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Funding Available to Provide Kids with Local Produce through 10 Cents a Meal

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The Kent County Food Policy Council interviews Melanie Wong with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
Michigan children eat meals with local produce

Michigan children eat meals with local produce /Baxter Community Center

Funding Available to Provide Kids with Local Produce through 10 Cents a Meal

The Kent County Food Policy Council interviews Melanie Wong with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities

/Melanie Wong

What began as a local pilot with a vision to support Michigan kids and farms, has become a statewide program. 10 Cents a Meal provides schools and early care and education centers with match incentive funding up to 10 cents per meal to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes. This year, there is $5 million in funding available, and the application deadline has been extended to February 25, 2022. To learn more about this program, the Kent County Food Policy Council (KCFPC) spoke with Melanie Wong, Farm to Early Care and Education Specialist with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

In what ways does 10 Cents a Meal engage in the local food system?

Melanie: There are two main ways 10 Cents a Meal engages in the local food system: sourcing and serving. We have farmers being impacted and then we have consumers, which in our case are the kids. Schools and early care and education centers are building relationships with Michigan farmers. They are learning about where the food they serve comes from and passing on that education to the kids. The purchase of this food is also an investment in Michigan agriculture and related local food business economy. The kids are impacted by being able to try new fruits and vegetables in the meals and snacks they eat. The hope is that this program will improve daily nutrition and eating habits for Michigan children in school and child care settings.

This is an opportunity and while it is about the funding, it is also about everything that comes along with it: having the opportunity to have your kids engage with their food differently and market Michigan-grown foods. It allows schools and other eligible entities to engage with the local food economy and for children to grow their knowledge and relationship with food. It takes several exposures to a new food for children to really accept or like it. With a program like 10 Cents a Meal, being able to provide the funding that gives the flexibility to purchase and introduce different types of food…that really does have a lasting effect over time.

I love local food because there is more of a connection. When I buy locally, I have that touchpoint of knowing that I am purchasing food from someone that I met. To me that feels right, it feels better. We talk about knowing where our food comes from, and it is amazing to be able to give children the experience of knowing that the food they are eating is from local farmers. The lettuce that they are eating could be from a farm that they pass by every day on their way to school. It is incredible to gift the kids impacted by this program that sense of place.

Can you tell us a bit more about how the program works?

Melanie: 10 Cents a Meal is a state-funded, matching grant program that promotes the purchasing and serving of fruits, vegetables, and legumes that have been grown in Michigan. The state will reimburse grantees up to 10 Cents per meal that is served as part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition programs and that uses Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes. As a grantee, you would be responsible for submitting invoice and meal count data, and participating in surveys. Schools, child care centers, and other organizations that participate in a federal child nutrition program may be eligible to apply.

There are also educational and marketing components to the program. Some schools have school gardens or incorporate food and nutrition education into their curriculum while some may hang posters in their cafeteria advertising the local fruits and vegetables they serve. The sky is the limit for what kinds of educational or marketing activities grantees can do. Taste-tests are particularly popular.

How can organizations get involved?

Melanie: Right now, there is still money available for new applicants. The grant has been reopened for this second application period because the state does not want funds to go unused. We hope to get more interest from eligible grantees in Kent County and across Michigan. We do not want to leave money on the table. But even more than that, we want as many kids as possible to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in school or when they are at their child care center. Local produce can be more expensive (but not always) and we believe it is worth it. The funding from 10 Cents a Meal helps make it accessible by reimbursing some of the cost.

There are currently 11 grantees for this year in Kent County, including: Little Smiles Bilingual Childcare, Baxter Community Center, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools, Byron Center Public Schools, Kent County Juvenile Detention, West Catholic High School, Kent City Community Schools, New Branches Charter Academy, Forest Hills Public Schools, and Godwin Heights Public Schools. Congratulations to each of you and thank you for investing in local food!

To apply for 10 Cents a Meal, click here. For helpful tips for preparing your application, click here. Grant applications are due by February 25, 2022.

KCFPC launched in 2021 to inform local policy and decision makers on the current and future issues that will impact local food production, consumption, and access.

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