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September is a Great Time to Kick off Farm to School Efforts

By Abby Harper Community Food Systems Educator at MSU Extension

September is a great month in Michigan! Not only does it mean the excitement of back to school, but it’s also peak harvest for many Michigan products. In addition, many schools are starting to receive support from the 10 Cents a Meal Program, allowing them to purchase more Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes. This convergence creates ample opportunities to expand connections between students and local agriculture. September is a great month to kick off new - or reignite existing - farm to school efforts.

Many of Cultivate Michigan’s featured foods are at peak season. In addition to Cultivate Michigan’s fall featured foods like tomatoes, salad greens, potatoes, and winter squash, many spring crops, like kale and onions, are coming back into production, and summer crops, like carrots and peppers, are still going strong. Local farmers may have a surplus of products right now, making it easier to find the quantities schools need to serve all of their students.

Below are some creative ideas to get students, families, staff and farmers excited about upcoming farm to school efforts!

- Start the school year with a back to school lunch sourced from some of your featured local farmers! A celebratory farm to school lunch is a great way to remind students of the school’s farm to school work and get the whole school excited to start a new year. At this time of year, you can find local products to meet every food group on the plate. Dexter Public Schools provides some great inspiration with their Michigan Made Meals, featuring entirely Michigan grown and raised products.

- October is National Farm to School Month! Start planning now to celebrate the month. You can plan school-wide events, teach curriculum about local foods in the classroom, or even feature a different local product in your cafeteria each week. Consider using Cultivate Michigan’s four fall featured foods if you need some ideas for products and recipes to feature!

- Parent involvement can be a great support in strengthening farm to school efforts. With the start of the school year comes parent meetings. Engage parents by serving local foods as snacks in back to school meetings and family nights. Sliced peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers make great finger food, highlight local farmers, and get parents engaged in supporting farm to school efforts. Also consider highlighting farm to school efforts in back-to-school newsletters to give parents a taste for what they can expect in school meals this year.

- It’s never too early to start planning for the 2018 Michigan Apple Crunch! The Michigan Apple Crunch is a one-day celebration of local agriculture. Everyone is encouraged to crunch into a Michigan-grown apple on that day, creating an echo of support for Michigan farmers! The 2017 Apple Crunch had over 300,000 participants. This year, the Crunch will be held on October 23, 2018. Sign up at www.miapplecrunch.com and start planning your crunch now to help make this year the biggest crunch yet!

- Host a farm to school kick-off event! If you have an on-site garden, this can be combined with a fall harvest day for students and parents to harvest all the bounty that’s in season. Invite farmers to the event so families and staff can meet the faces behind their food. Back to school events help raise awareness and excitement for school gardens and local products in the cafeteria.

September is the perfect time to highlight your farm to school efforts and make sure the school year gets off to a good start. For more ideas and inspiration, check out some of the articles highlighting Cultivate Michigan member successes in our news. Visit www.mifarmtoschool.msu.edu for more farm to school resources, and let us know how you’re celebrating farm to school this month!