BY NAOMI INMAN
One ag student’s class competition is another family’s food on the table. That’s what happened at Perrydale high school in 1997 when a friendly rivalry between freshmen and sophomores snowballed into Food for All, a huge produce drive coordinated by Oregon’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) students to fight hunger and feed families. In the past four years alone, Food for All director Kirk Hutchinson credits students, and about 25 farms and co-ops, for collecting and distributing more than 1.5 million pounds of produce to thousands of food insecure families from the Oregon Coast to Ontario.
Hutchinson, a retired agriculture teacher of 35 years, has been directing the program and steering its exponential growth since he first acted as advisor for the Perrydale freshman class. In the 18 years since, he said, the most meaningful growth has been in the lives of the students themselves. “ These kids truly learn to serve; it really changes them. It changes their minds and hearts about serving and giving to others.”
Last December, Food for All collected 300,000 pounds of quality, shelf-stable fruits and vegetables, which hundreds of FFA students at six high schools—Amity, Dayton, Perrydale, Sheridan, Willamina, and Yamill- Carlton—repackaged into 40 pound boxes and delivered to more than 5,000 families around the state. At the Oregon State FFA convention in March of this year, students and OSU athletes gathered to pack boxes and deliver another 65,000 pounds of food to local food banks.
As a service and learning project, Food For All volunteers learn the ag industry from start to finish and develop real-world skills. They write letters to farmers and producers. They call, visit, and make presentations asking for donations. Pulling it all together requires students to navigate dozens of partnerships with farmers, agencies, and transportation companies. By December 23rd each year running, thousands of disadvantaged families receive a knock on their door from an FFA student or volunteer with three cheerful words just in time for the holiday season: “Food for All!”