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The Oregonian
January 22, 2008

Multiplication tables

Oregon has farms and food processors aplenty, but schools need help to connect them to kids’ lunches

Former Wildwood chef Cory Schreiber recently revisited one of his favorite lunch spots, a place he returned to again and again when he was growing up.

It wasn’t entirely his choice. But he’s nostalgic about it, anyway: Chapman School.

Back then, he loved the sloppy Joes and rolls right out of the oven. "I still remember that smell distinctly," Schreiber says, meaning it as a compliment. On his most recent visit, though, he was fixated on the cherry cobbler, which was so good he asked for seconds.

And that’s good news for Oregon. Believe it or not, cherry cobbler figures as a potential headliner in a food revolution rumbling in Portland that soon could be sweeping the state. Parents want their kids to eat more fresh produce, schools want to serve it, and Oregon farmers are eager to sell it. In theory, it shouldn’t be more expensive to provide locally grown and processed foods in schools, but the reality is that many school districts are too tiny to do their own food R&D.

Enter Schreiber. Recently, the state Department of Agriculture hired the star chef to forge new connections between Oregon farms and Oregon schools. That will often involve Oregon food processors, too, as in the case of the cobbler. Kids who spurn fresh fruit, no matter where it’s grown, will eat it lightly processed in the form of dessert.

While the state Department of Agriculture has expertise in farms and food processing, Schreiber will need a counterpart with expertise in school nutrition to meet him halfway. That’s why the farm-to-school coalition will be in Salem this week, seeking $95,000 for a matching position — think salt and pepper — in the state Department of Education.

Could the department rejigger its existing budget, rather than ask for a new appropriation? Maybe not, since school nutrition is an afterthought within the overall education budget. But the coalition should certainly be prepared to answer that question.

Schreiber’s star power and moxie will be wasted unless there is someone who can help him navigate the education bureaucracy and cut through red tape. Many of Oregon’s small school districts are eager to join the food revolution, too, but they need help to replicate Portland’s growing success in serving Oregon products.

Last month, cherries were the featured “harvest of the month” in the Portland Public Schools. This month, it’s pears. Next up, things get a little scary. It will be beets. Many challenges remain, but if the state devotes two food wizards to tackle them together, the farm-to-school revolution will soon be better described in Oregon as farm-to-mouth.

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