Imlay City Schools awarded through newly expanded 10 Cents a Meal program
IMLAY CITY — Imlay City Schools is one of more than 200 grantees to receive funding this fall through the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms program for the 2021-22 school year.
Administered by the Michigan Department of Education, the farm-to-institution initiative provides matching incentive funding up to 10 cents per meal to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Roxanne Pierce, the district’s food service director, said their cafeteria staff already serves students a fair amount of Michigan food products, but this funding match will allow them to expand those offerings and hopefully make more connections with local farmers.
“What the program administrators want us to do is ‘break out the box’ and ask ourselves ‘what have you never served before?’” Pierce said.
Although it’s still early Pierce is thinking she might incorporate Michigan-grown dry beans in something like pasta e fagioli for the soup fans at the high school or substituting winter squash, grown in the Great Lakes state, for sweet potato dishes already on the menu.
She noted that some of the fresh and frozen produce they receive through vendors like Gordon Food Service came from Michigan fields and orchards—items like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and apples.
Additionally, produce grown and harvested from the district’s garden can also qualify for the grant program, Pierce said. The student group that will eventually manage the plot can bill the food service department and the state would provide matching funds for the produce’s value.
The school garden, created by volunteer Scott Aldridge in 2020, was shuttered for the 2021 growing season due to nearby construction projects but district leaders plan to start utilizing the raised beds for growing again in 2022. In it’s first year, Pierce said she was able to pick cabbage and green beans from the school garden to use in student meals.
The traditional growing season is wrapping up, but in preparation for 2022, Pierce plans to work with Michigan State University Extension educators to connect with Michigan growers through ‘food hubs.’ These hubs facilitate the distribution of produce, ensuring the products have been processed and stored safely. Sourcing Michigan produce through grocery stores is another option, she noted.
“It should be fun. We’re excited to get connected with these programs and getting the ball rolling,” Pierce said.
In the near future, Imlay City School would also like to work directly with local producers interested in supplying the district with fruits and vegetables.
“We have so much stuff grown within a 20 mile radius of the district, it would be great to include them in our food service program,” she said.
Some years ago, Imlay City Schools participated in the Hoophouses for Health program through the Michigan Farmers Market Association and Pierce was able to use cherry tomatoes and peppers from a local grower in the Emmett area.
Pierce invites local growers to contact her regarding supplying fresh produce to the school district. She can be reached at email@example.com or 810-724-9855.
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According to the Michigan Department of Education, Imlay City students are among more than 550,000 children who will benefit from the first round grant funding for 10 Cents a Meal.
Funding for the program was more than doubled—increasing from $2 to $5 million—in the $17.1 billion K-12 budget signed into law in June by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“The 10 Cents a Meal program feeds our kids and supports family farmers and growers. Under the education bill I signed in June, which made the largest investment in education in state history, we more than doubled funding for this program that offers healthy, affordable meals to our kids,” Whitmer said in a press release from the MDE.
State officials say grant dollars will support Michigan’s emerging local food system infrastructure that delivers products from local farms to local customers—something that took on new value during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This important program helps school food service staff nourish our children so that they are really ready to learn. It also helps our food service professionals to invest in Michigan’s economy and strengthen local food supply chains, which we have found–as a result of COVID–to often be more reliable than national food supply chains. Locally grown food for Michigan’s children makes all the sense in the world,” said School Nutrition Association of Michigan president-elect Jennifer Mattison.
The 10 Cents a Meal concept started as a pilot program in northwest and west Michigan in 2016 and was made available to applicants statewide last year in the 2020-2021 school year.
MDE is assisted in the program by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which provides expertise on Michigan-grown products; the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, which is the evaluation partner and supports training; and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, which conducts stakeholder interviews, communications, and outreach.
To learn more, please visit www.tencentsmichigan.org. For the list of 2021-22 award grantees, visit https://www.tencentsmichigan.org/about.