Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the US and a national leader in the cultivation of apples, asparagus, blueberries, tart cherries, green beans, dry beans, potatoes and squash. Despite our rich produce production, most Michiganders still do not meet the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables and 32% of our children are overweight or obese.
Fruit and vegetables are the cornerstone of good health and lifelong health patterns are often established in childhood. Exposure to healthy habits at an early age can encourage long term health. One of the best places for this positive exposure to occur is in the school setting. Fortunately, a statewide pilot program, 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, is supporting schools in infusing more fresh, Michigan grown produce into their menus.
The 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms program is a state pilot providing up to ten cents per meal in matching funds to school districts to purchase Michigan grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans. Most schools only have $1.20 to spend on school meals, so an extra ten cents goes a long way in increasing their purchasing power. Over the past three years, state legislators have consistently expanded the program’s reach and funding. Last year, schools in Michigan Prosperity Regions 2, 4, and 9 (northwest and west Michigan, and the Washtenaw region) were eligible to apply for the grants. This year, the legislature added Regions 6 and 8 – the Thumb region and southwest Michigan.
Data from the pilot is showing positive impacts across several sectors. Food service directors are seeing increased meal participation, decreased food waste and increased student acceptance of fruits, vegetables, and beans. Students are engaging in farm to school activities, trying new foods, and asking for more fresh produce on their menus. The program is also supporting the local food system and stimulating economic development. Last year, the 10 Cents program put $630,000 into the hands of Michigan growers and food companies.
To ensure every Michigan school district has access to this program, the 10 Cents a Meal program team (Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, the Groundwork Center for Sustainable and Resilient Communities, and local Prosperity Region Offices) is currently collaborating to advocate for additional program funding. Health professionals and communities can help 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms expand by:
• Spreading the word: If you feel this program is valuable, share it with your school board, PTA, and state legislators. The website has great resources here.
• Joining the 10 Cents a Meal Network: email firstname.lastname@example.org