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Ag Forum: 10 Cents a Meal program could expandPrint

Farm to School | July 30, 2015 | By Diane Conners

*This column originally appeared in the July 25, 2015, edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle

Farmers in our region’s fields and orchards this summer are growing a variety of fruits and vegetables destined for the plates of children in seven school districts participating in the “10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms” pilot project.

But what happens when the grant and donor funding that matches school spending on local produce up to 10 cents a meal runs out after next school year? What about other schools and farms?

There’s news on that front, both in Michigan and at the far end of the nation in Oregon.

State Sen. Darwin Booher represents 12 counties from Osceola County in the south to Leelanau County in the north. He is interested in potential state policy. Booher is in discussions with my organization, the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities — which coordinates the program — to review 10 Cents a Meal and to see how it might be expanded in the state.

Just as those discussions began big news came out of Oregon. That state that led the way nationally in 2011 by launching a fund that inspired the creation of our region’s own 10 Cent fund. Oregon’s fund supports schools in buying Oregon-grown or -processed foods, with a small percentage to be used to engage kids in healthy eating through school gardens and other “farm to school” activities.

But not all Oregon schools received the funds. The schools formerly had to compete for them by writing grants. That changed as of a few weeks ago. On July 6, the state Legislature expanded the program and set aside $3.3 million for schools to purchase Oregon products for 2015-2017 — without competing for grants.

Like our region’s school food service directors, those in Oregon say the extra funds have helped them to try new foods with students and to change buying habits and business relationships.

“The grant changed the way I think about buying food," said Jane Gullet, the nutrition director of Yamhill-Carlton School District in Oregon. "I never thought about this before, but now the first thing I ask any vendor is whether their products are local, or if they have a local alternative. I’m aiming to serve 75 percent local products.”

Michigan’s Good Food Charter is a vision for building the state’s food and farm economy while also increasing our access to healthy food. It includes goals that Michigan institutions will purchase 20 percent of their food from Michigan growers, producers and processors; and that the state will generate new agri-businesses at a rate that enables 20 percent of food purchased in Michigan to come from Michigan. The 10 Cents a Meal program was one of the charter's 25 policy recommendations. A statewide 10 cents program, if fully funded with a match requirement, would add up to $28 million to Michigan’s economy.

Michigan can provide a variety of fruits and vegetables to our schools. The three school districts that launched the 10 Cents a Meal project here, for example, spent $84,621 on 27 different local fruits and vegetable grown on 17 area farms. Pass the peas, please!

Anyone interested in being updated on efforts to expand the 10 Cents a Meal pilot in Michigan, or lending their voices to the discussion, can reach Diane Conners at diane@groundworkcenter.org.