Godfrey-Lee schools serve locally grown vegetables

District supports farm-to-school concept and hopes to expand program.

Sarah Stone, food service director at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Wyoming, Mich., is employed by Chartwells, a national school foodservice provider. Each day Stone’s staff prepares over 1,500 meals for four schools in the district. These days, Stone’s efforts are geared towards increasing the amount of locally grown food used in the cafeterias.

Stone was one of several Kent County food service directors to attend a farm-to-school training sponsored by Michigan State University’s C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems. Following the training, Stone contacted Kendra Wills, Michigan State University Extension educator promoting farm-to-school programs in West Michigan, to connect with local growers for a special grant project.

Godfrey-Lee is one of several school districts in the state to receive a fresh fruit and vegetable grant through the Michigan Department of Education. These grant funds can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables to serve as a snack in participating elementary schools.

Wills put Stone in contact with West Michigan Farmlink, an online ordering system of locally produced foods with a weekly pick-up in Grand Rapids. Stone ordered some unique varieties of beans and peppers for kids to try. Forty area producers list food products for sale through Farmlink for restaurants and institutional buyers.

“The kids loved trying Dragon Tongue Beans and mini Sweet Bell Peppers. Using our Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant funds to purchase locally grown vegetables was a great way for us to begin purchasing more directly from West Michigan farmers. Chartwells is interested in expanding our purchases through Farmlink because the quality of food is very high, especially since traveling time between the field and our cafeteria can be dramatically reduced.” Stone said.

Schools interested in purchasing local foods can access a step-by-step guide available at the Michigan farm-to-school website.

Michigan Market Maker is a statewide, online database where farmers and cafeterias can connect. MSU Extension encourages farmers and schools, as well as other institutions, to create a profile and list produce available for sale or produce wanted for purchase.

Stone also encourages parents to support healthy eating at home. One way to do this is by visiting area farmers markets. Parents in West Michigan can access a list of community farm markets and on-farm markets published by the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council. For parents interested in ordering local products online, the West Michigan Cooperative is an online ordering system and weekly pick-up of locally grown and produced foods.

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