March 26, 2009
By Mateusz Perkowski
An analysis by proponents of farm-to-school lunch programs indicates that money spent on local food has positive implications beyond the cafeteria.
The non-profit group Ecotrust and Oregon State University are studying the broader economic effects of using grant money from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund to buy local food for two Oregon school districts.
Preliminary results show that each dollar of the $66,200 invested so far actually amounted to about $1.87 in economic activity.
The financial gains were not limited to the agricultural industry. The investment ended up reverberating throughout most sectors of Oregon's economy, according to Ecotrust.
That "multiplier effect" takes into account the direct impact of buying local food as well as the indirect impact of food suppliers spending that cash on materials and services, Ecotrust economist Sarah Kruse said.
Spending by employees of affected companies also contributes to the multiplier effect, Kruse said.
The grant funds also provided the participating school districts — in Portland and Gervais — more leeway in deciding which foods to buy, said Deborah Kane, vice president of food and farms at Ecotrust.
"The Kaiser grant inspired schools to shift funds into the local economy," Kane said.
For example, participating schools previously bought chili from a distributor for 30 cents per serving.
Because the grant funds gave them more money to spend, the schools were able to buy chili from Truitt Bros., a local processor, for 34 cents a serving.
In other words, 4 cents of grant funding enabled another 30 cents of spending on local food.
"Knowing they had a little extra, they were able to do trade substitution," Kane said.
The $66,200 in grant funding "catalyzed" a total of about $225,900 in spending on local food, according to Ecotrust.
The group hopes their findings will encourage lawmakers to see the fiscal sense of supporting farm-to-school bills currently before the Oregon legislature, Kane said.
Oregon is already recognized for its progress in bringing local food to schools, which is why the state was recently chosen to host the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, said Wisteria Loeffler, spokesperson for the event.
"Farm to cafeteria is very active in Oregon," she said.
The conference, held in Portland from March 19 to 21, attracted more than 500 people involved in buying food for schools, hospitals and prisons, Loeffler said.