By Chris Branam
Food insecurity affects 14.3% of the Klamath County population, according to Oregon by the Numbers, a 2020 report produced by the Oregon State University Extension Service and The Ford Family Foundation.
Nationally, one in four U.S. children struggle with hunger, while one in three is obese or overweight. A contributing factor is a lack of access to healthy food. What children are fed in school and what they are taught about food in school might help shape their food preferences and how they view their community and environment.
In response, nutrition educators in the OSU Extension Family and Community Health Program (FCH) met over three years with Oregon FoodCorps coordinators and facilitated discussions with Klamath county school districts to determine if the program could serve Klamath County.
FoodCorps is a nonprofit organization that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy by placing motivated leaders in limited-resource communities for a year of public service. Serving under the direction of local partner organizations, service members focus on three areas of service:
- Hands-on learning. Students grow, cook, and taste new foods, which builds their skills and changes food preferences.
- Healthy school meals. The cafeteria experience steers students towards the healthiest options and gets them excited to try new healthy foods.
- Schoolwide culture of health. As a whole, the school community and environment – from hallways to classrooms to cafeteria to grounds – celebrates healthy food.
This effort resulted in the placement of a FoodCorps service member in two schools in the Klamath County School District for the 2019-20 school year. Despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 the member remained in the community and assisted school food service in distribution of food and worked with OSU Extension to develop new strategies for remote delivery. The two schools committed to having another service member in 2020-21 school year.
A collaborative was formed to support three FoodCorps service members in six schools in Klamath County for the 2020-21 school year. The collaborative develops shared vision, goals, curriculum and strategies to build a web of resources that will support food education in schools throughout the county. In addition to OSU Extension and FoodCorps, partners included Klamath County School District Nutrition Services, Klamath Falls Nutrition Services and Sky Lakes Medical Center. Ultimately, stronger partnerships have been formed between OSU Extension and the Klamath County School District and Klamath Falls City Schools.