Northwest Michigan’s Farm to School Program Thrives

In Northern Michigan Kids news, schools across northwest Michigan have been serving up local food experiences in cafeterias, classrooms, and school gardens, and we’ll be sharing some of those stories each month. It’s a concerted effort to get kids excited about eating healthy food. And, wow, does it show. Consider:

Just before school let out last year, Traverse City third-grader Tyrell Stott walked through the downtown farmers market with his mom Judith Ann Stott and spied a root vegetable nearly as big as his torso.

Tyrell holds his parsnip

Tyrell holds his parsnip

The farmer watched, amazed, as Tyrell headed straight for the largest parsnip on display, exclaiming “Ooooh! Parsnips!” and eagerly asked his mom if he could take it home. His teacher happened to be passing by with her family, and witnessed the exchange. “What are you going to do with that?” she asked him. Without hesitation the student described how he’d prepared it roasted in a classroom lesson: “I’m going to chop it up and cook it. Parsnips are sweet!”

The farmer, Andrea Romeyn of Providence Farm in Antrim County, told the boy’s mom she thought it was “pretty cool” that he knew what a parsnip was and wanted his mom to buy it. “She told me her son’s school gets all the credit.”

The school, in this case, was Traverse Heights Elementary. It’s one of four in the Traverse City Area Public Schools system and 14 region-wide in eight districts that have been participating with the Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school education program. That program includes an AmeriCorps program called FoodCorps plus community educators paid with a National Farm to School Grant. The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is working with MLUI and FoodCorps to develop lessons that align with teaching requirements for long-term sustainability. Need to teach fractions? How about cutting an apple into equal parts and then taste-testing different varieties grown by local farmers?

The local FoodCorps has even created a cool voting system, where kids pick a card that best describes their experience with a fruit or vegetable tried in the cafeteria or classroom: “Tried it,” “Liked it,” and “Loved it.”

At Platte River Elementary in the Benzie County Central school system, one student first cast his vote for “liked it” when he tasted kale chips. Then, he came back to try it again and re-cast his vote. He said: “If I double-try it, I love it!” It’s these types of multiple exposures to healthy local food that will make a difference for students, and for school food service efforts to serve it.

The other schools participating in the program are Central Grade, Blair and Interlochen in the TCAPS system; Betsie Valley, Crystal Lake and Lake Ann in the Benzie Central system; and the Frankfort, Northport, Glen Lake, Leland, Suttons Bay and Central Lake elementary schools.

Here are examples of voting results from the four TCAPS elementary schools:

Entire program by numbers

Entire program by numbers

Examples of voting results from the four TCAPS elementary schools

Examples of voting results from the four TCAPS elementary schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all, area school children tasted 29 locally grown fruits and vegetables last year:

Apples, apricots, asparagus, beets, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, cherries, dry beans, grapes, kale, lettuce, nectarines, onions, parsnips, pears, peas, peppers, plums, potatoes, radishes, raspberries, strawberries, spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes, Romanesco cauliflower, and winter squash.

Each of the eight districts participating in the program also are part of another initiative called 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms. This project recognizes that schools have tight food budgets, with only 20 to 30 cents a meal to spend on fruits and vegetables. 10 Cents a Meal provides a maximum match of 10 cents a meal for locally grown fruits and vegetables when schools spend at least 20 cents a meal on local produce. It’s based on one of the recommendations of the Michigan Good Food Charter.

If you like the idea of farm to school in the classroom, cafeteria and garden you can learn more and discuss ways to make these innovative programs sustainable for the long-term. It’s one of the topics at an upcoming event October 10 in Traverse City called Food, Farms & Health. Learn more here.

Keep up on other fun activities at the Farm to School in Northwest Michigan Facebook page.

And if you have a great farm to school story, send it to Diane Conners, Senior Policy Specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute: [email protected]

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