Rainbow Salad Day at one of Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school partner schools. (Photo courtesy of MLUI).
This fall, the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI) is working with local schools and businesses to provide Northwest Michigan schoolchildren with healthy meal options from local farmers through their newest farm to school program, the 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms initiative.
The project, which launches this fall, is meant to extend schools’ ability to buy and serve locally grown food by providing an additional 10 cents per school lunch served designated for Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. Thanks to donations from local businesses and organizations, the 10 Cents a Meal program will provide nearly $29,000 for healthy, locally grown produce to be served in school cafeterias in Glen Lake Community Schools and the elementary schools of Traverse City Area Public Schools and Suttons Bay Public Schools.
Participating school districts will match the 10 cents per meal provided by the fund with 10 cents from their regular school lunch budgets to go toward the purchase of food from local farms. With these funds, students will be served local fruits and vegetables three days a week in the fall, one day a week in the winter, and two days a week in the spring. Between the reimbursements from the 10 Cents Fund and the schools’ purchases, nearly $58,000 in produce purchases will be put back into the local farm economy.
“I think it is a win-win situation for everybody involved, including the farmers,” said Mark Coe, a farmer at Calvin Lutz Farms in Manistee County who is building a market with area schools. “I think the fact that schools are going to have the opportunity to be reimbursed for purchases they make will encourage them to make more purchases. It will help offset some of the costs for them.”
MLUI has been working with the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District to gain funding for the project through support from a variety of local businesses and organizations. A generous donation of $28,000 from Cherry Republic of Glen Arbor and Traverse City made a fall launch possible.
“It’s the biggest donation Cherry Republic has ever made to support local agriculture, and we did it because of the added bonus of getting healthy food in front of our region’s children,” said owner Bob Sutherland. “This is exactly the type of project that I know my customers would be thrilled to support.”
In addition to Cherry Republic’s donation, other local businesses and organizations, including Cherry Capital Foods, Oryana Natural Foods Market, Firefly Restaurant, Epicure Catering, individuals and the Traverse City-based Utopia Foundation, have raised about $10,000 in funding for the program.
“10 Cents a Meal is a true community project,” said Diane Conners, senior policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. “The people who are making it happen are right from our region.”
The program puts into action one of the 25 recommendations of the Michigan Good Food Charter, which suggests that giving power to Michigan schools to purchase local food will help the state’s economy, as well as improve the health of its youth. Ultimately, organizers hope to expand the 10 Cents a Meal program to other districts in the region and show policymakers the value of investing in healthy local food for both children and the economy.
“We’re thrilled to see this program take off,” said Kathryn Colasanti, coordinator for the Michigan Good Food initiative and a staff member at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. “We hope this pilot documents the positive impact on kids’ eating habits – and farmers’ finances – to show the value of implementing something like this statewide.”
MLUI and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) hope to continue raising funds and be able to offer 10 Cents a Meal for two years at each school to measure its full impact on students, farmers and the local economy. Mike Hill, TBAISD superintendent, is confident that the program could eventually be beneficial throughout the state.
“Healthy students eating locally grown food will mean greater achievement and success,” he said. “This can really be a model for Michigan.”
The Utopia Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations on behalf of 10 Cents a Meal. The foundation is matching the first $10,000 raised with an additional 25 percent match, or $2,500. To donate online, click here.
Firefly Restaurant is donating $1 for each dessert that it sells, and Cherry Capital Foods is holding a second fundraiser with a local foods luncheon during its annual PigstockTC event, at Lobdell’s restaurant at Northwestern Michigan College on Tuesday, Oct. 22. The $45 a plate luncheon will feature a talk by renowned food writer Michael Ruhlman. Tickets can be purchased here.