Winter has taken its sweet time leaving this year, but Melissa Alley feels like she’s bringing her students a taste of Michigan summertime every day of the year.
The names her students have given her Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables sound like summer, too: “Sprout Tall Green Beans,” for example, and “Peachy Summer Fruit Salad.”
Alley, food service director for Coopersville Area Public Schools, is stocking her fruit and veggie bars with Michigan produce purchased from Farm to Freezer, a Detroit-based food processor that sells produce “field ripened and fresh picked in Michigan.”
She discovered Farm to Freezer after Coopersville became one of 32 districts in Michigan to receive state funding this year from 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, a state pilot program administered by Michigan Department of Education. The program supplements school food service budgets with matching funds to purchase local produce. Grantees often purchase Michigan-grown produce through Cherry Capital Foods, a food hub providing products from many Michigan farms and processors, including Farm to Freezer.
“The amount of produce we serve at South Elementary has gone up,” she said of one of the district’s schools. “We have two fruit and veggie bars there and we can barely keep them full.”
School districts from Washtenaw County to the “tip of the mitt” are buying bags of frozen berries, stone fruits, asparagus, carrots, and more, having a dramatic impact on the Farm to Freezer program. The company and its partners have sourced produce from about 50 different Michigan farms to accommodate the rising, year-round demand for business from schools and other markets.
“We got to a point with our growers that our needs far surpassed what we could freeze at our location. So we did deals with other processors,” said Mark Coe, managing partner at Farm to Freezer.
Students and administrators alike talk about the high-quality produce the 10 Cents funding provides. “Our wellness committee helps me pass along the word,” said Alley, of the new local items. “Teachers are starting to get more on board. They want fresher, healthier food choices for their parties.” The food service team made green “Frankenstein Smoothies” for classroom Halloween parties, dotted with Farm to Freezer blueberries as eyes and hair.
As districts seek to procure more Michigan produce in the colder months, Farm to Freezer is making a difference.
“The seasons are a downside to living in Michigan, because it’s harder to get things. But Farm to Freezer—their products are amazing,” Alley said. “The difference between a Michigan blueberry and berries from elsewhere—the size, the taste, the color—they’re just so much better."
To celebrate the Michigan products provided by 10 Cents, students participated in a naming contest at their fruit and veggie bar. The satisfied customers are now loading their trays with cucumber “Treasure Coins” and “Top Dog Cherry Tomatoes.” And food service can hardly keep up.
Watch our webinar for food service directors with success stories about marketing & education from 10 Cents grantee districts. Educators, meanwhile, can watch this webinar to learn classroom activities (vetted by curriculum specialists) that get students excited about new foods while also effectively helping teachers to meet their own teaching goals.