by Abby Harper, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Over the last two weeks of September 2015, partners throughout the state gathered at the regional MI Farm to School Trainings to learn, strategize, and kick-off another year of farm to school. These annual training events are open to the public, but they are aimed at providing initial training and networking for recipients of the MI Farm to School Grant. Offered by the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this program provides grants of $2,000 each to about 20 K-12 schools and early childhood food programs each year to support farm to school planning and implementation. The grant program is part of CRFS’s Michigan Farm to School work and supports the Michigan Good Food Charter goal that institutions source 20% of their food products from Michigan growers, producers, and processors by 2020.
Local food purchasing is happening through various channels at schools throughout the state, as 2014 survey results show. Similarly, the MI Farm to School Grantees are diverse in geographic location so trainings were held around the state: in Cadillac, Detroit, Kalamazoo, and Chatham. Nearly 100 people participated in total, including food service professionals, farmers, staff of food businesses, community partners, and parents. For some, this training is a continuation of years of farm to school experience. For many others, this is the first taste of bringing healthy, local food to kids’ food programs. Trainings were buzzing with conversation, excitement, and motivation, with many learnings and connections made that will be critical to support efforts throughout the year.
The training program covered the basics of farm to school, developing farm to school teams, strategies for working with farmers including Hoophouses for Health, procurement procedures for local food purchasing, and promoting and tracking local food purchases through Cultivate Michigan. Each training also featured a seasoned farm to school champion to share stories about developing and sustaining farm to school programs as well as seasonal menu planning strategies. Local foods systems efforts were highlighted too, including Keep Growing Detroit’s work to support gardens at schools and early childhood programs and Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new food and sustainability initiatives. A series of Michigan Farm to School webinars offered throughout the year will build on the momentum and information from the trainings and continue to support grantees and other practitioners.
The training series was hosted by CRFS with MSU Extension partners in Kalamazoo and Chatham. Special thanks are due to our invited speakers: Jenice Momber of Kaleva Norman Dickson and Bear Lake Schools, Dan Gorman of Montague and Whitehall Public Schools, Xavier Jaramillo of Calumet Center, Erin Caudell and Tyler Vuillemot from the Hoophouses for Health team, Mariel Borgman and Michelle Walk of MSU Extension, Ashley Atkinson of Keep Growing Detroit, Dean McCurdy of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Jeanette Cushway of Michigan FoodCorps. Thanks also to our gracious hosts: Detroit Public Schools, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center and the Cadillac-Wexford Public Library.