Above photo courtesy USDA.
Free and reduced-price meals are served to kids every day across the country through programs such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). In Michigan, the state-funded 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms program amplifies that impact by providing financial incentives for including local, Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans in those meals.
A crash course on feeding kids with federal and state funding
What are free and reduced price meals?
The purpose of free and reduced-priced meals in schools is to ensure that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have access to nutrient-dense meals. Across the nation, these federal programs are designed to address nutrition insecurity and provide a safety net for children who may not have reliable access to meals at home. In doing so, free and reduced-price meals also shine a light on educational equity by acknowledging hunger as a barrier to learning and academic success.
Additionally, program operators can use the federally supported Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This is a meal service option for schools that predominantly serve low-income children. When CEP is used by qualifying schools, it allows them to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students without collecting paper applications, which is often required in other meal programs. According to the Michigan Department of Education, in the 2021-22 school year 70 10 Cents a Meal grantees participated in the CEP.
Complementing federal funding with state-funded programs
Whereas free and reduced priced lunches are federally funded, 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms is a state-funded program. With grants of up to 10 cents per meal, the program matches what schools, early care and education sites, and a set of other non-school sponsors spend on Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans.
To be eligible for 10 Cents a Meal, grantees must be participating in a USDA Child Nutrition program. Grants are awarded based on a calculation that multiplies the applicant’s previous year’s meal count times 10 cents. This represents the maximum grant award that can be issued to each applicant. Because this award is a matching grant, grantees must spend double their grant award to fulfill the matching requirement and receive the full reimbursement of their grant. Said in other words, grantees are reimbursed 50% of the cost of eligible Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans up to their maximum grant award.
The 10 Cents a Meal program acts as a catalyst for positive change by fostering community connections and strengthening a sustainable local food system for the benefit of Michigan’s children and farms.
What happens when state and federal funds work together?
A lot of good. The 10 Cents a Meal program serves as a complementary initiative to free and reduced lunches. While free and reduced lunches provide meals to students, the 10 Cents a Meal program takes it a step further by specifically supporting the inclusion of fresh, nutrient-dense, locally grown produce in school meals. It provides additional funding to schools, allowing them to purchase and incorporate these food items into their menus, increasing the overall quality of the meals offered to students.
Educational opportunities are also created at this intersection. Through farm visits, garden programs, and other farm to school initiatives, students can learn about food production, sustainable agricultural practices, and the importance of connecting what they see on their lunch tray with the world around them. These experiences not only provide hands-on learning, but also foster a deeper appreciation for local food systems, environmental stewardship, and the cultural heritage of food.
The funding that 10 Cents a Meal provides supports local farmers and Michigan agriculture by fostering partnerships between schools and farmers. This helps provide students with increased access to fresh food options while also contributing to the economic growth of local farms and related food businesses. 10 Cents a Meal acts as a valuable complement to free and reduced price lunch programs by addressing both the nutritional needs of students and the vitality of the community.
Partnering with local Michigan farmers also brings the community and schools together. It encourages collaboration, which leads to events like in-school farmers markets and the Great Lakes Apple Crunch that connect children, parents, educators, and community members. This engagement not only supports local farmers and the agricultural sector but also builds a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of children.
Finally, by prioritizing locally sourced food, the 10 Cents a Meal program supports schools in their efforts to promote environmental sustainability. It reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance food transportation and encourages the use of seasonal and regionally adapted produce. These efforts contribute more broadly to a more resilient local food system.
When the 10 Cents a Meal program works together with free and reduced meal programs here in Michigan, the union positively impacts schools, children, and communities by improving nutrition, providing educational opportunities, fostering community engagement, supporting local economies, and promoting environmental sustainability. 10 Cents creates a holistic and vibrant food environment that nourishes both individuals and the larger community, setting the stage for healthier and more resilient communities in Michigan.
Amanda Brezzell is Policy & Engagement Specialist for the 10 Cents a Meal program.