Farm to School in Michigan: 2012 Survey Shows Interest in Purchasing Local Foods Continues to Grow


February 1, 2013 - <> & Susan Smalley

In February 2012, researchers from the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems surveyed Michigan school food service directors regarding their food purchasing and serving practices and, in particular, their perspectives about and use of local foods (defined as from the state of Michigan). This was the third such survey, following similar efforts in 2004 and 2009. A thirty-question electronic survey was emailed to 933 school food service directors from a Michigan Department of Education database. The response rate was 34%, with 317 fully or partially completed surveys.

Survey respondents represented 53 counties and 129 zip codes. The majority represented public school districts (58%) and schools (e.g., charter, private) (32%), while a small percentage of respondents (4%) represented other institutions (e.g., detention facilities, emergency shelters) that provide meals to school-aged children. The mean reported free and reduced price meal eligibility rate was 57%, compared to the statewide rate of 48% as of fall 2011. Most respondents reported at least some use of each of three modes of food preparation, with heat-and-serve most frequently used, followed by semi-prepared, and then scratch cooking. The majority of respondents’ food service operations (75%) were self-operated; 24% indicated contract management, and just 2% indicated that they use only outside vendors, similar to a food court. Chartwells (or their parent company, Compass Group) was indicated as the management company by 30 of the 68 respondents to this question.

Nearly 89% of respondents were interested in purchasing local foods for their school food service program in the future. Although the rate of respondents purchasing food from a local farmer or producer nearly tripled from 11% in 2004 to 41% in 2009, only 34% reported doing so in 2012, which may have been impacted by question wording. Taking into account all possible sources listed in the 2012 survey (local farmer/producer, farmer cooperative/collaborative, broadline distributor and specialty distributor), 54% reported purchasing local food through one or more channels.

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