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Faces of the Network: Jennifer Mattison, Food Service Director at Dexter Community Schools

Jennifer Mattison and Roxanne Maze

Jennifer works in collaboration with Lisa Babe, Farm to School Coordinator, and Roxanne Maze, Assistant Director of Food and Nutrition Services, on all things farm to school.

By Jae Gerhart, Michigan State University Extension

Have you ever tried to prepare an entire meal using only Michigan products? If not, try it! You may find it to be quite the challenge.

Now try to prepare a meal for 1200 students using only Michigan products.

Jennifer Mattison, Food Service Director at Dexter Community Schools and Cultivate Michigan member, decided to take on that challenge not once, not twice, but three times during the 2017-2018 school year. Mattison has always been a proponent of local food purchasing, but she found that simply substituting ingredients in regular menu items for Michigan or even Washtenaw County grown ones did not affect the hearts and minds of the students and staff as she had hoped. She did find, however, that an entire meal sourced from Michigan ingredients would bring not only new students and staff to the hot line, but parents too!

Mattison piloted the Michigan Made Meals in the fall of 2016 for a Thanksgiving-themed hot lunch complete with local turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. The feedback was so positive that the following year she expanded the program to three meals to coincide with seasonal themes: Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and pre-Spring Break. For the most recent Valentine’s Day theme, she served apple-glazed chicken legs, honey-glazed carrots, and cherry cobbler, all with ingredients grown and produced in Michigan. The meals have been met with staff and student approval. One 3rd grade student commented, “It is the most delightful smell in here. Everything smells like honey!”

As of February 2018, Mattison has purchased over $10,000 of Michigan products for the current school year, with $2,000 of those purchases coming from farms just down the road from the school. Mattison continues to expand her relationships with hyper-local farms and food businesses like Locavorious, Tantre Farm, Lesser Farm, and Wing Farm. Cherry Capital Foods, a Michigan-based distributor, and Farm to Freezer, a Michigan-based processor, have helped increase the schools’ capacity to order Michigan products year-round.

In addition, Mattison has found ways to source produce directly from the school’s own school garden. Over the past two years, the school has purchased 308 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, radishes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, cabbage, and herbs directly from the school garden. Lisa Babe, the Farm to School Coordinator for Dexter Community Schools, manages the student-driven garden program.

Mattison’s passion for local, farm fresh food in her schools helped her receive a Ten Cents a Meal grant from the Michigan Department of Education for the 2017-2018 school year. This grant has allowed her to increase her spending on Michigan fruits, vegetables, and legumes. She also won a small grant from Busch’s Fresh Food Market which has allowed her additional flexibility to purchase hyper-local products at the prices farmers need. The additional funding helps make Dexter’s farm to school program a triple win – for farms, for kids, and for the community!

To find out more about the Ten Cents grant program, visit tencentsmichigan.org. To join Mattison at a Michigan Made Meal at one of the Dexter Area Schools, contact Jae Gerhart at gerhart1@anr.msu.edu.