10 Cents a Meal Program Successes Featured on WGVU Radio

The nationally-recognized 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farm program celebrates its many victories on WGVU's radio show Community Sustainable Voices.

10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms logo.

WGVU Radio’s Sustainable Community Voices featured 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms on December 19, 2018.

Diane Conners (Groundwork Center), Diane Golzynski (Michigan Department of Education), and Colleen Matts (MSU Center for Regional Food Systems), discussed the success of the nationally recognized 10 Cents program in Michigan with host Shelley Irwin.

“We now have 57 participating schools, reaching over 135,000 students,” said Diane Golzynski.

The program operates by reimbursing schools for buying and serving local food. Schools that buy Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables or dried beans receive a 10 cent reimbursement for each meal they serve with local products.

Thanks to the 10 Cents program, students are eating and enjoying more regional and local fruits and vegetables – but they’re not the only ones who benefit. Participating farmers gain steady wholesale accounts by selling to schools year-round.

“We're hearing from our food service directors that farmers are loving the increased business, they're enjoying providing hometown students with fresh produce and that the farmers are excited for the future and happy about the relationship-building potential for 10 Cents,” said Colleen Matts. “That’s really what 10 Cents is about.”

To learn more about the program and several success stories, listen to the interview recording or view the transcript below.

Interview Transcript

Shelley Irwin: Let's talk sustainable community voices. Our topic today, Michigan's nationally recognized 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids and Farms program. Guests in studio. Let's give a shout out. We call it a mic check. Good that you are here. Diane Conners, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Good morning to you, Diane.

Diane Conners: Hi. It's so great to be here.

Shelley Irwin: Traverse City?

Diane Conners: Yes, we're nonprofit based in Traverse City and we tested out the 10 Cents a Meal program in our region. We were inspired by a recommendation of the Michigan Good Food Charter for this and we tried it out there with the hopes of inspiring the state on this. It's a model of how we do things and we're excited that that worked out.

Shelley Irwin: Diane Golzynski, Michigan Department of Education. A bit of you please?

Diane Golzynski: Good morning. Diane Golzynski, director of the Office of Health and Nutrition Services at the Department of Education.

Shelley Irwin: And last but not least, you're just a Colleen. No more Dianes in the room. But Colleen Matts, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Tell us about you.

Colleen Matts: Hi there. Thanks for having us. I am a Farm-to-Institution Specialist at the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, which means I help connect institutional food service programs with local Michigan grown foods.

Shelley Irwin: All right ladies, let's do this. What is the 10 Cents a Meal program? A bit of the history, growth and possibly details on the schools you're using?

Diane Golzynski: Three years ago, we were able to secure some state funding to promote the purchase of locally grown products in Michigan schools. So, we started out with a small pilot project in northwest lower Michigan and it's grown to a sixth of the Governor's prosperity regions around lower Michigan. We now have 57 participating schools reaching over 135,000 students. Those schools purchase Michigan-grown or minimally-processed fruits, vegetables or dried beans and in return, they get 10 cents back in reimbursement for every meal that they serve with those local products.

Shelley Irwin: A lot of students' lives being touched here, right?

Diane Golzynski: Absolutely. It's a win, win, win. The Michigan agriculture wins, the schools get the additional reimbursement, and the kids get those wonderfully tasting fruits and vegetables.

Shelley Irwin: And 10 cents a meal?

Diane Golzynski: Correct. 10 cents for every meal that is returned to help support the purchase of those local products.

Shelley Irwin: Describe a typical lunch menu before being in the program and then perhaps what have you seen happen once a school is committed to the program?

Diane Conners: Well, I'm Diane Conners and after doing our local pilot, I've been the communications partner with the Michigan Department of Education and MSU Center for Regional Food Systems on this. And I think one of the biggest difference in the menus that I have seen from before and after is the variety of the produce that the schools have been able to serve. And so we've had school saying that because of this funding and extra flexibility, they've been willing to try new things that they never would have tried with their kids before and so they're finding that their kids love Brussels sprouts which is really shocking to many people including the food service directors and they're ...

Shelley Irwin: They're good for us, aren't they? They're good for us? Yeah.

Diane Conners: They're very good for us. They're very good for us. And just things like varieties that you can't necessarily get on the mass distribution trucks like multicolored carrots. The kids just love the fact that it's multicolored and even apples which are sort of iconic as a product that all schools always serve. We all know how bland sometimes those apples can taste when they're grown and picked more for long-distance shipping and handling, and so there's some schools that have had activities of taste tests and asked the kids to describe the foods that they're eating. And you would think these kids were at a wine tasting; the different kinds of descriptions that they come up with the apples there.

Shelley Irwin: Apple a day keeps the doctor away. Get the kids to eat those apples. Hey, how about the benefits of the program to the school, maybe follow up to the local economy, obviously to the farmers?

Colleen Matts: So the purpose of the pilot was to improve daily nutrition and eating habits of kids through the school setting, but also to invest in Michigan agriculture and the related local food business economy. So as Diane was saying, the pilot really has inspired the participating school food service directors to try new Michigan grown foods in their school meals and expose students to those foods. The pilot also does include some educational activities and we have found that some of the activities are some things like all Michigan meals, taste tests in the cafeteria, cooking in the classrooms, school gardens. So we've been tracking some of these educational activities and we found that in 2017-2018, our participating school districts had over 300 of these types of educational activities taking place throughout the school year. These are all educational activities that are designed to link them more to the local foods served in their school meal programs.

So we've also seen investments in our local economy. Local food businesses are growing and expanding because of the business coming from 10 Cents. So food processors like Michigan Farm to Freezer, which is based in Detroit, and Pearson Foods which is based here, here in Grand Rapids, have been relying on this business and food hubs, which are more local aggregators of food. They are also relying on this business. So there are new food hubs in Muskegon and Flint that are going to rely on schools and other institutions including these 10 Cents participating districts as a big part of their customer base.

We've also seen plenty of impacts for those farmers too. So in the last pilot year, 2017-2018, food was purchased from 112 farms located in 34 counties of the state and an additional 19 businesses like those processors, food hubs and distributors were also impacted. And we're hearing from our food service directors that farmers are loving the increased business, they're enjoying providing hometown students with fresh produce and that the farmers are excited for the future and happy about the relationship-building potential for 10 Cents and that's really what 10 Cents is about.

Shelley Irwin: How does a school get into the program?

Diane Golzynski: They would apply through our normal channels for applying for grants at the Department of Education. So the Department of Education has a vision of becoming a top 10 education state in 10 years and this program really allows us to demonstrate the kind of customer service and support for local schools that we have to offer. So we make that application as easy as we possibly can, we put everything through the same reimbursement systems that schools are already used to with the federal food programs that they participate in and we make it as seamless as we possibly can for those schools, so it's as less burdensome as possible. So, we really can just focus on the students and what they're getting out of it.

Shelley Irwin: And expand if you would, Diane, a bit more into the role of the Department of Education?

Diane Golzynski: We help administer the program. We administer all of the USDA federal food programs. So our goal was, as I said, to make it as seamless as possible. All of the reimbursement for these state monies acts in the exactly the same way as the federal reimbursement so it's not additional work for the schools, not additional burden on the schools. We want to make this as easy as possible because we want schools to prioritize that Michigan produce and getting the kids to eat the healthy foods and the kids are doing it. They love seeing their neighbor's farms produce on their school menu, so it's really a win.

Shelley Irwin: Teach the parents something, won't they? How about the role, more in detail, of the MSU's Center for Regional Food Systems. I have to go back to you, Colleen.

Colleen Matts: We are the evaluation partner for the pilot, so we're conducting monthly electronic surveys of the participating school food service directors to get some of those perceptions and reactions and impacts of the program. And this year, we're working more with a consultant to do more in-school evaluation with the students in the cafeterias and in the classrooms. So we're excited about the information that that might bring. We also provide some technical assistance in the form of connecting food service directors with local food vendors and local farmers. And last year with some of our partners here, we hosted a series of four Cultivate Michigan Marketplace Events and those were venues for local food buyers to connect with local food vendors.

Shelley Irwin: Talking sustainability, our sustainable community voices. Today's topic, Michigan is nationally recognized 10 Cents a Meal For School Kids and Farms programs with guests in studio, Diane Conners, Diane Golzynski and Colleen Matts.

So I need a success story or two, please?

Diane Conners: Well, there's a lot of success stories and I think to build on some of the things that Diane and Colleen already said and you had asked earlier about menus. Another thing that we've seen come up is that food service directors find that they have produce throughout the year because of a business development like Michigan Farm and Freezer. And so, one food service director talks about how she really feels like she's providing a farmers market with the produce to her kids throughout the year. We've had teachers who have been partnering with food service directors and that's another big thing that this sparks is collaboration within the school setting so that the whole child is really embraced and people are really thinking of each other as colleagues.

And so there's a teacher in one school who is working with the food service director who provides products for in-class taste testing along with some information about the farmer, nutrition information about the products and the kids are thrilled to learn that it was a farmer nearby who grew it. We have another food service director who said that she had her janitor staff come and grab her by the arm and take her to the trash can and say, "Look at this!" And the difference was that there was nothing in that trash can, so seeing a whole lot of less waste because the kids really love the food.

Shelley Irwin: Any other success stories?

Diane Conners: Yeah. I think you may have had on your show a while back. People from the culinary program at Muskegon Career Tech. So that's another example of collaboration, of how we have kids who are actually learning real-world skills, high school kids in their community. They're doing recipe development for a 10 Cents a Meal food service director, they're going into the schools, they're realizing that they are being looked up to by the elementary kids and that's something powerful for them, they're doing taste tests, they're developing foods and they're using the Cultivate Michigan program that Colleen mentioned, focusing on those kind of products, they're grown in Michigan and getting kids interested in eating local. But again, providing collaboration. That's one of the key things we find with 10 Cents, is a sense of collaboration that's happening within school systems and within communities.

Shelley Irwin: How do we find out more about your work, Diane Conners?

Diane Conners: You can find out more about our work at groundworkcenter.org and you can also find out more about our work. We manage the tencentsmichigan.org website. So if people want to know more about the program, it's spelled out T-E-N-C-E-N-T-S, Michigan spelled out, dot org and you can find all kinds of information about 10 Cents Michigan there.

Shelley Irwin: Colleen Matts, your final word?

Colleen Matts: I think what's really cool right now is that we're hearing from a number of other states who are interested in adopting a program like 10 Cents in their states and we've even heard from some national partners who are interested in putting this forward as a federal priority for school meals someday, so there's a lot of excitement around this.

Shelley Irwin: Your contact information?

Colleen Matts: Yes. You can find us at foodsystems.msu.edu and again, my name is Colleen Matts and we run the Cultivate Michigan program also, so we have a lot of great resources there, cultivatemichigan.org.

Shelley Irwin: Final word from you Diane Golzynski.

Diane Golzynski: One of the things I love most about this program is this is investing Michigan tech scholars in Michigan schools, Michigan farms, and Michigan kids and there’s very few programs that can be a triple win like that, so I am so appreciative to the lawmakers and my partners here at the table who have helped make this such a positive impact for Michigan.

Shelley Irwin: And we find out the Department of Education website how?

Diane Golzynski: Michigan.gov/MDE.

Shelley Irwin: Ladies, thank you for keeping our world sustainable in the work you do. Take care.

Diane Golzynski, Diane Conners, and Colleen Matts: Thank you.

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