Boosting Student Health and the Economy with Farm to School

November 02, 2016

One of our favorite radio programs here at Healthy Schools Campaign is Inside School Food. This show is hosted by Laura Stanley, a food journalist, school food advocate and longtime friend of HSC. It’s a treat to follow along as she delves into the details of school food with a diverse group of interesting and engaging guests.

This fall, we’ve shared our thoughts and observations on a few episodes here on HSC’s blog. Laura is currently taking a break from Inside School Food in order to restore her health. We will miss her shows. We wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to her return.

Today, we listen to the smart snacks episode: In Michigan, “10 Cents a Meal” for Farm to School.

What can an extra 10 cents a meal do for a school meal program?

A lot.

Districts across Michigan are learning just that thanks to the state’s innovative program that gives schools extra money to support farm-to-school programs. The program started as a pilot in 2013 with three districts in one region of the state, coordinated by the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly the Michigan Land Use Institute).

Diane Conners, a senior policy specialist at the center, was a guest on this week’s episode of Inside School Food. She talked about how the pilot program attracted state funding and now includes 16 districts and total funding of $250,000. Participating districts are required to match the funding provided by the state, but some of them are going above and beyond.

The funding really offers schools the ability to start the business relationships and try new things—and many of them are not just continuing the things they start but building on them. In one district, romanesco broccoli—which the students call trees or lime green spaceships—has been added to the menu. In another, the food service director worked with a co-operative of farmers to provide sliced multi-colored carrots, which are added to the menu as Panther Fries—after the school’s mascot.

Healthy Schools Campaign has been a long-time supporter of farm to school because bringing in nutritious and delicious food into the cafeteria helps students understand where their food comes from. Farm-to-school programs play an important role in our ongoing school food policy initiatives, innovative procurement strategies, food education, school garden development and parent engagement.

It was interesting to hear about the myriad benefits of a robust farm-to-school program. In addition to market diversification and new opportunities, studies show individual farmers see an 5 percent increase in income from farm-to-school sales. Farm to school also generates $2.16 in economic activity for every $1 spent!

Studies show that students whose schools are engaged in farm-to-school programming reap a  wide range of benefits: they eat more fruits and vegetables, are more physically active, are more willing to try new foods and show overall achievement in academics.

Farm to school is truly a scenario where every wins: students get healthier food, farmers get new markets and the local economy gets a boost.