Who’s Feeding Our Kids: Building Local Food Systems in The Upper Peninsula

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 Gabrielle (Gabe) Trader, Food Director for Superior Central Schools. The Superior Central School District is located in the Upper Peninsula.


Photo by Sarah Rypma


Superior Central Schools

Almost 3 hours away from the most northern point of Michigan, sits a small, rural K-12 school. Approximately 350 students make up the Upper Peninsula School District, Superior Central Schools, where Gabe Trader serves as the Food Director. Gabe’s role as the Food Director covers all aspects of running the school food service program including meal planning, purchasing, meal preparation and all required paperwork for running a USDA Child Nutrition Program.

When Gabe first came into this role over a year ago, the farm to school network was minimal. “We occasionally purchased apples from a local farm and would receive occasional donations from our hoop house,” says Gabe. Because the school is small, their food purchases fall under the micro purchase scale. This can present challenges to transporting food to the rural area. 

By reaching out to the community, utilizing personal relationships and school staff member’s connections, and simply stopping at roadside stands to speak with farmers, Gabe has worked hard to make connections with the local farming community. This effort has expanded options for students by using local, and more accessible food. Since coming on board, Gabe has also helped to utilize grant funding through the 10 Cents a Meal Program and other Michigan Department of Education administered programs. 


Agriculture Education (Ag-Ed.) and Full Plate Farm

In addition to utilizing the available programs and reaching out to the farming community, Gabe has made an effort to connect with the Agriculture Educator for the school, Mr. Bliss. They communicate on a regular basis and work to plan produce that the school nutrition program can utilize. “We have a very short period of time where I can get specific produce items and try to plan accordingly”. Gabe noted that the biggest challenge aside from growing season availability is coordinating local purchases with their hoop house production. 

The Ag-Ed. class has helped to bridge this gap some. They grow small batches of new produce for the school to utilize as samples on the serving line. The students are allowed to try sample size servings of items and come back for portion sized servings of new items. They encourage the students to give feedback on new menu items. Since encouraging the student’s involvement and listening to their feedback, Gabe has noticed an increase in the amount of the student population eating school meals.  


Forming Partnerships

Through the Lift-Up grant, the Ag-Ed. class became partnered with Full Plate Farm and MSU Extension. Full Plate Farm  is a woman-owned small farm in Skandia, Michigan. Farmer Laura Brosius works with the Ag-Ed program in conjunction with MSU Extensions Lift-Up Grant. Laura is the farmer working with the Ag-Ed. class to educate them on growing and harvesting. 

Last school year, the Ag-Ed. class took a trip to the farm where they learned how to plant, and grow potatoes. The potatoes were grown to be utilized during the following school year. At the beginning of the current school year, the class returned to Full Plate Farm to learn how to harvest and cure potatoes. Those same potatoes have made their way to Superior Central School’s kitchen and are now being served to the students as a part of lunch.

One thing Gabe wanted to work on in the kitchen was shifting focus to cooking from scratch for the students, while highlighting locally produced foods. “The relationship between Full Plate Farm, Ag-Ed and Superior Central has been integral to the success of integrating Farm to School and scratch cooking into our food service program”, said Gabe. She notes that since beginning the work with Full Plate Farm they have been able to increase the amount of locally grown produce served. Between the Ag-Ed hoop house, Full Plate Farm, and other local farms, they are serving locally grown produce in some capacity on an almost daily basis.

Developing a Local Network of Staff Support 

Gabe has been working hard to provide students with nutrient dense options by engaging in not only state-funded programs, but in drawing the necessary connections that help to sustain the local food system that supports students. In addition to Laura and Mr. Bliss, Gabe has two co-workers in the kitchen with her that have helped support scratch cooking with local food. They are an integral part of everything that has been accomplished with students and staff.

A key factor in the success of school food programs is the capacity to get work done. Gabe explained that even with the new network of support built for the district, she could still utilize additional staff. “Bringing on additional staff would help cement the meals from scratch that we strive to provide. They could help with meal prep and allow us to become more creative in the types of food we offer and support the expansion of our a la carte program. This would also allow me to complete my required paperwork in a timely fashion and track the administrative aspects of our food program more effectively”. As more school food service programs utilize funding for fresh local food, and meet the demand for more school meals, the need for additional staff is echoed across the state. Beyond serving fresh and local food, districts are reporting facing challenges in serving meals in any capacity. 

Governor Whitmer has released her budget recommendations for the 2025 Fiscal Year. Within those priorities, 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 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.



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. As the program expands, it is important that the language in the state budget addresses the needs of all those that come together to feed our children and grow our food and learn about more ways to support the program, please read HERE. 

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  • kristine Ranger
    commented 2024-05-29 09:11:52 -0400
    Making connections with the agriscience program and teacher is a smart strategy. I can think of other districts that have hoop houses, but students are growing plants. Has anyone attended the MI Association of Agriscience Teachers Summer Institute to do a presentation ?