“10 Cents a Meal” Pilot Project Looks to Expand
By Diane Conners, Groundwork Center, Traverse City, Michigan
“10 Cents a Meal” is a project that provides schools with a financial match of up to 10 cents per meal to support school food service directors in purchasing Michigan fruits and vegetables—and it could be coming soon to a school near you. This incentive for school meals not only works to improve nutrition and promote healthy eating habits in children, but also is a way to invest in Michigan farmers and the related local food business economy.
The “10 Cents a Meal” project launched as a pilot in northwest Lower Michigan in 2013 and was inspired by one of the 25 recommendations of the Michigan Good Food Charter. Seven school districts in three counties took part in the local pilot program, purchasing 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables from 36 farms. A 142% average annual increase in spending on local grown fruits and vegetables was seen as a result.
Food service directors in the local pilot said the 10 cents per meal match provides schools the flexibility to try new things and to increase the types and variety of produce used in meals. It also assures funding to grow their programs and provide a stable market for farmers and other food businesses like processors and distributors.
“And it’s helping our kids,” said Tom Freitas, food service director for the Traverse City Area Public Schools. “One of our kitchen leaders told me that some kids saw the fresh peaches she was serving and asked, ‘what is that?’ They’d only eaten canned cling peaches before.”
Now, as farm to institution interest increases throughout the state, the “10 Cents a Meal” project is on track with Michigan legislators to also be expanded. The Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee in April included a $500,000 pilot project to expand the local pilot from the three counties in northwest Lower Michigan to 10 counties there, and also to include two new regions in West Michigan and the Thumb area in East Michigan.
These three regions are Region 2, Region 4 and Region 6 of Michigan’s 10 Prosperity Regions, set up to consider opportunities to build local economies, and for the state to provide services. With the $500,000 match funding—which would mean close to $1 million to be invested in the agricultural sector once schools provide their match—it is estimated that schools with 86,000 students will be reached.
Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart.), who initiated the state project, says of this pilot expansion, “I am pleased that the Senate K-12 budget included funding for the 10 cents a meal pilot project. This will improve our children’s nutrition and also support Michigan farmers and the local food business economy.”
The working group supporting the 10 Cents initiative includes the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan.
Resources that may be of interest include: