Cancer prevention through nutrition: School gardens provide produce to at-risk families

With support from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Community Partnership Program, new initiatives from the Linus Pauling Institute’s Healthy Youth Program seek to make an impact on cancer rates in Oregon communities.

High school summer interns preparing herbs from the garden for recipe samples at the farm stand (Left to right: Alana Hilkey, Curtis Bradford, Nupoor Patil, Elena Cordes, Lauren Reichman, Natalie Walker, Annabelle Burright, and McKenna Mulvey)

School Garden Harvest Boxes, or Cajas de Cosecha, is designed to serve local families. In the true spirit of a community project, the Healthy Youth Program staff are collaborating with local youth, Oregon State University students, and various community members. Their goal is to provide produce from school gardens and local farms to families in need.

This partnership brings together resources from the Corvallis School District, the Benton County Health Department, and about a dozen local farms.

Focusing nutrition education around cancer prevention, the program encourages consumption of fresh produce. This often involves shifting community norms about what constitutes “good nutrition.”

Each week, selected families participate in a farm stand event located at their school garden where they choose fruit and vegetables for their Harvest Box. Here they also receive nutrition education materials that explain the health benefits of the foods they have chosen and have the option to have a nurse from the Linus Pauling Institute take weight and blood pressure measurements.

Ten high school interns serve as the backbone of the project. They provide the support necessary to make farm stand events more than a place to pick up groceries. Therefore, the Harvest Box Project serves a second purpose: to provide a work-and-learn experiential internship for high school students.

Harvest Box containing peppers, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, salad greens, grapes and garlic.

At the farm stand, high school interns are running the show. Some of the students wash, prepare and set up baskets of produce. Others take to cooking and serving samples of the recipe of the week in an outdoor kitchen.

Additionally, interns engage children attending in educational activities, giving parents the time to select their weekly produce with fewer distractions.

Through these weekly farm stand events, the high school students learn about sustainable farming, food systems, and community nutrition.

Supervising the project is the manager of the Healthy Youth Program, Candace Russo. In addition to acting as a source of nutrition information, Russo administers the program surveys to parents to gather feedback. Ultimately, these surveys act as measures of the program’s success.

Preliminary results from the surveys indicate that changes are happening. Families are trying Harvest Boxes recipes at home. With fruit and vegetables readily accessible, the program seems to overcoming some barriers to increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

A rainbow of colors is represented in the produce from the farm stand each week.

Next summer, the Healthy Youth Program seeks to incorporate family cooking classes, and build recipes around specific fruits and vegetables with anti-cancer properties. They also hope to be able to package this program for use in other communities.

The Healthy Youth Program would like to thank the following local farms who have generously donated produce to the farm stand throughout the summer:

Kith and Kin Farm, Roundhouse Farm, Red Hat Melons, Camron Ridge Farm, Beene Family Farm, Kiger Island Farms, Fairfield Farms, Stahlbush Island Farms and Gathering Together Farm.

The Harvest Box Program will run into late September 2018. Results of the program will be featured in a future Monthly Update from the LPI. If you would like to get involved or provide financial support, please email the Healthy Youth Program at


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Alexander Michels, PhD

Alexander Michels is a Research Associate and Communications Officer for the Linus Pauling Institute. He has an extensive background in the research on vitamin C, with a specialty in understanding vitamin C transport through the body. His expertise also extends to research on other aspects of antioxidant vitamin metabolism and the action of phytochemicals.