|The grant allows MLUI to partner with eight local districts and area farmers to invest in cold storage and processing equipment to scale up local food procurement by the schools. It also allows MLUI to expand the farm to school activities that it currently operates in six schools as the regional site of the national FoodCorps program.|
A new grant will make it easier for local growers to get their fruits and vegetables on to the school trays of thousands of students in northern Michigan—helping local agriculture while teaching kids the importance of local food and healthy eating habits.
The USDA awarded the Michigan Land Use Institute a two-year, $100,000 grant for expanded education efforts and to help local growers scale-up their operations and infrastructure to make it easier for them to meet school needs. The project, “Scaling Up: Healthy Kids & Thriving Farms,” expands on MLUI’s existing efforts to promote local food in school cafeterias.
“Schools, farmers, local food distribution company Cherry Capital Foods, the economic development community—they all want to see farm to school programs grow here,” said Diane Conners, senior policy specialist in Food & Farming at MLUI. “What we needed were small but strategic investments in infrastructure, education that turns kids on to eating healthy local food, teacher involvement and school marketing. The National Farm to School grant fills these crucial gaps.”
The grant allows MLUI to partner with eight local districts and area farmers to invest in cold storage and processing equipment to scale up local food procurement by the schools. It also allows MLUI to expand the cafeteria tastings, local food curriculum in classrooms, and the school garden activities that it currently operates in six schools as the regional site of the national FoodCorps program.
Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is a key partner in the project, with plans to develop farm to school support for teachers. Other project partners include Michigan State University Extension and other members of the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network. Participating districts are: Traverse City Area Public Schools, Benzie County Central Schools, Frankfort-Elberta Area Public Schools, Suttons Bay Public Schools, Northport Public School, Leland Public School, Glen Lake Community Schools and Central Lake Public Schools.
Food service directors have identified a need for washed, dried and bagged salad greens and cut vegetables, but the many smaller farms in the region that typically grow vegetables—as well as some larger farmers—don’t have the capacity or infrastructure to meet the needs of the region's schools. The grant will help secure new, centrally located equipment for commercial-scale vegetable washing and preparation, making it possible and more cost-effective for growers to scale up vegetable production to benefit schools.
The MLUI grant is one of 68 awarded by the USDA to organizations in 37 states and Washington, D.C., to connect schools with local agricultural producers. These are the first USDA Farm to School grants, designed to help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and to increase opportunities for producers and food businesses.
“When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it’s produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices.”