Lettuce Work Together: Artesian Farm and New Buffalo Area Schools' Spirited Partnership

A student helps themselves to a serving of Artesian Farm lettuce from the salad bar. 

By Melanie Wong, MA, RDN

Talk about spirit.

It all started with an October 2015 farm to school event at New Buffalo Area Schools, located in Michigan’s southwest corner. The school served its students kale chips from beautiful greens grown by local grower Artesian Farm—which was then doing business as Green Spirit Farms. The students loved the crunchy treat: “We actually had second graders clapping and saying, ‘We want kale chips’ while we were serving them,” said the district’s food service director, Patty Iazzetto.

Artesian Farm returned the love in 2020 during the school district’s COVID-19 shut down. The farm reached out to the 558-student district with a desire to help families in their New Buffalo community. Every week for seven weeks Artesian Farm donated 75—100 pounds of fresh lettuce that was bagged and ready for families in their community. “We received so many “thank-yous” from the families in our community,” Patty said. “When we returned to in-person learning, we decided to purchase the (lettuce) Spirit Mix for our school lunches and still do today.”

Lettuce donated to New Buffalo Area Schools by Artesian Farm during the 2020 COVID shutdown

With Artesian Farm in mind, the district decided to apply for a grant from the state’s 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms program, which provides schools, early childhood education centers, and other eligible programs with matching funds to purchase Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans. They now are one of 228 successful grantees from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula purchasing produce grown by Michigan’s farms.

That fun farm to school event and the farm’s spirit of generosity has led to an enduring partnership that, with 10 Cents a Meal, now means the school market for Artesian Farm and the local economy is growing even more. Artesian Farm is a hydroponic farm growing a variety of produce and herbs such as basil, kale, and lettuce within a few miles of the district’s schools.

I decided to apply for the 10 Cents a Meal grant because we purchase the Artesian Farm Spirit Mix,” Patty said. “I hope to add some of their other items to our salad bar in the near future.” 

The partnership also means a lot to the students.

For the farm to school event, students got to learn about how the kale was grown in Artesian Farm's indoor growing operations—on vertical stacks of shelves with grow lights. Following the event, some students and food service staff were even able to take field trips to the indoor farm to experience it in person. 

The district has utilized Artesian Farm lettuce in salad shakers—plastic cups with lids—and the greens now have made their way back to the newly reinstated salad bar. “Our high school students were happy to see our salad bar return in November 2021, and they can now help themselves to the Spirit Mix and other vegetables,” Patty said.

With the reopening of the salad bar, Patty has been able to purchase even more lettuce. And everything points to the students loving the Spirit Mix.

“Two to three weeks ago Patty had placed an order with me on Monday and by Tuesday or Wednesday she was completely out of lettuce,” Corrine Holm of Artesian Farm said in early December. “We had to run more lettuce down to them. I think it’s a great partnership, working with New Buffalo Area Schools, I feel proud that we get to partner with the district and offer the kids our products.” 

That spirit of gratitude goes both ways.

Knowing that our students are receiving fresh, vitamin-packed lettuce each week, right from the farm, is a wonderful feeling,” Patty said.

Melanie Wong is Program Communications Manager at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, which is the communications and outreach partner for 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms, a program administered by the Michigan Department of Education and funded for the 2021-2022 school year at $5 million.

 

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