Who's Feeding Our Kids: The Farmer's Perspective

By: Amanda Brezzell 

On the road that leads from the farm to the tray, we encounter many folks along the way who contribute to feeding our kids. Who’s Feeding Our Kids is a series where we explore different people and organizations along the food system who are working to feed our kids, and support the 10 Cents a Meal Program.

These are some of their stories.

This story features:

  • Allison Stawara and Danielle Sidor of Partridge Creek Farm, located in Ishpeming, MI
  • Kyle A. Mitchell of Mitchell’s Patch of Blue, located in Bangor, MI 
  • Mark Kastner of Hillcrest Farms, located in in Eaton Rapids, MI 



Photo by Sarah Rypma: Mark K., Hillcrest Farms

On The Farm

As the last few weeks of spring move on, and summer rolls into view, farmers across Michigan are diligently working to produce high quality food for us to enjoy. Crop planning, seed starting, adequate watering, bed preparation and managing vendor relationships are just a few of the things swirling around on a farmer’s to-do list in the springtime. 

Mitchell’s Patch of Blue

On the west side of the state, just 6.5 miles from Lake Michigan in Bangor, one family has been passionate about farming for three generations. Mitchell's Patch of Blue is a family run farm that specializes in organic heirloom blueberries. “My grandparents started the farm in 1956 with 4 acres and over the years it has continued to expand to the current 23 acres we have in production now”, says Kyle Mitchell, Operations Manager for the farm.  

Kyle’s lived experience as an organic farmer and 24 years in the hospitality industry, including a stint as a kitchen food safety inspector, has given him a deep understanding of how to move food from the farm to the lunch tray. He uses that knowledge in his work as a teacher at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in the Agrifoods, Culinary Arts, and Horticulture departments and at the family farm.  

In 2021 Mitchell’s Patch became a Kalamazoo Valley Community College ValleyHUB partner, giving the hub’s customers access to their organic blueberries. Through this partnership, they provide schools and institutions with delicious, high quality produce. “To grow food for schools, it all starts with having a product that our schools can work with, and that the kids will eat”, says Kyle. 

Finding success in getting his family’s blueberries into schools, Kyle shared that it is important for farmers to understand farm and kitchen food safety, so that they provide the most nutritious, safe, delicious product available. Additionally, being able to provide a product that schools can cook and serve in mass quantities with ease is important since many school kitchens are working with limited equipment. 

Last year, due to the drought and labor shortage, the farm was only able to get about 5,000 lbs of berries picked and packed. This year Mitchell’s Patch is working with a harvesting company to aid in getting the berries out. “This year I hope to at least get 10x the amount out”, says Kyle.

Hillcrest Farms

While Mitchell’s Patch of Blue partners with ValleyHub to help distribute their Organic Blueberries, over in Eaton Rapids, Mark Kastner from Hillcrest Farms has had success selling and delivering directly to his local school district.“I started growing for a small school district 7 years ago”, says Mark, “and it naturally morphed into 10 Cents a Meal as the District could afford to buy more fresh food”.

Besides providing produce for farmer markets, wholesale, food hubs and more, Mark delivers his produce directly to the cafeteria. The farm grows a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, with lettuce mixes being Mark’s favorite thing to grow. “Start small, deliver your best, always be on time, and be humble” is Mark's advice to farmers wanting to work with schools. His participation with schools for the 10 Cents a Meal program has encouraged him to gradually and sustainably scale up over the years. 

Echoing Kyle, Mark also stressed the importance of food safety and investment in new equipment for more efficient production. His hope is that within the next five years, he is able to increase winter production and storage space. With programs like 10 Cents a Meal, Michigan farmers are provided with more market opportunities while doing the job they love. This year, Mark is looking forward to partnering with a second school district, further expanding his market reach. 

Partridge Creek Farm

In the Upper Peninsula, the farm to school scene is excitedly awaiting Partridge Creek Farm. Located in Ishpeming, this farm, or rather this collection of farms, is a non-profit organization established in 2013. Over the years, Partridge Creek Farm has expanded from extensive educational programs to the management of five community garden sites and one 3.75 acre farm. They grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, native, perennial, and medicinal plants, and large and small fruits.

The establishment of Partridge Creek Farm’s Intergenerational Farm in 2022 began their expansion of growing space, allowing them to grow larger quantities. This inspired them to collaborate with Ishpeming School District and make plans for providing them with local produce in the near future. 

Community Food Access Manager, Danielle Sidor, and Farm Manager, Allison Stawara, are excited about the changes on the horizon. This season is their first year growing on the 3.75 acre site. “Being able to be part of the farm build out process has been incredible. I’m excited to model more traditional farming methods, increase our growing capacity, and connect with new community members”, says Danielle.

 “Currently, our plan is to work directly with the food service director to coordinate orders and delivery”, says Allison. Using specialized farm management technology, they are able to focus on providing a large variety of vegetables that the district uses in significant quantities and market directly to vendors. 

Allison noted that growing to scale for larger quantities requires a more wholesale vendor approach than growing for a farmer’s market or CSA. “Specifically, our goal is to offer a product that is packaged and delivered with the same quality as national distributors”. In a school setting, wholesale harvest procedures and packing standards must be followed. If Partridge Creek Farm is available to offer products of this caliber directly to schools, it will not only change the game for the school district, but the farm site will be equipped to outcompete out of state farms selling to Michigan institutions.


Photo courtesy of Kyle Mitchell: Kyle M., Mitchell's Patch of Blue

The Future of Farm to Institution

School districts across the state that successfully participate in 10 Cents a Meal and the incorporation of local food are not built overnight. Beyond a food service director’s excitement for scratch cooking and local ingredients, it takes solid relationships with partners like farmers and distributors, and strong infrastructure to procure and prepare food in schools in large quantities. 

This year, two Michigan school districts, Detroit Public Schools Community District, and Muskegon Area Intermediate School District were the recipients of the Partnerships for Local Agriculture & Nutrition Transformation in Schools Grant (PLANTS). PLANTS is administered by the Chef Ann Foundation and recently awarded eight project teams across the nation funds to transform school food supply chains. Grants like PLANTS allow for the strengthening of the necessary infrastructure so that communities and schools can work together to keep everyone fed. 

As we move into a future oriented toward sustainable access to local food, it is important that we uplift and invest in our farmers and the people who work diligently to feed us. In the nearly 10 years since the program's arrival in the state budget, 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms has stood to highlight the importance of making and maintaining the connections between the farm and the institution. This not only supports our youngest eaters in their journey to having a healthy relationship with food, but supports the vital Michigan industry that is farming, no matter the scale.

Farming requires a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and passion—and when you meet a farmer it shows. “Being a Michigan grower is who I am,” says Kyle “Michigan farmers are among the nation's leading growers. I can't imagine wanting to leave this state to grow somewhere else”. 


Governor Whitmer has released her budget recommendations for the 2025 Fiscal Year, and both the Michigan House and Senate have released their budget summariesWithin this, sits new language expanding the use of 10 Cents a Meal Funding to support essential functions for local food procurement and service. This includes food transportation costs and staff support. The goal is to secure this language and adequate program funding in the state budget this season so that grantees can take advantage of these changes in the upcoming school year. These are the changes that help contribute to a strong local network of food for the state. In building a strong local food system, we are working to secure Michigan as a place where our children can continue to grow and thrive.


10 Cents a Meal Policy and Engagement Specialist Amanda Brezzell writes from their hometown of Detroit, Michigan, where they support the 10 Cents a Meal Program through Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, outreach and communications partner on the 10 Cents a Meal implementation team.

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