(Feb. 19, WEB EXCLUSIVE) Portland-based Public Schools Nutrition Services and Ecotrust’s food & farms program are teaming up for the “Harvest of the Month” program, an endeavor designed to deliver farm-direct fruits and vegetables to Portland’s public elementary schools, according to a Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest news release.

The program is designed to encourage children to include more fresh produce in meals, expose them to new produce items and educate students about the local farms and growers producing their food. While pears, the state fruit of Oregon, are highlighted in the program, other featured produce items include Oregon berries, parsnips, cabbage, corn on the cob and asparagus.

“Harvest of the Month is one step toward realizing the vision Portland Public Schools holds for school cafeterias as a model for health, wellness and food system sustainability,” Kristy Obbink, director of nutrition services for Portland Public Schools, said in the release. “We see the cafeteria as a learning laboratory to introduce students to local foods like fresh pears.”

In conjunction with the “Harvest of the Month” program, Pear Bureau Northwest is teaming up with New Seasons Market, Portland, to offer in-store taste samplings of green anjou, red anjou and bosc pears with accompanying educational information.

“The idea is, when these kids eat these varieties at school, they’ll go home and tell their parents about it,” said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer at Pear Bureau Northwest. “This is just a way to expand the program out of the classroom and into the produce aisles.”

Moffitt said an additional exciting aspect of the program is that it happens to be launching around the time of Oregon’s sesquicentennial as a U.S. state.

“The Heart of America program is very important for the health of children by exposing them to fruit they haven’t tried,” Moffitt said. “The timing of this program in February, which ties the state fruit to the state’s 150th birthday, is timely. And tying in with local supermarkets exposes parents to the great varieties the children were exposed to at school.”

The “Harvest of the Month” program will continue in Portland’s public schools through the spring spotlighting Oregon berries in March and asparagus in May.