TUMWATER, Wash. The potatoes still need to be planted, as do the squash, but at Kirsop Farm, Genine Bradwin and Colin Barricklow are readying their land for the abundance of vegetables that will go to farmers markets, co-ops and local schools.
A small portion of their bounty mostly potatoes, squash and salad mix goes to the Olympia School District, which uses fresh fruit and vegetables from about eight local farmers for lunches in its 18 schools.
"Farmers don't just make food," Bradwin said, stacking trays of scallions in one of the farm's greenhouses. "We serve a purpose to our community as education as well."
The relationship between the Kirsop Farm and Olympia schools dates to 2002, and it's an example of what supporters of a farm-to-school bill envision across the state.
The wide-ranging measure sets up a farm-to-school program in the state Department of Agriculture, sets up a grant program for schools and a pilot program that would allow farmers at farmers markets to accept electronic payment cards, including food-stamp cards. The bill would also set up a farmers-to-food banks pilot program that would have food banks contract with local farmers for fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat to be distributed to low-income people.
While several other states have some type of farm-to-school program in place, the measure being proposed in Washington state is the first to combine so many elements, according to Douglas Shinkle with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"It's much more ambitious in scope," he said. "They're really trying to do a lot of different things to bolster local food."
The bill builds off of a federal pilot program that provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students in participating schools.
The Senate and House have both overwhelmingly passed similar versions of the measure, and the Senate version is up for a House vote again as early as this week.
"It really is a nice, feel-good thing for the agricultural and environmental community to come together and say we worked together and got this done," said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle and sponsor of the House version.
The measure would help cut through some of the red tape that can prevent schools from getting local food exempting schools from having to go through a competitive bidding process when they make large purchases of Washington-grown food or food that was grown and processed in Washington state. The change in procurement rules would also help state agencies and colleges and universities.
Procurement requirements require schools, agencies and institutions to put large food purchases out for competitive bidding, and require them to take the lowest bid.
"What we're doing in the bill is basically saying food is not like pencils," said Ellen Gray, executive director of the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, based in Mount Vernon. "If a school district wants to spend more money on their food they should not have to take the lowest bid."
For Bradwin and Barricklow, the contract with Olympia schools is a tiny fraction of their business, but it's one that they want to continue.
"It's a great community service relationship," Bradwin said. "We feel good about contributing to better food for kids and their lunches. And it's convenient."
The measure has had overwhelming support from not only majority Democrats and environmentalists, but from Republicans and farmers as well.
"It's motherhood and apple pie, supporting local farmers at the same time getting fresh fruits and vegetables, Washington-produced, on the table," said Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum.
The only opponent is Portland-based Northwest Food Processors Association, which represents about 45 processors in Washington state.
The association's president, Dave Zepponi, said that processors were angry that they weren't contacted and asked for their input.
"Food processing is excluded by and large from the bill from being part of the grant program," he said.
"Processed foods get a bad rap," Zepponi said. "The reality is most foods are processed and we need to be at least considered in a healthy diet. We're healthy foods."
Mo McBroom, with the Washington Environmental Council, said that the grant process is only one section of the bill, and that the overall bill promotes all Washington-grown food, including processed food.
"This is a bill that touches so many different interests at the same time. When you can find a policy that brings together farmers and environmentalists and teachers and parents it's unique, and it explains why we've seen such overwhelming support," she said.
Paul Flock, the school nutrition director for Olympia School District, said the district started working with local farms after parents met with him to talk about concerns they had about the school lunch program.
"They wanted locally grown food that wasn't processed," he said. "We said OK, let's see if we can work with local farmers."
Now there are organic salad bars at all of the district's 18 schools, and students are used to eating organic fruits and vegetables that are in season at nearby farms.
"You have better food going into their bodies, they get used to getting that kind of food so they want that kind of food," said Gray, of the Sustainable Food and Farming Network. "They start asking the question where did this come from?"