While most school cafeterias are closed for summer break, House Bill 2800, Oregon's farm-to-school and school garden bill, is still cooking in Salem.

While most school cafeterias are closed for summer break, House Bill 2800, Oregon's farm-to-school and school garden bill, is still cooking in Salem.

Other states invest resources to supplement the national school lunch and breakfast program, but Oregon currently doesn't allocate any state funding to school meals. HB 2800 will change that by strategically allocating lottery resources to schools so that they can purchase more Oregon- grown, -processed and -manufactured foods for the lunch room.

HB 2800 also allocates state resources to support agriculture- and garden-based education efforts in schools. A pilot program under way in Portland Public Schools and Gervais Public Schools has definitely shown the positive impact that investing in school food could have for Oregon.

We already know that $1 spent on school food locally triggers economic impacts well beyond the agricultural sector: For every $1 we spend on Oregon products, an additional 87 cents continues to cycle throughout the Oregon economy.

Beyond supporting the agricultural sector, when we invest in school food we create jobs and support the Oregon economy overall. School food is a "fork ready" project if ever there was one; that's good news in these difficult economic times.

Focusing on school food is also a health and wellness issue. With children who are more likely to recognize corporate logos than carrot tops growing from the soil, it is sadly no wonder our youth are often referred to as Generation XXL.

It is critically important that we engender in children a sense of where their food comes from. Indeed, food-literate children are much more likely to make life-long healthy eating choices.

Equity issues have to be considered as well. In Oregon, 46 percent of the children who eat school food do so as recipients of either free or reduced price meals. As the recession deepens, this number is expected to rise as more and more economically challenged families turn to the school meal program to help keep food in their children's bellies. Don't these children deserve the very best Oregon has to offer?

I'd argue they do, and I'm not alone in my support for HB 2800. From the Oregon School Board Association to school food service directors, parents, public health advocates, farmers, ranchers and food processors, HB 2800 gets an A-plus from individuals and organizations across the state.

Hopefully, legislators in Salem will find a way to pass HB 2800 this session. I know we're struggling to make difficult choices given budget limitations, and it is unlikely the Legislature will be able to fund the full investment called for in HB 2800. But we should start at whatever funding level is available. Because no matter the amount, every funding scenario currently under consideration delivers jobs, supports Oregon farmers and ranchers and puts good food on the plate for our state's most vulnerable children.

My own 7-year-old daughter testified in support of HB 2800 last month. She summed it up well: When she doesn't have enough allowance money for the big things, she just gets something small. That way, at least she still gets something.

Oregon farmers and ranchers can do a lot with a little; let's get them started with a statewide farm-to-school program of any size. At least that way, the state's children will still get something, even if it is just a start in the right direction.

Deborah J. Kane is vice president of food and farms at Ecotrust in Portland and a food and society policy fellow.