By Abby Harper, Community Food Systems Educator, MSU Extension“Most parents of our special needs students also have students that are in other districts, and now their child here at the MISD gets to participate in a wonderful event that happens statewide.” – Carolyn Thomas
On Tuesday, October 23, students, teachers, and school staff throughout Michigan joined in the 6th Michigan Apple Crunch – a one-day celebration of Michigan agriculture. This annual event encourages consumers throughout the state to build relationships with local producers and invest their economic impact in the state’s strong agricultural sector. For many schools, this event serves as a school pride rally and celebration of success in farm to school activities. For Macomb Intermediate School District (MISD), the staff Wellness Committee saw this as an opportunity to create broader inclusivity with their special needs programming. “Bringing more to our special needs population has always been a priority for me,” said MISD Food Service Consultant Carolyn Thomas. “Most parents of our special needs students also have students that are in other districts and now their child here at MISD gets to participate in a wonderful event that happens state wide.”
MISD serves nearly 1,700 students with varying levels of cognitive, physical, and emotional special needs. These students range in age from 3 – 26, and this is the first year MISD participated as a whole district and in all eight buildings that serve special needs students. While crunching into an apple may seem like an activity that anyone can participate in, staff on the district Wellness Committee recognized that this simple activity was not accessible to students who had difficulty eating solid foods. Through the commitment of the committee and staff at each school, they figured out a way to modify the Crunch so that everyone could participate.
The crunch looked different in each school, but all made accommodations to make sure every student could participate. At Lutz School for Work Experience, which provides special needs 18-26 year olds with training to help develop appropriate work habits and attitudes, students gathered in the gym for a school wide apple assembly and nearly every student grabbed an apple. At Glen Peters, where students require more one-on-one support for physical special needs, staff coordinated the Crunch over the intercom and provided alternative options to a whole apple, like sliced apples, apple sauce, or pasteurized apple cider, where needed.
Utilizing the USDA’s micro-purchasing method, which allows schools to purchase small quantities without preparing formal requests for bids, MISD secured all products as locally as possible. This means that MISD procured foods for the apple crunch from Macomb County and kept their economic impact hyper-local. Whole apples ended up being donated from Westview Orchards in nearby Romeo, while pasteurized cider was obtained from Hy’s Cider Mill to provide students on liquid diets the opportunity to participate.
The crunch is one way MISD is expanding their farm to school programming. For 2019, they are working with MSU Extension and the Macomb County Health Department to launch a local Farm to School Directory. This directory would allow districts to easily identify Macomb, St. Clair, and Lapeer County farms and make micro-purchases from them for future special events. Thomas wants to see farm to school grow throughout the region and make sure it benefits all students in the district. “The whole point of our Apple Crunch shares the values of the statewide event, but it’s equally about inclusivity for students who may not otherwise have the opportunity.”