Klamath County School District students this week ate fresh potatoes and beef grown on area farms and ranches as part of an ongoing effort to incorporate locally grown foods into school meals.

At Ferguson Elementary School, cooks prepared baked potatoes and chili using the local beef and potatoes for lunch on Monday and Wednesday. Vice Principal Jana Dunlea told students that the food they were eating came from the Klamath Basin.

The district’s Farm-to-School program, operated in partnership with OSU Klamath Basin Extension Center, uses state and national grants to purchase the local foods and provide education, and experiential activities. Once a month, the district features a locally grown food in their cafeterias.

The district this year purchased 1,900 pounds of russet potatoes from Cal-Ore Produce, 680 pounds of ground beef from Box R Beef, and 5,880 pounds of ground beef from Flying T Ranch.

Candace Gracik, KCSD’s food services director, sees several benefits to buying food commodities locally.

“You know where it’s from, and you get to know the farmers,” she said. “You get to hear their stories and connect with them. It’s good for the community.”

Jeanne Bainbridge-Chavez, head cook at Ferguson, is happy about serving the local produce and meat to the students.

“It encourages kids to experiment and think about growing their own food.” Bainbridge-Chavez said. “If they know where it comes from, it may even get them interested in farming.”

Patty Case, professor of family and community health, and her team at OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, partner with the district to manage the Farm to School program.

Gracik and Case have plans to use eggs from South Poe Valley’s ‘Poe’tential Farms in April and greens from Klamath Falls-based Sweet Union Farms in May.

“Doing the extra work to serve local food in our schools is worth it because we’re supporting our local growers,” Case said. “We are teaching kids where food comes. It comes from their neighbors, from their own community. These growers don’t have to do this, but they do because they care about our community.”

Ferguson Elementary School cooks Jeanne Bainbridge-Chavez and Claudia Barbudo-Rodriguez display a tray of baked potatoes purchased locally from Ore-Cal Potatoes in Tulelake.

Ferguson Elementary School first-grader Maryjane Voehl gets ready to eat her potato.

Ferguson Elementary School kindergartners Nicolas Sweeney, front, Jase Bair, and Isaac Ibarra go through the cafeteria line to get their local potatoes and chili made with local beef.