By Nathan Medina | February 5, 2022
I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the 2022 Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference About 10 Cents Per Meal for Children and Michigan Farms. 10 Cents a Meal is the groundbreaking state program that provides schools and early childhood education centers with matching incentive funding – up to 10 cents per meal – to purchase and serve fruits, vegetables and legumes grown in Michigan.
The audience for this conference consisted primarily of small farmers from northern Michigan, but attendees were present from across the state. I was joined for the presentation by friends from MSU Extension, the ValleyHub Food Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and a farmer with farm-to-school experience who spoke about the ins and outs of serving food sales/supply navigation, food safety, and available resources for foodservice and local farms wishing to participate in farm-to-school efforts.
For a second year, 10 Cents Per Meal is available to grant recipients statewide and is an integral part of Michigan’s educational and agricultural identity. Last year, Governor Whitmer and State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice proclaimed the program a key part of the state’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan.
This year’s 228 current grant recipients serve a total enrollment of more than half a million children, in 55 of Michigan’s 83 counties. This is an increase from 144 registered the previous year. Our beneficiaries currently hail from communities stretching from Motor City to the Keweenaw Peninsula. The grant application window was also recently reopened to allow more school districts and early childhood education centers to apply for the current 2021-22 school year, so we hope to see even more children. receive Michigan-grown food with 10 cents per Meal.
The program expansion was a 360° win for Michigan farmers, distributors, and foodservice programs — and of course, children who can enjoy fresh, local, delicious, and nutrient-dense produce. The economic ripple effect of the $5 million item, more than double the $2 million funding for the 2020-2021 school year, improves and strengthens the economy of our local food system at every stage of the process, from planting to harvesting, distributing, cooking, and finally ending up on a child’s plate.
Recently, my colleagues and I from Groundwork, the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and the Michigan Department of Education went on a kind of speaking tour — via zoom or otherwise — touching on pockets of interest in the community of early childhood across Michigan. All of these sessions served the same purpose: to ensure that awareness of the program is promoted and that it remains accessible to people in all pockets of the state.
Particularly in this time of supply chain disruptions, knowing where your food comes from and having a direct connection to the people who grow it can pay dividends with peace of mind; this ready-to-use customer base of schools and daycares can allow farmers to plan ahead and have a steady stream of predictable activities throughout the year, which can help them plan effectively future growing seasons.
Despite a growing statewide footprint, the 10 Cents a Meal movement retains a distinct northwest and western Michigan patina following its founding years as a pilot program in those areas. It’s a wonderful tribute to the school districts, food service managers and farms who originally participated in the Salad Days – pardon the pun – program and it reflects even more the leadership of Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), a longtime champion who has fought to fund 10 Cents a Meal for several budget cycles and continues to do so even during his last term in parliament.
Now more than ever, the importance of engagement with our current and future generation of state legislators cannot be overstated. With Senator Schmidt out of office and with the current redistricting of both legislative chambers (in addition to our seats in the U.S. Congress), it’s critical that 10 Cents a Meal supporters share the positive stories and voice their support in this election. charged. year.
Fortunately, the program is recognized as one of those unique policy areas that is non-controversial and can garner support from members of both parties no matter who is in power. It’s a testament to the hard work of supporters and frontline people feeding children and supporting the local food supply chain during these most difficult times. Above all, the program’s legislative success testifies to the veracity and legitimacy of what it offers: healthy food for children and an essential business for family farms.
There is still time for your child’s school to tap into these important funds and serve local food in the cafeteria. Let your school know today that they can apply until February 11. (And if your school is already using 10 cents per meal, write them a big thank you note!)
Nathan Medina is Groundwork’s Policy Specialist based in Lansing.