By SYDNEY BOWLER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Nathan Medina recalls eating bland, boring, non-fresh foods at school as a child.
“I remember eating bagged iceberg lettuce, canned corn and green beans or broccoli stems served alongside our cardboard pizza,” said Medina, who now is the 10 Cents a Meal program policy specialist.
Medina said it was refreshing to see some of the eye-appealing meals that are being served by grantees across the state.
The state-funded grants provide matching incentive funding up to 10 cents per meal to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes.
The program is in its second year statewide and was originally a regional pilot program that began in 2016, Medina said.
He’s with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, which has offices in Traverse City and Petoskey, and which runs the program with the state Education Department, Agriculture and Rural Development Department and Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems.
“This program provides kids with the opportunity to eat real, fresh food that they might not have had the chance to experience before,” said Medina. “While before they might have been eating apples grown in Washington, now they get to try a farm-fresh Michigan apple.”
The Michigan Farmers Market Association supports the program to help farmers, schools and children, said Executive Director Amanda Shreve.
“This program really gives school districts one of the tools they need to more easily engage with local farmers,” she said.
Medina said the program can create individualized plans for participating schools and other organizations.
Currently, there are 229 grantees for the 2021-22 school year, according to the 10 Cents a Meal program.
Not only is the program aiming to create better nutrition options, but it also recognizes the agricultural benefits that come with fresh food. Small farms, distributors and every other person involved in the process of the “farm-to-cafeteria” movement” benefit, Medina said.
Shreve said, “This program really gives school districts one of the tools they need to more easily engage with local farmers.”
Some schools face barriers to access fresh produce, such as cost, time or processing equipment, she said.
“When we can expand the awareness and taste buds of children at a young age, they’re going to continue these eating behaviors for the rest of their lives,” Shreve said. “We hope they will continue to scout local produce and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, setting them up for a lifetime of better health and relationships with food.”
Grants are available not only to school districts, but also to non-school sponsors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition programs. That includes child care centers, after-school programs and other food programs.
According to Medina, the current budget of $5 million may be expanded in the future.
This year’s grants will support over 553,000 children, and applications have been reopened through Friday, Feb. 11.