It’s amazing what can happen in 18 months when a group of dedicated people support your work – in this case, getting more locally grown fruits and vegetables to Detroit school children with backing from the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative.
I am a member of DFFC Schools Work Group, representing the Food System Economic Partnership, a nonprofit organization working to create change in the food system of Southeast Michigan. We support Detroit schools’ efforts to provide healthy, freshly prepared and locally grown foods in schools through Farm to School and Fresh Fruit/Vegetable Programs.
Our partnership with Detroit Public Schools (DPS) began in the summer of 2009, when we sat down with the staff from DPS Office of Food Service and began exploring how to procure farm fresh produce for the school lunch. In just three short months, produce coming directly from local farmers was being enjoyed by more than 5,000 students, from preschoolers to high school students, at 22 schools. This fall, there are 44 schools in the program and close to 10,000 students. Now that’s progress!
Farm to School benefits the students, the school food service department, the farmers and the community.
First and foremost, students benefit by getting fresh, local food that tastes fantastic as part of their school meal. We all want children to eat more fruits and vegetables and introducing produce picked at its peak freshness and flavor by local farmers gets them wanting more. We’re opening their eyes via their mouths to good, healthy eating because fresh food tastes great!
Second, the DPS Office of Food Service benefits by receiving help in its efforts to improve school lunch quality. The schools are working to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and more ethnically sensitive foods and Farm to School is helping them change the look of the whole school menu. Farm to School not only presents fresh fruits and vegetables to our children, it also provides the food service staff with the opportunity to learn about new foods. Through Farm to School, we are helping the food service staff to think about what’s in season at different times of the year in Michigan and how to prepare and serve the items. While our main focus of the program is educating the students, adults can learn too, and everyone can take their new knowledge of food back to their families, their friends, and their communities, thus impacting a broader audience than just the students.
Another cool byproduct of Farm to School is that we’re connecting children to farmers who are growing their food and educating the next generation of eaters and consumers. After a local food day in school, students encourage their parents to go to farm markets to shop for fresh produce, which benefits their families. Farmers benefit too as the increase in business, allows them to grow more and sell more food!
Lastly, farmers also benefit from Farm to School by being able to diversify and grow their market. At least once a month throughout the school year, farmers are delivering produce to DPS kitchens. Since many of the suppliers are from small family farms, they typically sell at farm markets and not through wholesale distribution food chains. Farm to School provides the farmers with a consistent market and allows them to glean their fields of more food, which they are then able to sell and earn an income for their families.
As you see, the process comes full circle, and, along the way, every one gains a greater connection to their food and where it comes from.
I am excited by the energy and enthusiasm the food service staff and farmers have shown for the Farm to School program and look forward to continuing to grow and expand the program to all schools in the district.