Governor Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed October as Farm to School Month in Michigan to highlight the important connection between Michigan agriculture and healthy school lunches. Farm to school is a national program enriching the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and childcare education settings.
“Farm to School empowers schools, children, and their families to make informed food choices, strengthens the local economy, and contributes to vibrant communities by improving the health and well-being of our kids,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I am proud of our efforts to increase access to healthy, fresh local foods in Michigan through our Farm to School efforts. Michigan’s hardworking farmers, school food service workers, and volunteers have been there for our students through the pandemic, and we should highlight their incredible work and build on their efforts.”
Through the Farm to School program, schools and preschools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods such as dairy, fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, and beans on their menus. Schools also incorporate nutrition-based curriculum and provide students with experiential learning opportunities like farm visits, garden-based learning, cooking lessons, and composting and recycling programs. As a result, students have access to fresh, local foods, and farmers have access to new markets through school sales. Farmers are also able to participate in programs designed to educate kids about local food and agriculture.
“Michigan’s farmers, farm workers, and school nutrition professionals are key components of our state’s vibrant food system,” said Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell. “The framework in place through Farm to School efforts has been crucial as farmers, school food service workers and volunteers continue to serve as frontline heroes, expanding their efforts to provide food to our students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), MDARD, and local community and school food programs are championing the statewide efforts.
A recent United States Department of Agriculture grant awarded to MDE will convene key partners and champion school food service directors to develop a series of Farm to School training videos covering procurement, agriculture education, Farm to School program, school gardens, food safety, food preparation, culinary arts, and more.
“MDE has long supported and fostered farm to school programs through state-level partnerships, multiple federal grants, the 10 cents per meal for Michigan Kids and Farms project and encouraging the purchase of Michigan-grown products for all of our nutrition programs,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Since March 2020, MDE programs have partnered with local school districts to serve over a quarter of a billion meals to school children and their younger siblings throughout Michigan as part of the state’s pandemic response efforts.”
MDE houses all federal child nutrition programs outside of Women, Infants and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The department is responsible for school lunch/breakfast programs, after school meals, childcare meals, summer meals, and the food distribution programs of The Emergency Food Assistance Program and Community Supplemental Food Program.