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Local Food Heads Back to School

The days are getting shorter and the smell of drying leaves and woodsmoke is in the air. Fall is here and that means it’s back to school for Michigan’s 1.5 million public school students. For many of us, back to school conjures up a variety of images and smells: freshly sharpened pencils, crisp notebooks, new backpacks, and the infamous mystery meals served in the cafeteria. For many of Michigan’s students, however, the school year also brings with it the tantalizing smells and flavors of locally sourced, and carefully prepared, food.

BusIn 2014, over 50% of Michigan school food service directors incorporated local foods into their foodservice operations (1). This number continues to grow as more districts participate in Farm to School Programs. These programs vary from school to school and may include a focus on local food procurement, educational activities related to agriculture/nutrition (think farm field trips, cooking classes and more), or hands-on learning in school gardens. Farm to School is an important program for schools and communities as students get access to healthy, fresh food and the local food purchases strengthening the local economy and contribute to more vibrant communities.

Michigan is lucky to have strong bipartisan support for Farm to School efforts. In 2016, a pilot program was launched across 21 counties to provide a 10 cents per meal match incentive to schools for purchasing fresh Michigan fruits, vegetables or dry beans. While 10 cents may seem like a small amount, schools typically have only $1 – $1.20 per meal to spend on food. Of that amount, only 30 cents is set aside for fruit and vegetable purchases. Providing schools with a matching 10 cents for fresh produce purchases allows them to stretch their budget and, ultimately, serve more fresh produce. In 2016, the “10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms” pilot reached 48,000 Michigan students. In the 2017-2018 school year, 95,000 students across 32 districts were impacted and $113,976 was put back into 112 farm businesses. This school year, schools in 43 of Michigan’s 83 counties are now eligible to apply for the grants.

To learn more about Farm to School in Michigan:

To learn more about the 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms:

Kelly Wilson, RD, is TLD’s SE Michigan Local Food Coordinator. Contact her at

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