even though his father had abandoned him as a child.

“The first lesson here is to make sure you at least get something in place,” Schmidlkofer said.

Actress, singer and model Marilyn Monroe left 75% of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, with “wishes” to donate the rest to charity. Strasberg later married, however, and when he died in 1982, the estate plus all licensing and royalty fees went to his widow.

“The lesson here is that you want to make sure whatever plan you have is going to stand,” Schmidlkofer said. “Litigation is rampant with farms and ranches. … Someone dies, and then they change the plan. It just causes so much heartache in families when something like that happens.”

Schmidlkofer recommended farmers meet with an estate attorney to help review their personal assets, think about how they should be distributed and whether that matches their business plan.

She said an effective succession plan allows producers to “give what I have to whom I want, the way I want, when I want.”

“The family succession plan needs to be well thought out,” she said.


Oregon snowpack well below normal heading into 2020

Early season snowfall is lagging again across Oregon, potentially foreshadowing another dry and difficult summer ahead for farmers and ranchers.

But as 2019 proved, things can turn around quickly, giving plenty of reason for hope.

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon’s snow-water equivalent — the amount of water contained within snow — is just 45% of normal statewide. Every water basin is measuring below average for snow, with the exception of the Owyhee Basin in southeast Oregon, which is holding up at 117% of normal.

The lowest totals are in the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 25% of normal, and the Willamette Basin at 26%.

Mountain snowpack is crucial for replenishing streams and reservoirs for farms and fish, especially in Eastern Oregon. As snow melts, it trickles down into creeks and rivers, sustaining healthy stream flows while providing irrigation water for crops and livestock.

Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for NRCS Oregon, said the agency will release its first water supply outlook report by Jan. 10. Based on the current lack of snow, Oviatt said he anticipates lower water availability earlier in the spring, though there is still time to rebound.

“We’re not in panic mode yet,” Oviatt said. “It is early in the (water) year … We can see some improvement, depending on conditions.”

The water year, as defined by hydrologists, begins on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30 of the following calendar year. November and December are typically much cooler and wetter months for Oregon, Oviatt said, however most of the state’s 90 snow monitoring sites are measuring less than 8 inches of snow-water equivalent.

Perhaps more concerning, overall precipitation including rain is averaging just 50% of normal statewide. The Oregon Water Resources Department reports that November in particular was one of the top five driest months on record for northwest Oregon.

Racquel Rancier, spokeswoman for OWRD, said that average stream flows were just 40% of normal statewide as of Dec. 30.

“We certainly would like to see better and more consistent stream flows and a greater snowpack at this point,” Rancier said. “Conditions need to greatly improve in the coming months in order to have a more normal water year.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 98% of Oregon listed in some stage of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “moderate.”

Conditions were much the same at this time last year, too, when snowpack was just 42% of normal levels in early January. Then came February, which brought drought-busting winter storms that dumped several feet of snow at higher elevations and boosted snow-water equivalent by 20-30%.

With two-thirds of winter still to go, Oviatt said he is optimistic for improvement.

“At this point, our message will be to watch the conditions,” he said. “Let’s just hope for improvement at this point.”

Snow-water equivalent is measured using what is known as a “snow pillow,” made out of a synthetic rubber and filled with an organic antifreeze solution. As snow falls, it compresses the pillow and a sensor measures the pressure in real time, which is used to calculate the amount of water in the snow.

The data is then compared to a 30-year average between 1981-2010 to come up with a percent of normal.

Between the “snowmageddon” of February and drier-than-usual November, Oviatt said increasingly large and unpredictable swings in weather variability are making it harder for the NRCS to accurately predict water supplies until later in the season.

That could lead to changes in modeling, Oviatt said, though he did not elaborate.

“It’s a changing world,” he said. “We’re trying to keep up with technology as our partner agencies are doing. It’s an ongoing process at this point.”


Early season snowfall, precipitation lagging across Oregon

SALEM — A dry start to the fall season is raising some concerns among state water managers about the possibility of drought returning to Oregon, especially in the Rogue and Umpqua river basins.

Overall precipitation is measuring well below normal for the water year that began Sept. 30, according to the latest water conditions report from the Oregon Water Resources Department. The deficit ranges from nearly an inch below normal east of the Cascades, to more than 5 inches below normal in parts of southwest Oregon.

While no part of the state is currently in drought, the agency’s report states that could change in the coming weeks unless there is a marked change in weather patterns.

Statewide, average precipitation at sites measured by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is just 45% of normal across the state.

The highest totals as of Nov. 18 were in northeast Oregon, including 71% in the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins and 67% in the Grande Ronde, Powder, Burnt and Imnaha basins.

The lowest totals are in southwest and south-central Oregon, at 26% of normal in the Rogue and Umpqua basins; 24% in the Klamath Basin; and 21% in the Goose Lake and Lake County area.

The Willamette Basin — home of the state’s leading agricultural counties by value of products — is trending right in the middle at 45% of normal.

Stream flows are still averaging slightly above normal across Oregon, thanks to drought-busting record snowfall in February and heavy rains in April that bolstered supplies over the summer. However, the report cautions that more is needed to maintain that positive momentum.

“In response to recent dry weather, flows in many streams in Western Oregon have declined significantly over the past two weeks,” the report states. “In some areas of southwestern Oregon, stream flows are less than 10% of normal.”

The highest stream flows were in the Sandy, North Coast, Mid Coast and Umatilla basins at more than 130% of normal for the month of October, dropping down to about 53% of normal on the South Coast.

As irrigators start eyeing relief, short- and long-term weather forecasts offer a mixed bag.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts below-average precipitation over the next two weeks, and an equal chance for above- or below-normal precipitation across most of the state over the next three months.

The lone exception, once again, is southwest Oregon, which is looking at a greater chance of continued dry conditions.

At this time last year, the entire state of Oregon was listed in some stage of drought — including extreme drought across portions of southern and central Oregon. Then came the February snow and April rain, proving just how quickly conditions can change.

“We always prefer to see a good start to the water year,” said Racquel Rancier, spokeswoman for the OWRD. “This year has been a slow start with below-normal precipitation, but it really is too early to be able to determine how water conditions will look in a few months and whether drought conditions will occur.”


Nursery again tops list of Oregon commodities

PORTLAND — Greenhouse and nursery products continue to reign as Oregon’s most valuable agricultural commodity, with goods nearly topping $1 billion in 2018, according to data compiled by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The agencies released their annual brochure of facts and figures about Oregon agriculture on Oct. 31, including crop production, acreage and livestock inventory over the previous year.

Dave Losh, Oregon state statistician for NASS, said most of the information comes from surveys collected directly from farmers and ranchers across the state.

“We have a cooperative agreement with (the state), and it goes back to our mission of providing timely and accurate statistics on agriculture,” Losh said. “We’re able to focus on Oregon agriculture, which has a lot of diversity.”

Oregon famously grows more than 200 different agricultural commodities, from wheat and cattle in the east to grass seed, hazelnuts and Christmas trees in the lush Willamette Valley.

The USDA ranks the top 20 most valuable agricultural commodities in Oregon, and while Losh said the list does fluctuate each year depending on crop prices, the greenhouse and nursery industry has routinely led the pack since 2009.

Ten years ago, greenhouse and nursery products were valued at $732.5 million. In 2018, the total was $995.9 million — a 35% increase.

Losh said there were few other major surprises in the top 20, compared to 2017. Cattle and calves remained number two, at $652 million, and hay number three at $590.4 million. Grass seed and milk flipped spots at fourth and fifth, respectively, likely due to lower dairy prices.

Winegrapes rose two spots to seventh, breaking $200 million for the first time. Hazelnuts remained 13th, though the value climbed from $73.6 million to $91.8 million as more acres reach nut-bearing age.

One notable absence from the top 20 is industrial hemp. Losh said the USDA did not collect data on hemp last year, since it was only legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill last December.

“USDA is still working through the process of how to put in regulations and put in a statistics program for hemp,” Losh said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture issued permits in 2019 for more than 63,000 acres of hemp, which is more acreage than potatoes and onions combined. It remains unclear how many acres of hemp will actually be harvested.

Medical and recreational marijuana, meanwhile, is not regulated by ODA, but rather the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The 2018 facts and figures brochure also contains general information about Oregon farms and ranches, which were previously reported by NASS in the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

Oregon has 37,200 total farms over 16 million acres. Local farmers lead the country in production of several crops, including hazelnuts, grass seed, Christmas trees, rhubarb and blueberries, while ranking second in crops like pears and mint and third in hops and onions.

Losh said the figures are intended not only for producers, but state lawmakers and local governments to provide a full picture of Oregon’s agricultural production and value.

“We hope it’s valuable for lawmakers, particularly the Oregon legislature and local government as well, when they’re making decisions regarding agriculture,” he said. “We’ve seen some loss in farmland due to urban expansion and other uses, and we are fully supportive of trying to make sure that good farmland stays in production.”


Oregon FFA hires career development coordinator

CORVALLIS, Ore. — As the 2019-20 school year gets underway, Oregon FFA has created a new position to promote and enhance career development events for students across the state.

The association hired Leila Graves as career development coordinator, working with both agriculture teachers and industry leaders to facilitate career development events and make sure they meet educational standards.

Oregon FFA offers 27 different career development events, or CDEs, including veterinary science, agronomy and mechanics. Students compete in front of judges at the district, state and national levels, honing critical thinking and technical skills.

About 2,400 students competed in CDEs at the district level last year in Oregon, and 1,200 at the state level.

Graves, 46, said her goal is to boost participation in events and help students explore possible career options.

“Most of these events are geared toward career readiness,” Graves said. “When (students) graduate, they have more of an idea which direction they want to go in.”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Graves earned her bachelor’s degree in language studies and linguistics from the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2000. From there, she joined a nonprofit organization, Sports4Kids, working in schools that are in low-income neighborhoods to promote healthy eating and activities.

Graves spent three years at Brookfield Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. It was after they built a school garden that Graves said she noticed a change in the students — taking pride in the garden, becoming more interested in healthy eating and wanting to learn where their food comes from.

“That’s really where I got this great idea about using school gardens as a living laboratory for students,” she said.

Graves returned to school, earning her master’s degree in crop science from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, studying horticulture techniques to increase tree fruit yield.

At Cal Poly, Graves said she became involved in leading younger student tours of the university farm, reinforcing her passion for agriculture education.

“You could see the kids’ excitement, and how amazing the experience was for them,” she said. “Food is crucial. It’s the one thing that brings us all together.”

Graves earned her interdisciplinary doctorate in horticulture and education from Colorado State University in 2014, during which she developed and implemented a STEM model curriculum for the Poudre Valley School District in Fort Collins, Colo. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Shawn Dooley, CEO of Oregon FFA, said Graves’ background combining agriculture and classroom studies made her a good fit for facilitating career development events.

“She’s got the educational background that we think is going to be a real asset to the organization and a real help to our teachers, especially our new teachers,” Dooley said.

Dooley said the idea of creating the position came up in May, when a staff member who previously coordinated CDEs left. Oregon FFA decided to upgrade the position, Dooley said, to make sure CDEs truly reflected current industry trends and technology.

”We don’t want to be preparing students for jobs that were,” Dooley said. “We want to be preparing students for jobs that are, and will be.”


OSU brings back mechanical cultivation field day

Oregon State University is bringing back its mechanical cultivation field day for a second year, providing small-scale and mid-size farmers with the latest strategies for non-chemical weed control.

About 100 people attended last year’s field day at the OSU vegetable research farm in Corvallis. This year, OSU Extension Service is partnering with Washington State University Extension to offer two events — the first on Aug. 27 at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, and the second on Aug. 29 at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore.

Clare Sullivan, extension agronomist for OSU in Redmond, said the field days are funded by a small two-year grant through the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

“The pull is really for more efficient ways to control weeds on the farm,” Sullivan said.

Part of the events will include live demonstrations of tractor-size and walk-behind equipment, as well as organic weed management tools like the Steam Weeder, which uses superheated water up to 250 degrees to kill weeds.

Both field days will begin at 10 a.m., and feature panel talks with local farmers discussing their cultivation experiences.

Registration is $25, and includes lunch. To register online, visit https://tinyurl.com/y6tj7qp9.


Once you go yak, you never go back

KINGS VALLEY, Ore. — Nick Hazelton knew he wanted to raise something different at his family’s farm in Western Oregon.

Emus were an intriguing option for eggs and meat. So were alpacas, with a fleece similar to sheep’s wool. Hazelton, 20, thought about bison but even that seemed too popular.

While researching exotic animals on the internet, Hazelton stumbled upon domesticated yaks — the shaggy cousin of cattle found throughout the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. Yaks not only provide meat, fiber and milk, but are hardy and efficient for small farmers.

“They look really cool, so immediately it caught my eye,” Hazelton said. “I was just looking for something I hadn’t heard of, I guess.”

A herd of 25 yaks now grazes on 40 acres of pasture at Hazelton Farms, located in rural Kings Valley, Ore. about 20 miles west of Corvallis. The farm also has dairy goats and hogs, though it was Hazelton’s idea to get into the yak business.

It is difficult to know exactly how many yaks are in the U.S. The USDA does not keep count in its Census of Agriculture, but does tally the number of farms with “specialty” animals — not including bison, elk, deer, alpacas, llamas, mink and rabbits.

That number was 3,611 operations in 2017, with 116 in Oregon, 88 in Washington, 37 in Idaho and 166 in California.

Stephanie David, president of the International Yak Association, or IYAK, did not immediately return a call for comment, but in January she told the Denver Post there were an estimated 5,000 yaks in North America. Many of the animals, however, are not registered, she said.

Hazelton was 15 when he and his father bought their first yaks at an auction hosted by Pine Mountain Buffalo Ranch in Bend. Growing up on the farm, Hazelton thought he wanted to be a lawyer or hotelier, but realized how much he enjoyed working with animals in 4-H.

Using the money he earned from selling one of his 4-H steers, Hazelton was able to buy two pregnant yak cows and two yearling bulls to start his herd. One year later, he butchered his first animal and sold the meat at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market.

It was such a success that he convinced his parents to let him drop out of high school after his sophomore year to begin raising yaks full-time.

“While I was in school, I was just kind of getting frustrated with being kept inside and not being able to do the things I wanted to do,” Hazelton said. “I decided animal husbandry is what I wanted to get into.”

Hazelton still sells yak meat at the farmers’ market. He describes it as as leaner and darker than beef, closer in comparison to elk with a sweeter flavor.

“You can definitely taste the difference,” Hazelton said.

He charges $12 a pound or roughly double the price of grass-fed beef. He has sold out every year.

Yaks shed their woolly undercoats in spring, which Hazelton also sells to a local company. The material is soft and silky, and can be used to make clothing and fabric. Last year, Hazelton said he sold about 7 pounds of yak fiber, fetching between $3 and $4 per ounce.

Hazelton said he would eventually like to begin selling yak’s milk, which at 7-11% butterfat is ideal for making yogurt and cheese.

Without a formal agriculture education, Hazelton said he is learning best farming practices — such as rotating pastures and balancing nutrition — through trial and error. Because yaks are such a niche industry, he said he has also been able to chat with other mentors along the way.

One of those is Patricia Young, who has about 21 head of yaks at her farm, Yaks in the Cradle Farm, in Quilcene, Wash., on the Olympic Peninsula. Young is also a board member for IYAK. She began raising her first yak as a pet in 2013 before getting into the business commercially.

“There’s not even enough meat to keep up with demand out here,” Young said. “In the past year, there’s been a good bit of growth on the farms that I know of.”

Yaks are smaller than regular cattle, with bulls reaching 1,500 pounds and cows ranging from 600 to 800 pound. Young said that makes them a good choice for smaller acreages. They also eat and process their food more efficiently.

As the saying goes, according to Young: “Once you go yak, you never go back.”

“They’re just so much fun to have,” she said. “In one animal, there are just so many things you can do.”


Oregon lawmakers expand Farm-to-School Program

SALEM — Oregon’s Farm-to-School and School Garden Network is poised to expand after state lawmakers approved a bill tripling the program’s budget.

House Bill 2579 passed June 29 as Senate Republicans returned to work from a nine-day walkout in opposition to a controversial carbon pricing scheme known as cap and trade. The senators rushed to vote on numerous bills over two days in order for the Legislature to adjourn by June 30.

That included HB 2579, which cleared both the House and Senate unanimously.

The Farm-to-School Program awards non-competitive grants to school districts across Oregon, reimbursing them for buying locally grown and processed food. Any district can opt in, and funding is determined based on the number of meals served under the National School Lunch Program — with a minimum award of $500 for smaller districts.

Districts can also apply for separate competitive grants to fund school gardens and educational activities, teaching kids about agriculture.

Rick Sherman, Farm-to-School and School Garden coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education, said the program started in 2012 with just $200,000. The current budget is $4.5 million, and now HB 2579 will provide an additional $10.35 million from the state general fund through 2021, bringing the total to nearly $15 million.

“We’ve been doing this for almost eight years now,” Sherman said. “It’s been a great program. It continues to grow.”

Sherman said the program served 131 school districts in 2018, accounting for 90% of all school lunches in the state.

With increased funding, HB 2579 will expand the Farm-to-School Program to federally funded early childcare and summer food service centers, such as Head Start. Most of the money, $11 million, will go toward grants for schools to purchase Oregon-grown food.

Some $2.5 million is set aside for farm and garden-based education grants. Oregon has 758 school gardens across the state, Sherman said.

HB 2579 allocates $500,000 to the Oregon Department of Agriculture to help farmers and ranchers with Farm-to-School market access. The rest of the money is for program evaluation, technical assistance and administrative costs.

Megan Kemple, director of the Oregon Farm-to-School and School Garden Network, said Oregon’s Farm-to-School Program is a “win-win-win,” not only supporting kids and communities, but connecting farmers with new markets for their products.

“There are a lot of producers that really appreciate the schools as a market because they are reliable,” Kemple said. “It has allowed them to basically stabilize their businesses.”

For example, Pollock & Sons, a watermelon farm in Hermiston, Ore., sold $3,842 worth of late-season fruit to schools during a time when grocery sales typically fall off at the end of summer. Port Orford Sustainable Seafood was also able to sell surplus fish to Rogue Valley Farm-to-School.

Kemple said Oregon’s Farm-to-School Program is a model for the country.

“At a time when the state is politically divided, bipartisan efforts like this bring Republicans and Democrats together and bridge the urban-rural divide,” Kemple said.

State Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, was a chief sponsor of the bill. He said he is excited to see the Farm-to-School Program expand.

“We should always be using tax dollars to buy local,” Clem said in a statement. “It never made sense to me to buy apples from anywhere else than right here in Oregon. This program connects our schools and children to our most important industry: agriculture. It’s Oregon farmers feeding Oregon’s children.”