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 Michael Ritsema, Director of Dining Services for Plainwell Community Schools and his partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s ValleyHUB.
Photo by Sarah Rypma: Delivery truck at ValleyHUB in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Plainwell Community Schools
“Where do we begin and who do we contact?”
Those were the first questions Michael Ritsema, Director of Dining Services for Plainwell Community Schools, had when exploring how to add more local food purchasing within his district. “Just starting the process of making connections with local growers themselves was difficult. The only local food offerings we were aware of were coming from broadline distributors.”
That changed when Michael connected with Crystal Van Pelt, Food Systems Education Program Manager, of Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s ValleyHUB who invited him to learn more about ValleyHUB’s offerings and connect with other food producers at their first ValleyHUB summit that took place on January 12, 2023. As a food hub, ValleyHUB works to connect farmers and producers with buyers, making it easier for all parties involved to sell and receive local food. They’re goal? “To get more local foods on more local plates by connecting local farmers and makers to local markets.”
Plainwell Community Schools and KVCC
“The summit gave an opportunity for purchasers and growers to learn what the ValleyHub could offer and start the direct/indirect relationships between us,” said Michael. Since attending the summit, Michael and ValleyHub have partnered, with ValleyHUB now serving as Plainwell Community School’s main source for locally grown and minimally processed foods that can be used for 10 Cents a Meal, among other programs the district participates in like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the now completed Local Foods For Schools program. In addition to providing the food used in these programs, ValleyHUB also supports districts by providing the required information needed for documentation and invoice submission for these programs.
Since the partnership with ValleyHUB began, Michael has noticed a brightness present in the cafeteria. It’s present in “wows” he hears from students, the smiles on students’ and staffs’ faces when they bite into produce that was just harvested, and in the bright and vibrant colors that now pop out in food service lines. “It’s a warm heart feeling knowing you are offering the students the best quality food and supporting your local community.”
Making it simple for customers is one of the lessons that can be learned from how ValleyHUB partners with its clients. The food hub keeps customers updated via newsletters with new products, partnerships, and promotional/marketing materials that can be used at their institution. The ordering process is also streamlined, “You order directly from their ordering website, with real time quantities and location where the products come from and are delivered directly to our door.”
Looking Towards The Future
When looking towards the future, Michael hopes to see more growers and purchasers join the food hub so product options and availability can increase. Partnership goes both ways too, ValleyHUB asks for feedback on how to improve and according to Michael “it really shows from the positive changes already made in the short amount of time we’ve been partnered.”
In regards to how other districts can form supportive relationships like this one, he notes that it is worth reaching out to the state to see who is in your region that you can partner with. Those interested in working with a food hub or operating a food hub may be interested in the Michigan Food Hub Learning and Innovation Network. To learn more about the network and what a food hub does, Taste the Local Difference has also written an article featuring their work.
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.
As the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms Program expands, feedback and data collected from grantees continues to shape the implementation of the program. Adding Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans to menus for children looks different in every district across the state and the implementation team has been paying attention to the details that make the program and other food service programs work. Through data, they have been able to connect with the people and systems along the road that contribute to moving farm fresh food to the table.
Since the program’s beginning in 2016, the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms program has grown and produced quite an impact on Michigan's children and agricultural economy. To learn about more ways to support the program go HERE.