By Melanie Wong, MA, RDN
Unintended benefits. That’s how Brent Bishop, Food and Nutrition Services Supervisor at Charlotte Public Schools, views the multiple unexpected positive outcomes his district has received by participating in 10 Cents a Meal. 10 Cents a Meal is Michigan’s state-funded program that provides matching grant funds for Michigan-grown vegetables, fruits, and dry beans served to children in school and child care settings. Last year, when Brent joined the food service team at Charlotte Public Schools, applying for 10 Cents a Meal for his district was one of the first things that he did. With an appreciation for using quality ingredients when preparing food, Brent knew that the program could help him afford those ingredients—and save money in his district’s food service budget.
Leaning on his kitchen team for support, he tasked key members of his staff to support the program and challenged them to seek out partnerships with local farms and partners. One of those partnerships was with Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Hub, ValleyHUB. A food hub is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products,” according to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s working definition.
“We really love partnering with school districts because the way we see it, schools are the biggest restaurant in any community," said Josh Bartz, Food Hub Outreach & Communications Coordinator at ValleyHub. "So for us to play the matchmaking role for schools is a really great win to get that locally grown food on our kids' plates and money to our farmers as they work to scale up. It also helps us with our mission to simplify our complex local food system and to pull some of those roadblocks out of their [schools] way to use funding for Michigan's 10 Cents a Meal program
Photos above courtesy of Brent Bishop: On left, local lettuce received from ValleyHub. On right, a prepared salad using the local lettuce.
By partnering with ValleyHUB, Brent and his team have been able to introduce new varieties of lettuce to the children that make it into salads, and Michigan-grown carrots processed by ValleyHUB into carrot sticks that go into vegetable trays. And those unintended benefits? Not only are the children enjoying their food more, but teachers and school staff have also taken notice and are buying those same salads being served to children. Those extra purchases have been bringing in additional revenue to the food service department.
Another unintended benefit came from partnering with Country Mill Orchard—a local orchard and favorite spot of the community—to provide local apples for school cafeterias and at school events like the district’s “Back-to-School Bash.” “With Country Mill it creates that picture in their mind ‘oh yeah, I’ve been to that apple orchard,’ it gives you good feelings, good vibes,” said Brent. Those positive perceptions help connect the community together and allow children to see their community reflected back to them through their food. That connection supports the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model that the Michigan Department of Education believes in for nourishing and educating the whole child.
All of that adds more fuel to motivate Brent’s staff. “This team takes a lot of pride in what they do, so they see that better quality product, and they’re willing to put a little extra time into it because they know they see it on the plate.” While 10 Cents a Meal provides a financial incentive for using Michigan-grown vegetables, fruits, and dry beans, it’s certainly not the only way participating in the program pays off. “Don’t be afraid to try it, you’re going to get a ton of support and you’re going to get paid back in ways that you wouldn’t have thought about… from the community, from the staff, from the teachers—it’s just been awesome,” Brent says.
Charlotte Public Schools will be participating in 10 Cents a Meal for the 2022-2023 program year with a grant award of $15,000.