Farm to school is thriving in northwest Michigan

MSU Center for Regional Food Systems offers funding for farm to school planning or implementation.

What started off as a pilot farm to school project at one grade school in Traverse City, Mich. eight years ago has expanded to dozens across northwest Michigan. Spearheaded by the Michigan Land Use Institute’s (MLUI) Farm to School Program with support from Michigan State University Extension, the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network and others, Farm to School is thriving in northwest Michigan.

Farm to School encompasses a variety of locally based food system efforts that connect local farms and food with schools, teachers and kids. While the main focus is to increase the amount of locally grown food served in school meals, efforts have also focused on schoolyard gardens, farm field trips and farmers markets hosted by area schools. As of 2010, there were many schools serving food grown by northwest Michigan farmers. For example, Leland Public School recently received a United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant, paid for a coordinator to connect local farmers with Leland’s Food Service Program. In less than a year, the program expanded to two days every week. Along the same lines, Renee DeWindt, Benzie Central food service director, the Frankfort-Elberta area and Onekama Consolidated Schools developed a very successful farm to school program that now serves over 2500 meals per day.

A February 2012 Farm to School program, hosted by MLUI, drew over 30 farmers and six food service directors to discuss opportunities for expanding farm to school in the region. The goal was to connect the two to increase the amount of food purchased locally. Among the many insights gleaned from the meeting was the need for a regional food hub to wash, prep and store produce that schools could then purchase throughout the year.

For pre-schools and K-12 schools looking to plan for or develop farm to school programs, the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems recently announced a Farm to School Grant Program. School food service directors from schools with at least 50% free and reduced-price meal enrollment can apply for up to $2000.

The application period for the grant year September 1, 2012 through June 1, 2013 is now open. Applications are due by 5 p.m. EST on Friday, May 4, 2012. Please visit the Michigan Farm to School website for more information.

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