Call to mind your high school cafeteria. When I think back to lunchtime, I remember coolers filled with chocolate milk, nachos on the hot bar line, and chips in the checkout. The only time I crunched through a carrot was when my working mom had time to pack three lunches before the 6 a.m. school bus.
10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, Michigan’s pilot farm to school program and the brainchild of the Groundwork Center, is revolutionizing the foodscape for today’s young and hungry minds. 10 Cents provides grantee school districts with state funding to bring Michigan-grown fruits and veggies to the forefront of the lunch line.
Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan (HKHM), a coalition of public and private sector health advocates united to fight childhood obesity, has emerged as an important advocate for the program. HKHM’s Healthy Food Access Team provides important policy support to inform legislators about how 10 Cents is strengthening Michigan, bolstering both students’ health and farmers’ bottom lines. Legislators grew the program from $250,000 to $375,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, bringing nutrient-dense, farm fresh food to thousands more kids in our state.
As the Groundwork Center’s Food, Farms & Health Fellow, I attended HKHM’s annual meeting on Sept. 27 to represent 10 Cents. Groundwork started the 10 Cents program with a more localized pilot project that caught the attention of state legislators. Keynote speaker Dr. Rachel Dombrowski of Wayne State highlighted the impact of policy reform on the choices we make every day that influence our health. Citing great public health achievements like smoking cessation and vaccinations, Dr. Dombrowski reminded us that in each case, policy was reformed before behavior changed on a large scale.
In my nonprofit career, I have created community gardens, kitchens and markets to give people access to, and to encourage them to choose, healthful foods. Though the work of fostering personal, supportive relationships is both deeply fulfilling and essential for behavior change to occur, I came to feel disappointed that these small-scale interventions weren’t making a larger impact. People experiencing food insecurity are not able to dig themselves out, armed with their fork and soil knife. It is the policies around food that must shift to make healthy choices more available.
I was drawn to my role supporting 10 Cents because of its approach and deep impact. By educating policymakers and creating local solutions to bring healthy food to school lunch tables, 10 Cents is changing the food system in Michigan. With financial support earmarked for local food, Michigan school districts are able to freshen their offerings and introduce students to healthful food while supporting local farmers in their region.
Learning to love produce and celebrate farmers at a young age is an experience that will shape their relationship to food for life. That’s a change I never saw coming down my lunch line.