Michigan celebrates two national Farm to School Grant award winners

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded over $5.2 million dollars to farm to school projects for 2015.

Photo credit: Zaundra Wimberley of Detroit Public Schools

Photo credit: Zaundra Wimberley of Detroit Public Schools

On December 2, Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced the national Farm to School grant awardees. With a growing interest in farm to school programs, these grants are increasingly competitive. Despite the odds, the Midwest region was awarded 14 of 82 grants. The award funding distributed to these 14 schools will total $1,079,112.

 Two of the Midwest schools are located in Michigan: Detroit Public Schools and Waterford Public Schools. These schools are being funded under the implementation grant, which means the funding will support the farm to school programs that they have already initiated. Both farm to school programs are role models for other districts around the state that are interested in sourcing more local food for their school meals and for providing related and supportive activities to engage students in the local food system. 

Detroit Public Schools runs a School Farm and Garden Program under their office of School Nutrition. A major portion of this program is the operation of 76 school gardens (as of 2014), which include gardens located at various Detroit charter schools and in the Education Achievement System. In addition to the gardens, the program oversees the operation of a 2.5 acre farm at the Drew Transition Center. The sites use season extension growing methods, which attempt to address the mismatch of Michigan’s outdoor growing season and the school year. All of the food grown within the program is sold to the food service to use in school meals. This program also provides the opportunity for student employment over the summer, managing the school gardens. In addition to learning job skills, the garden managers have the chance to learn more about the local food system through farm visits, tours, and food related professional development. The Detroit farm to school program intends to be a model for growing, distributing and using local food products in a large school system. 

The Waterford School District is already doing a great deal to source local products, which are minimally processed, from local growers. Their program takes a holistic approach, by using strategies to engage students on various levels of local sourcing. The program will support further development of local food related curriculum and provide opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning through gardening and farming. The funding that the district receives will be used to scale up existing program to a district wide level. 

In addition to these two upstanding examples, Michigan is fortunate to have many successful farm to school programs. Support for these programs is provided by Michigan Farm to School program, which is housed at the Center for Regional Food Systems. Additional support, resources and networking opportunities are organized by the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, which is an initiative co-organized by the Center for Regional Food Systems and the Ecology Center

Michigan State University Extension provides support and technical assistance to schools who are interested in sourcing locally and providing related programming. If you are interested in learning more, please contact a Community Food Systems Educator in your area.