Greens in garden

Michigan’s school kids need farm-fresh food

The Detroit News logo

This op-ed first published in The Detroit News.

In Michigan, the importance of farm fresh food in schools cannot be overstated. This is a crucial time for the state when it comes to these issues because now more young people than ever are going hungry and need reduced-price lunch. All while an increased federal school meal reimbursement rate is about to lapse, leaving schools to make up the shortfall in a time of rising food inflation. 

I am a farmer. I co-founded my family’s farm with my siblings and see the value in growing local food to support communities across the country. With programs like 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan Kids & Farms, which provides schools and early care education centers with match funding to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and dry beans, the state is taking significant steps to ensure that students receive nutritious, locally sourced meals. It’s a vital program for promoting the health and well-being of our children, while also supporting local farmers and the economy.

The program began as a state pilot program in 2016. It has proven to be successful, supporting hundreds of grantees each cycle since its inception. The program has expanded from a regional pilot to statewide availability in schools, early care education centers and other organizations participating in USDA Child Nutrition programs.

By purchasing from local farms, schools can provide fresh, nutrient-dense meals, while also reducing their carbon footprint by cutting down on transportation and packaging costs.

We’ve come a long way with this program. One of the main priorities for 10 Cents a Meal is securing permanent funding in the state budget. Currently, it is funded at $9.3 million, far below the estimated $20 million needed to assure the program is robust in every district across the state. Advocates for the program must also seek out funding every year, which creates unnecessary unpredictability for a program that we would like to see have assured longevity to embed the importance of local, healthy food for children into Michigan’s identity.

Meanwhile, an increased federal school meal reimbursement rate is set to end on June 30. TheKeep Kids Fed Act offered more federal money to local school districts to support school lunch and school breakfast purchasing. Now, with less money available to schools to buy food, this could put pressure on local and values-based food purchasing efforts like those supported by the 10 Cents a Meal program.

With less money available at the federal level to help schools buy food, Michigan schools may have to spend more on food, at a time where the cost of food has become a burden to many.Right now, school food prices have soared by more than 20% compared to two years ago.That’s put many schools in the unfortunate position of needing to charge again for school lunch, with hikes of 25 cents a meal reported in Michigan. With record numbers of hungry students needing reduced-price lunch to meet their needs, this is a pivotal time.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed providing free school meals to all 1.4 million Michigan students. The move would make Michigan the seventh state in the nation to invest in feeding every child. It would save Michigan families an average of $850 a year. Those of us who are dedicated to feeding Michigan’s children would be really excited to see that happen and I hope that the legislature can support the idea. Now is the time to continue the work of strengthening our school meals to support the children of Michigan.Groundwork logo for story end

Amanda Brezzell

Amanda Brezzell is Groundwork’s policy and engagement specialist for the 10 Cents a Meal program.