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Systems Change and the 10 Cents a Meal ProgramPrint

farm to school | June 12, 2018 | By Jeff Smith

Systems Change and the 10 Cents a Meal Program

As part of Groundwork’s spring membership campaign, we are shining the light on the 10 Cents a Meal program. If you support innovative, unifying ideas like this, please consider becoming a member of Groundwork!

When Groundwork talks about incubating ideas that stick, ideas that spread, ideas that endure, we are talking about programs like 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms—often shorthanded to “10 Cents.” The program is based on the remarkable fact that by adding just 10 cents to the amount spent on each lunch, schools can double the amount of fresh, locally grown produce that appears on a student’s plate.

The full power of the idea, however, extends beyond the lunchroom and is hinted at in that phrase “locally grown.” Because by sourcing the produce from local farms, the program also helps small entrepreneurs—we sometimes forget that every farmer is an entrepreneur. When 10 Cents helps farm families sustain financial stability, the program also ultimately adds to the overall resiliency of the local economy. 

The roots of the program go back to 2010, when Michigan's  Good Food Charter included, as one of 25 recommendations, the idea of Implementing a reimbursement program to provide an additional 10 cents per school meal to help schools purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. In 2013, Groundwork piloted this program in Traverse City, nurtured it and eventually, with partners, took it to the state legislature asking for funding to help it spread to school districts around the state. As I write this, Michigan lawmakers have negotiated to expand the funding of 10 Cents for fiscal year 2019 by $200,000, raising the total to $575,000. The deal would also expand the geographic reach of the program to nearly half of the Lower Peninsula, notably adding the urban areas of Flint, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Now the budget just needs legislative approval and Governor Snyder’s signature.

People typically refer to this kind of thing as systems change, and of course it is: tweak the system in small but strategic ways—add a dime to a child’s lunch plate and give a boost to small local businesses—and big things result. That’s systems change in the classic sense and at Groundwork, it’s what we are about. 

But it's important to never forget despite the somewhat clinical sound of “systems change” what it’s really about is changing things that are very, very human. There are many ways we show our children we care for them, but one of the most powerful ways is shown in what we choose to feed them, what we choose to nurture and build their health with. Ten Cents is showing children that their community cares about them. That is no small piece of this work. That’s as human as you can get.

Also human is the impact on local farm families—moms, dads, kids, grandparents—who are more able to live their version of the American dream because the current of commerce has slightly changed and is rewarding them in classic capitalist ways for growing a good and healthy product. The human impact extends to each of us as well, because the extra bonus is that by helping farm families stay in farming, we get to enjoy the open lands of a beautiful countryside.

The support 10 Cents has received from both political parties reveals one final remarkable part of the program: it has the power to unify. At Groundwork, we also see that as an essential piece of resiliency, as an essential piece of the systems change we advocate for.