2017-04-20 / Local News

Students enjoy locally grown food; funding in question

A program that supplies fresh produce to schools grown by local farmers may be in jeopardy.

The state’s 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms program provides schools with match incentive funding up to 10 cents per meal to purchase and serve Michigan-grown produce.

An estimated 48,000 students in 16 grant-winning school districts are beneficiaries, including two in Leelanau County.

“The 10 cents a meal program has greatly increased our fresh produce business to area schools,” said Jim Bardenhagen, East Leland fruit grower and retired Michigan State extension director in Leelanau County. “The students are getting healthy, tasty local fruits and vegetables, which school food service directors tell us the students like and eat.

“The local farmers get to sell more produce, which helps the growers’ economically. Basically, great benefits for all involved,” Bardenhagen said.

Lawmakers in Lansing are considering whether to continue — and potentially expand — the program. On March 29, the Appropriations K-12, School Aid, Education subcommittee of the state Senate allocated funds for the 2017-18 school year.

But the program was not included in an early state House budget. Consequently, the Michigan Department of Education has not yet issued a mid-year report that includes the program.

Some 86 farms in 28 counties provide fresh food through the program. Some 49 different Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes are served.

Included is produce that traditionally has not been on school lunch menus.

Dave Ruszel, food service director at Leland Public School, said he’s trying foods he never imagined including kale salad, which “flies” off the salad bar.

“It’s very strange that kids like beets. I’ve put canned beets on the salad bar, and the kids don’t like them. But I do a fresh beet with olive oil and vinegar, and the kids love it,” Ruszel said.

The initiative has also been successful at Glen Lake Community Schools.

“Students appreciate that food is coming from their area and supporting local farmers,” food service director Jackie Cobb said. “We started a Farm to School Friday once a month where all menu items are local, and they really are embracing the menus.”

Lawmakers returned from recess this week to begin hammering out differences in their budgets and review an updated report projecting state revenue.

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