Connors Diane

Conners

By this time last year, I was reporting on a new crop of schools ramping up their purchases of Michigan-grown produce thanks to matching grants from a state pilot called 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms.

It’s a pilot that started right here in the Traverse City region, with hopes of inspiring the state to adopt it.

And for the past three years, the state has adopted it. But for this fourth year, it’s a bit of a different story. As I write, the state legislature and the governor have yet to even agree upon a budget, because of differences over unrelated topics like road funding.

Nonetheless, there’s momentum among policymakers, schools, health professionals and others to provide business for local farms while also improving the health and healthy eating habits of our children — and all of the rest of us.

Consider this: For the first time in 10 Cents’ history, both branches of the legislature and the governor included the pilot project in their initial proposed budgets. Never before has a governor included 10 Cents in his or her proposed budget.

And under the leadership of Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, the Michigan House and Senate last week agreed to increase 10 Cents funding from $575,000 last year to $2 million, make the grants available to schools statewide, and add in early childcare centers.

And that word “pilot”? It’s crossed out in the bill language. 10 Cents has proven itself enough to simply be called a “program,” Sen. Schmidt said.

“Our farmers are growing some of the best produce in the country and our children should be eating it,” he said. “We want Michigan students to have good food grown locally. That’s what this whole program boils down to. I think the nutritional value and the economic value is tremendous.”

And consider this: The Double Up Food Bucks program — home grown in Michigan by the nonprofit Fair Food Network — is celebrating its 10-year anniversary; and the Michigan legislature just supported it with $1 million in the budget. Double Up has put $21.4 million of combined SNAP and Double Up match spending into Michigan’s economy since 2009, allowing low-income families to bring home more fruits and vegetables while supporting Michigan farmers. The governor supports it, too.

And as you read this: More than 200 people are gathered this weekend at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City talking about how we can harness the nutritional qualities of locally grown food to help us solve our diet-related health crisis and add stability to our local farm economies.

They’re talking about everything from fruit and vegetable prescriptions to local food in schools and doctors adopting a practical, emerging trend called Culinary Medicine. Munson Healthcare, the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College, and Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District are partners in the event, showing that local institutions also are a part of this momentum linking food, health, and economy.

So despite differences such as those that delay budgets, local food and health bring us something important: common ground.

Diane Conners is senior policy specialist at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, which is the coordinator of this weekend’s Farms, Food & Health Conference at the Hagerty Center.

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