Above: Melissa Lyons, head cook at East Jordan Public Schools, takes a break during a fruit-tree planting work bee at the school. She has led efforts to put healthy, locally grown food on the cafeteria menu at breakfast and lunch.
Thanks to head cook Melissa Lyons and 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, Michigan-grown products are on the menu five days a week for breakfast and lunch at East Jordan Public Schools. Breakfast smoothies and cilantro lime cabbage slaws are just some of the delicious items offered to students. Homemade soup is prepared every day, filling students’ spoons with locally grown onions, carrots, and organically grown sweet corn.
10 Cents a Meal is a state pilot program administered by the Michigan Department of Education. It supplements school food service budgets with matching funds to purchase local produce, creating healthy connections between students and the farmers who grow their food. Student trays now feature a colorful array of great tasting fruits and vegetables. Red and green cabbage, purple and pink radishes, and rainbow carrots are all on display.
Just as impressive as the colors is the wide variety of Michigan apples Melissa now purchases. Jonamac, Ginger Gold, and Paula Red, are just three of the nine varieties Melissa has helped introduce to students, most of which are grown only a few miles down the road at Friske’s Orchards. “The kids ask for the good apples,” Melissa says, as they now recognize the difference between locally grown fruit and commodity bulk apples grown more for withstanding long-distance shipping than for flavor.
Baskets of Michigan apples are made available to students throughout the day, placed in both the cafeteria and the school’s common area. Students enjoy these flavorful snacks and school administrators have taken note. Enthusiasm around the Zestar apple has led the school to purchase a Zestar tree along with three other fruit trees for their garden space. The head cook hopes to use their garden for fun activities like a comparison day in which students pick garden tomatoes and try them against commodity, or what Melissa calls “box tomatoes.”
East Jordan’s school staff and community are just as excited about the food as the students.
Pat Tinney, who is retiring as an art teacher after 33 years at East Jordan, attended a teacher garden tour that Melissa organized that drew about 20 staff members, and shared this: “It’s just great how you’ve changed how kids are eating. I mean, there’s this gorgeous bowl of deliciousness there … The other day [a student] said to me, ‘Mrs. Tinney, you gotta try this!’”
And secretary Ellen Wimmer sends pictures of her lunches to her daughter-in-law, a teacher in North Carolina. “She’s so jealous,” says Ellen.
Parents are also buzzing about Melissa’s use of products from East Jordan’s own Blue Stem farm, as many participate in its community supported agriculture (CSA) program. “It’s nice to be able to plug [the farm] and use their name,” says Melissa.
Through the great work of Melissa Lyons and 10 Cents a Meal, local food is in the bellies of students and on the minds of those in the East Jordan community!
Steven Hanna served for one year as the 10 Cents a Meal Fellow at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. His fellowship ended June 2019.