Food is big business at schools around the nation. Just over a decade ago only two known farm-to-school programs existed. Today that number is estimated at 10,000. Locally, TCAPS, TBAISD and Benzie County, Leelanau County and Kalkaska Public Schools and several independent schools source food from local farmers.
What’s happening? And who’s doing what, where? The Ticker checked in first with local food distributor, Cherry Capital Foods, which moves local produce to the cafeterias of 27 school districts.
“We did $92,306 in local food sales to schools in the 2011-2012 school year,” says Kelly Lively, school food service liaison at Cherry Capital Foods. “We’re seeing a lot more demand for broccoli and dark leafy greens this year. We also work with schools on preserving foods when they’re in season to use throughout the year.”
While fruits and vegetables have been the backbone of the local food movement in schools, a change is afoot: Some area schools are branching out to source locally produced dairy.
This year, Kalkaska Public Schools brought Kalkaska-made Shetler’s milk to its lunch line. The response? Overwhelmingly positive, says Molly Dalton, food service director of Kalkaska Public Schools. “Many students didn't like the white milk from the paper cartons, and we hoped to get better tasting milk. This change has greatly increased consumption – I’d estimate we’re up 100 to 150 milks each day."
“We’re doing about 2,000 bottles of 1-percent white milk and 7,000 bottles of low-fat chocolate a week,” says Kaleb Shetler.
FoodCorps, a new part of AmeriCorps, was recently launched in 10 states. Two of the nation’s first 50 FoodCorps service members have tackled six area school districts in four counties in northern Michigan. As well as helping schools purchase and serve locally grown food and build school garden programs, they’ve conducted taste tests at local schools, allowing students to select how they like their squash seasoned. (Note: It’s a tie between garlic and cinnamon.)
Engagement, it seems, is key. And at places like the independent Montessori school Children’s House of Traverse City, starting students young is essential. There, kids from preschool to sixth grade have a hand in preparing all of their school meals and snacks – much of it made with food grown in gardens they tend at school.
A far cry from the reheated cardboard-style pizza squares of yore? And just the beginning if the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI) has its way. MLUI, which has been working to get fresh food to lunch tables since 2004, is working to raise a total of at least $100,000 over the next two years to fund purchases of locally grown fruits and vegetables for local schools.
“We’re aiming for three days a week in the fall, one in winter, and two in the spring at up to nine school districts in four counties,” says Diane Conners, senior policy specialist in food and farming at MLUI. “We’d like at least 20 percent of the food we eat in our region to be locally grown by 2020.”