Policy Name: 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms
Population: 9.9 million
The State of Michigan will match funds spent by school districts and child-care centers, and sponsor up to 10 cents per meal for purchases of Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Progress to date:
In the four years since its inception, the 10 Cents a Meal program has vastly expanded from two regions in the southern and western parts of the Lower Peninsula to include districts statewide. In the 2018-2019 school year, 121 districts applied for program grants, but there was only enough funding for 57 districts. Applicants to the program are selected based on their ability to purchase and serve foods from Michigan farms as part of their school meal programs, with factors such as the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-priced meals taken into consideration.
The 2020 state budget has vastly increased funding for the program, thereby allowing it to move from a pilot program to statewide implementation. However, in early 2020 Governor Gretchen Whitmer used her line-item veto power to slash the budget in an attempt to renegotiate the proposed state budget with Republican lawmakers. Attempts to restore the funding were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures. In September of 2020, the state legislature came to an agreement with Governor Whitmer and reinstated funding to Michigan’s School Aid Budget, which supports the 10 Cents a Meal program, with an increased budget of $2 million for the 2020-2021 school year. Having secured funding, the program was successfully expanded to allow school districts statewide along with early child-care centers to apply for grants.
The program began in 2013 as a pilot run by Groundwork Center. In 2016, the pilot program was picked up by state legislators, and funding was provided to expand it to serve Michigan’s Prosperity Regions (Regions 2 and 4) during the 2016-2017 school year. The program was expanded again to serve Regions 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9 during the 2018-2019 school year. Beginning in the fall of 2020, the program has expanded to include all districts statewide.
Food Policy category:
Diet and Nutrition, Sustainable Agriculture, School Food
The program aims to improve children’s daily nutrition by establishing healthy eating habits while also investing in Michigan’s local food economy and Michigan farms.
How it works:
10 Cents a Meal is a partnership between farms and local school districts. The statewide initiative provides K-12 schools and child-care centers with matching funding of up to 10 cents a meal to be used for purchasing and serving Michigan-grown vegetables, fruits, and legumes that are fresh or minimally processed (some may be frozen) that are bought through food distribution networks. Reimbursements are provided by the State Department of Education through the Michigan Nutrition Data system.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development assists the Department of Education by providing expertise in state-grown products and supporting the training of food service directors. The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities also provides communication support and conducts interviews for program operations.
Why it is important:
In 2019 1,463,533 Michigan students were enrolled in the school meal program, with 50.74 percent of students statewide qualifying for free or reduced-priced meals. In the past, these programs have sought to provide healthy meals but have not prioritized serving food that is locally grown. Through investments in local growers, it is possible to increase the Michigan food system by providing farmers with expanded markets for their goods. In the past, Michigan farms have struggled to find local purchasers for their products. Now, with the 10 Cents a Meal program, they can tap into the market for produce and beans at schools across the state. At the same time, by supplementing school districts’ meal budgets, the state is able to help them improve the nutritional quality of the foods they serve while also prioritizing those that are grown at local Michigan farms.
The program is part of the Farm-to-School initiative, which works to educate school-aged children about food through activities including cooking classes and school gardens. By building food literacy, the program provides essential education about healthy food and local food systems to students across the state.
The Michigan Department of Education released a report in March of 2019 showing that 135,000 students were participating in the program, up from 48,000 during the 2016-2017 school year. The most recent legislative report on the 10 Cents a Meal program indicates that it has provided the ability to purchase 93 different fruits, vegetables, and beans grown by 142 farms in 38 different counties. Additionally, 20 businesses other than farms, including food distributors, processors, and food hubs, have benefitted from the initiative. The program has also increased sales for more than 160 local farms. Consequently, local farms have become more interested in selling their goods to schools and have begun expanding their businesses to meet these new demands.
For schools participating in the program, 10 Cents a Meal has increased enrollment in hot lunch programs. Prior to the initiation of the program, some schools, such as the Beaver Island Community School, served vendor-delivered lunches that were no longer hot by the time they arrived at the school. Meals at participating schools are now more often prepared on site, making them more delicious and appealing for students as well as the greater community, including teachers and parents. School food service directors have reported that the 10 Cents a Meal program has allowed them to serve a greater variety of produce and to better plan local food purchasing, 96 percent stating that the program has allowed them to serve Michigan-grown goods they would not have been able to purchase otherwise.
Since the onset of the program, students and families at participating schools have been greatly excited by the increased freshness and quality of the produce served. In addition, student interest in creating and participating in school gardens has increased in schools participating in the program. There has also been a reduction in food waste and an increase in student consumption of vegetables and fruits. According to a report by Michigan State University, during the 2018-2019 school year, students tried 67 new foods from Michigan farms.
The program has received widespread praise for being a gold standard model of farm-to-school food policy and for the work it does to educate students about local, healthy foods.
Point of contact:
Diane Golzynski, Michigan Department of Education Health and Nutrition Services
Martin Ackley, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs,
Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal program is unique in its implementation and reimbursement strategies although other states have similar farm-to-school initiatives aimed at bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into schools and onto students’ plates. Washington, D.C., provides reimbursement of up to 5 cents for meals with at least one component comprised of locally grown foods. In California, the Fresh School Meals Grant allocates $2.5 million annually to school food authorities using locally grown foods in school meals. Other states, including Oregon, New York, and New Mexico, have developed initiatives aimed at increasing the amount of local food served in schools but do not yet have comprehensive statewide programs.