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Ten Cents A Meal Program a Success in Providing Locally-Grown Produce to Michigan Schools
March 21, 2018
March 21, 2018
LANSING – School districts in three regions of the state served students 65 new kinds of locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans under Michigan’s incentive pilot grant program called 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) shared today the results of the pilot program in its 2017-2018 Legislative Report.
“Bringing healthy, locally-grown food into Michigan schools helps our economy and fuels our students’ learning,” said State Superintendent Brian Whiston. “Healthy kids are eager to learn and achieve, driving Michigan to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.”
Grant-winning food service directors from the three regions where schools can apply for the funding – Prosperity Regions 2, 4, and 9 – also have been coordinating taste tests and nutrition education in the cafeteria and classroom. They used promotional materials from Cultivate Michigan, a statewide campaign of the Michigan Farm-to-Institution Network to help Farm-to-Institution programs grow, along with farmer posters and Harvest of the Month menus.
“The local food that I am able to get – it looks a lot better; I’m getting longer shelf life out of it; it tastes better; and students are definitely grabbing it on the lunch line,” said Meaghan Eckler, food service director in Bedford Public Schools in Prosperity Region 9 in southern Michigan.
The program provides up to 10 cents a meal in matching funds for schools to purchase Michigan grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans. It expanded from Prosperity Regions 2 and 4 in northwest and west Michigan in the 2016-2017 school year to also include Region 9 in 2017-2018. The number of districts that received grants, and the students they serve, roughly doubled – from 16 school districts and 48,000 students last year to 32 districts and 95,000 students this year.
The Michigan Department of Education also has worked to streamline the program to make it easier for school districts to receive their reimbursements and provide receipts required for local purchasing verification. MDE integrated the 10 Cents reimbursements within its Michigan Nutrition Data system, which food service directors use for other existing programs, and utilized FarmLogix, an online technology system that streamlines invoice tracking.
Overall, the invoices showed that schools purchased 80 different fruits, vegetables, and dry beans grown by 112 farms in 34 Michigan counties, plus 19 businesses such as processors, distributors, and food hubs.
“Farm-to-School is consistent business with consistent pricing,” said Mike Gavin, of Gavin Orchards, a 220-acre farm in Ottawa County. “When I started with schools, I was told student consumption had doubled and tripled in apples. It’s nice to hear you are making a difference.”
Jessica Endres, the food service director for the Thornapple-Kellogg School District in Prosperity Region 4 in west Michigan, said the program changed her purchasing habits.
“The grant has inspired me to drill down into the community as much as I can,” she said. “Before, I would have considered ‘local’ as states surrounding Michigan.”
The program also is catalyzing educational activities.
“I’m looking into building a garden now, to grow peas and green beans – little things students would want to try because they grew them,” said Sherry Sedore, the food service director at Pellston Public Schools in Prosperity Region 2 in northern Michigan – a new grantee. “Before we had 10 Cents, students weren’t interested in the idea of a garden, but now there’s interest.”
Traci Jackson, a teacher with the Holland City School District in Prosperity Region 4, also saw students become interested in new foods, as a result of the program.
“Some students had thirds!” she said of parsnips in her report to Holland Food Service Director Patty Wall, who coordinates taste tests with local produce in 43 classes every Friday. “I was excited to be able to share that I used to live next to the farm. This connection made my kids more excited to try the parsnips.”
Beth Kavanaugh, the food service director for Public Schools of Petoskey in Region 2 in northwest Michigan, said she’s seen reduced food waste and an increase in student consumption of fruits and vegetables as a result of the grant.
“This is noticed not only by the lunchroom aides and cooks, but by the custodial staff,” she said. “They literally grab my arm, walk me to the trash, and show me how much food is not wasted anymore.”
10 Cents a Meal is a state-funded competitive grant pilot reimbursement program for schools to improve daily nutrition and eating habits for children, allowing schools to purchase local fruit, vegetables, and beans, and invest in Michigan’s agriculture.
In all, 78 districts applied for the 2017-2018 school year and there was enough funding for 32 districts.
MDE is assisted in the program by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which provides expertise on Michigan-grown products and participates in food service director trainings; the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, which conducts monthly food service director surveys with MDE; Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, which conducts stakeholder interviews and provides communications support; and Northwest Prosperity Region 2, West Michigan Prosperity Alliance (Prosperity Region 4), and Greater Ann Arbor Region Prosperity Initiative (Prosperity Region 9), which have taken on roles that tap into regional strengths, such as communications and evaluation.
More information, including the full Legislative Report, is available at www.tencentsmichigan.org.