Program helps GHAPS purchase local produce

Krystle Wagner • Oct 10, 2016 at 2:00 PM

More than a dozen schools throughout Michigan are getting a financial boost for buying local produce.

Grand Haven Area Public Schools is now participating in the 10 cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms program. According to a press released from the state’s Department of Education, the farm-to-school program gives schools up to 10 cents a meal to buy and serve Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.

The pilot program is funded from the $250,000 state appropriation fund.

The participating school districts include: Coopersville, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, Muskegon, Whitehall, Oakridge, Ravenna, Manistee, Montague, Northport, Boyne Falls, Leland, Forest Hills, Traverse City and Glen Lake. Overall, the 16 school districts served about 3.8 million meals last year. Seven of those districts have 50 percent or more of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs.

Sarah Stone, director of dining services for Chartwells School Dining Services at Grand Haven schools, said she’s a “big supporter” of farm-to-school efforts, and it makes sense to buy apples from Michigan orchards instead of from other states.

Prior to participating in the program, Grand Haven already had a farm-to-school program in place. The district buys their apples from Gavin Farms in Coopersville, and they buy produce from suppliers such as Cherry Capital and Coastal Produce “that carry fresh produce grown in Michigan farms,” Stone said.

By participating in the program, Stone said it will allow them to expand their options.

“We have already had on the menu in September local peaches, nectarines, plums, pears and butternut squash,” she said.

In the original pilot program, three school districts spent $150,000 in more than two years.

In a press release, State Superintendent Brian Whiston said the program increases “the nutrition and healthy eating habits of our kids,” as well as boosting the state’s economy.

Whiston said the program’s expansion is happening at the right time because the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires more varieties of fruits and vegetables.

“Additionally, surveys show that school food service directors want to purchase more local produce, and Michigan farmers are interested in providing to their local school district,” he said.

By participating in the program, Stone said she hopes several things will happen — exposing students to more fresh and healthy local produce through more variety on the menu and providing more opportunities for taste buds.

“This will also be a big boost to the local agriculture communities,” she said. “And lastly, I hope this is the first step for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Michigan Department of Education to realize that the school reimbursement rate is too low to provide a healthy nutritious meal for our future leaders.”

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