The Michigan FoodCorps program partners with Michigan Team Nutrition

Michigan’s FoodCorps national service farm to school program has a new partnership! Through a mini-grant initiative, this effort supports FoodCorps’ school garden, taste testing and nutrition education programming with students in high-needs classrooms.

Cafeteria taste testing put on by Michigan FoodCorps.
Cafeteria taste testing put on by Michigan FoodCorps.

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who serve in communities to make schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn and grow. Here in Michigan, the FoodCorps program is administered by the Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems team – a statewide network of MSU Extension educators whose work is closely aligned with FoodCorps goals for healthy food consumption in schools and communities. FoodCorps Michigan service members serve across the state to add capacity to community-based schools and organizations led by site supervisors who have already established successful food programming and extensive partnerships in communities to positively influence school food environments.

This year, program year 2016, through Michigan State University Extension’s Health and Nutrition Institute and the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan FoodCorps service members have a new opportunity to offer the schools they work with a mini-grant to offset some of the costs related to their school garden programs. Team Nutrition (TN) is a national initiative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to support Child Nutrition Programs through training and technical assistance for foodservice, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity. Michigan Team Nutrition (MTN), resides within the Michigan Department of Education’s School Nutrition Programs Unit. Each year, MTN submits a grant request designed to meet the national TN objectives.

A recent MTN grant proposes to create healthier school environments by funding ‘coaches’ to work with 35 school buildings in Michigan to complete a Healthier School Environment and Policy Systems Change assessment. Each school building will be reimbursed up to $200 each for expenses related to implementing or improving at least one of the following strategies: the school’s local wellness policy; evidence-based environmental and policy nutrition changes, such as school gardens; conducting taste tests with students; conducting school wide nutrition education; or assisting with implementing prepackaged comprehensive school-wide healthy school environment programs as instructed by sites. Those existing programs include Fuel Up to Play60, Alliance for Healthier Generation, Action for Healthy Kids, Building Healthy Communities-Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Through this new partnership, FoodCorps service members will be paired with Michigan State University Extension health and nutrition staff to support and assist with implementation of the eligible activities. The grant can provide funding for items related to school garden activities; taste testing (samples, cups, small equipment - blender); nutrition education materials; classroom gardening lessons; seeds, pots, and plants for classroom nutrition education.

The mini grant evaluation strategy of Michigan Team Nutrition will be to look at what the school planned to implement, what was implemented, and the impact of the FoodCorps members’ work on school teams as well as in the larger school environment. This information will be gathered by a simple end of the year survey and by looking at the healthy school environment action plans. All seven of the Michigan FoodCorps site supervisors are supportive of the service members efforts to provide food-focused learning in high-needs classrooms, bring learning outside into school gardens, and support the purchase and service of nourishing, locally produced foods in the cafeteria.

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