BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A program to reduce the cost of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for public school districts launched this fall thanks to a sizable donation from one well-known business.
The program, 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, was created by the Michigan Land Use Institute to reimburse local districts 10 cents for every 20 cents they spend on local fruits and vegetables. It started this fall in Suttons Bay Public Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools and Traverse City Area Public Schools elementary buildings after Glen Arbor-based Cherry Republic donated nearly $28,000 to the initiative.
Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland said the 10 cents program coincides with his business's efforts to support local farmers.
"Then we had the added bonus of providing healthy meals for children in schools," Sutherland said. "It just seemed like a perfect fit for Cherry Republic."
An additional $10,000 for the program has been raised through Cherry Capital Foods, Oryana Natural Foods Market, Firefly, Epicure Catering, the Traverse City-based Utopia Foundation and individuals' contributions.
MLUI is partnering with the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District on the 10 cents a meal project. The two entities hope to expand the program to other districts in the Grand Traverse region. Districts must serve meals that contain local fruits or vegetables three times a week in fall, once a week in winter and twice a week in spring to qualify for the reimbursements.
Diane Conners, a senior policy specialist at MLUI, said the project will improve youth nutrition and promote agricultural business.
"It's an engaging way to turn kids on to healthy eating, and to invest in the local food and farm economies," Conners said.
TCAPS spent about 1.7 percent of its total food cost in the 2012-13 school year on local food products. That percentage could increase significantly with the 10 cents a meal program, said Tom Freitas, TCAPS' food and nutrition services director.
"With that 10-cent addition we could easily double it, maybe even more than that," Freitas said.