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Ag Forum: Farm-to-school meal plan expandsPrint

Food & Farming Farm to School | August 12, 2016 | By Diane Conners

Ag Forum: Farm-to-school meal plan expands

Talking with Sen. Wayne Schmidt in support of the state 10 Cents a Meal pilot project: from left to right, Mark Coe of Goodwill's Farm to Freezer; farmer Isaiah Wunsch; Kelly lively of Cherry Capital Foods; Diane Conners of Groundwork; Don Coe, active member of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce; Tom Freitas, food service director, Traverse City Area Public Schools. 

*This column first appeared in the Aug. 6 Traverse City Record-Eagle

Many Michigan farmers will sell significantly more fruits and vegetables to Michigan schools this fall, thanks to a new, cutting-edge law championed by area legislators.  And if those champions have their way, our farmers could eventually be selling even more of their fresh produce to schools across the state.

Michigan will provide nearly $250,000 to schools that successfully compete for state matching grants aimed at purchasing Michigan-grown produce this school year. That means $500,000 or more in new, farm-to-school sales for our farmers, some of whom participated in a local pilot project, 10 Cents a Meal, first launched in 2013 in three counties in our Grand Traverse region.

Farmers interested in this promising new market should start talking to school food service directors, supportive distributors like Cherry Capital Foods and processors like Goodwill’s Farm to Freezer over the next two weeks.   

That’s because the Michigan Department of Education expects to send grant applications to school food service directors Aug. 9, and applications are due on Aug. 23. This quick turnaround will allow successful schools time to start purchasing when they reopen in September. Applying schools must identify products they can purchase.

Parents and other supporters should know that the legislation calls not only for local food purchasing, but also for educational activities like school vegetable gardens. Teachers new to this curriculum can obtain carefully vetted lessons, which reflect the widely used Marzano teaching strategy, through the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District at farmtoschool.tbaisd.org.

The grants, which provide up to 10 cents a lunch in matching funds to schools to purchase Michigan produce, will be available to schools in 10 northwest Michigan counties, from Manistee to the Mackinac Bridge, and in 13 counties in West Michigan including Grand Rapids and the Muskegon area. Any Michigan farm can develop new markets in both regions.

In the original, three-county pilot, the three districts that started in the first year spent $150,000 on local produce in two years, compared to just $30,731 the year before it started. Four other districts later joined the pilot; the seven schools purchased 25 different products from 36 different area farms. Food service directors and farmers said the funding provided stability—for schools to try new foods like kale with students, and for farms to plan for school markets.

Legislators originally considered a $500,000 pilot that would have included schools in the Thumb region, too. But lower than expected state revenues scaled the pilot back. Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, introduced the program and pushed to keep it alive even as many other programs were cut. Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City and Rep Larry Inman, R-Acme also worked for funding.

“We think it has the potential of doing so many good things for our kids and for our state,” Sen. Booher said.

 “The requirements schools have for serving more fruits and vegetables and good, healthy meals is the key to this,” he said. “Our farmers can grow it. They just have to have a market for it. I want to see it go statewide.”