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Fundraisers Benefit Northern Michigan Farms, SchoolsPrint

Food & Farming | November 13, 2014 | By Meghan McDermott

*This column originally appeared on MyNorth.com on Nov. 13, 2014

Students visiting the Shetler Dairy Farm.

Imagine a school bus driving through the rolling hills of Antrim County, passing beautiful farmland and acres of fall foliage sporting a rainbow of colors. And the bus is filled with fourth-graders singing, “I love to eat greens, greens, greens, ain’t no finer thing under the sun.”

Did that last part make you think you must be dreaming?

For elementary school students in Central Lake, that scene and others like it have been a reality for 15 years. That’s because the school has participated in the Farmer to Community Fundraiser, a program that has students selling locally grown produce, fish, meat, honey, milk, and jam to raise funds for school field trips in the spring.

It all began when Pepper Bromelmeir of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (and former Central Lake parent) received a survey from the school asking how she felt about the school’s annual candy sale. She believed the candy sale promoted poor eating habits and missed an opportunity to benefit the community, so she set about finding a solution.

She reached out to several farmers who sold locally and asked them if they’d be interested in selling their products through the school as a fundraiser. A critical element to her plan was explaining to farmers that she was not seeking a donation, but rather asking them to sell to her so that the students could up the prices from the farmer’s sale point.

“That way it shows the students that they need to support the local farms, and it keeps the money here in our community,” Bromelmeir said. “After the farmers were on board, I went to the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) to see if they were interested. The rest is history!”

Today, dozens of schools across the country have embraced non-traditional fundraisers featuring local products. With new regulations on school snacks and many districts adopting or looking to enforce wellness policies, fundraising tends to be a “pretty easy target area for change,” said Christina Carson, the Chief Cultivator for FarmRaiser, a new Michigan-based company that has sprung out of this increased interest in creating healthier options for school fundraisers.

In fact, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) recently announced a partnership with FarmRaiser that will offer locally made products to benefit TCAPS Learning Enrichment & Athletics Program (LEAP) and individual schools. Through the program, families can purchase healthy products from local businesses like Naturally Nutty, The Redheads, Higher Grounds, Brownwood Farms, Sleeping Bear Farms, Grocer’s Daughter and Esch Road. There’s even an option to purchase a community basket, which will be given to a local food pantry. The products will be sold through FarmRaiser’s online platform and will be available for pickup at Central Grade School on December 17, just in time for the holidays.

This year’s total funds raised at Central Lake Elementary are still being tallied, but to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the school’s Farmer to Community Fundraiser, Tim VanderHart and Michelle Perkins’ third, fourth and fifth graders were met with an added incentive to sell the local products. For every five items they sold, they would get a water balloon to throw at their resident food and nutrition educator—me!

So how many balloons are headed my way when the fundraiser products are distributed this year? I’ll be thinking warm thoughts of how this fundraiser helped support healthy kids and communities when I try to dodge 104 water balloons later this month.

More about FarmRaiser:

FarmRaiser is working to reinvent school fundraising with a healthy, local spin by having students sell fresh produce and healthy products made in their communities. In the process, students learn about good food, local economies, and a food system they can easily get involved in! Anyone interested in getting involved can find more information on its website, or email info@farmraiser.com.

To learn more about the TCAPS fundraiser, (and order local products through the end of November) visit farmraiser.seeyourimpact.org/leap.

Meghan McDermott is a FoodCorps Service Member working with area schools through the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school program. If you have a farm to school story to share, please send it to diane@mlui.org.  You can keep up on area farm to school activity at https://www.facebook.com/NWMIFarmtoSchool