*A version of this column originally appeared in the May 9, 2015 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
What difference can a dime make?
When it comes to school lunches, it turns out that it can mean the difference between canned peaches or fresh, juicy ones for students. And because of a pilot project in our region called 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, it also means sales for local farms and related businesses like food processors or distributors.
Here is some background:
In fall 2013, the Michigan Land Use Institute and Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District launched 10 Cents a Meal, a pilot project being watched statewide to determine the impact of financially supporting school food service in purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Schools typically have only about 20 to 30 cents a meal to spend on fruits and vegetables. This provides an extra dime per meal to buy local produce up to three times a week in fall, twice a week in winter and once a week in spring.
And here are the results we have so far:
We launched at three districts initially: the Traverse City, Suttons Bay and Glen Lake public schools. The 10 Cent fund reimbursed them $20,095.59 the first year. As required by the program, the districts matched those funds penny per penny – and then some. Overall, the three districts spent $84,621.14 on 27 different local fruits and vegetables grown by 17 area farms.
“All of this is helping us to do more of what we want to do,” said Tom Freitas, food service director for Traverse City schools. “And it’s helping our kids. One of our kitchen leaders told me this year that some kids saw the fresh peaches she was serving and asked, ‘What is that?’ They’d only eaten canned cling peaches before.
“We want our students to eat more fresh food,” he said. “And once they taste it in the real form, we want it to taste good so they keep coming back. We know the local food brings them back because it has more flavor – it hasn’t been shipped 2,000 miles.”
In spring 2014, MLUI and TBAISD added the other three Leelanau and both Benzie county districts, thanks to funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Oleson Foundation, Seabury Foundation and other donors. Spending so far this year for all districts is still being tabulated.
10 Cents is based on one of the 25 recommendations of the Michigan Good Food Charter, a vision for building Michigan’s food and farm economy and access to healthy, Michigan grown food. At least 11 states have passed or considered legislation for programs like 10 Cents. During the pilot project, we will explore opportunities for sustainability.
The business sector has been a strong supporter. Cherry Republic provided a major grant to help us launch. Cherry Capital Foods, Oryana Natural Foods Market and Epicure Catering provided early support. For more than a year Firefly Restaurant donated $1 for every dessert it sold. Perennial Harvest is providing proceeds from T-shirt sales.
Utopia Foundation accepts donations for the fund. Others interested in providing support can contact [email protected].
Diane Conners is a senior policy specialist at the Groundwork Center.