SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — State funding for a healthy school lunch program was vetoed earlier this month by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, leaving two local school districts with fewer options for providing locally farm-grown food to students.
The pilot program, 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms, was used by 57 Michigan school districts, including Owosso and Morrice, last year to supplement their menus with locally grown food such as fruits and vegetables.
Now, the state-funded program may be eliminated.
“Morrice Area Schools was very fortunate to participate in the program last year,” Morrice Superintendent Mike Dewey said in an email. “As superintendent, I think this was a win-win for our students; healthy meals and our local growers sharing their bounty with our community. We are saddened to hear that other students in Michigan will not have the same opportunity that students at Morrice have had in the past.”
Dewey offered a special thanks to Chartwells Schools Dining Services and Morrice’s Food Service Director Barb Lewis, whom he said was instrumental in helping Morrice with the program.
“We are disappointed that the 10 cents meal grant has been eliminated,” Owosso Superintendent Dr. Andrea Tuttle said. “This adversely affects our students and all local grown fruit and vegetable producers. The grant allowed us to purchase local grown fruits and vegetables, that we would normally not be able to afford, and serve them to our students. We feel that this veto is a lose/lose for our students and our farmers/producers. A loss for our students who learned about local farmers and local produce, and a loss for farmers/producers who will lose income.”
Ten Cents a Meal also aimed to provide a service to Michigan farmers, directing school meal spending to the local farm economy.
“The twin pillars on which the program stands — childhood health and farm family economic stability — have led to strong bipartisan support thus far including, initially, from the governor,” said Diane Conners, senior policy specialist for the program.
Ten Cents a Meal started with 32 school districts in the 2016-17 school year, and was expanded to reach districts in 43 counties in the 2018-19 year. Eligible districts participated by applying for matching grants.
The Legislature had planned to move the 10 Cents a Meal program beyond pilot status this year and take it statewide with a $2 million budget allocation in the School Aid Budget, until the governor vetoed the funding, Conners said. The program was among the 147 line items Whitmer nixed.
Those who have signed up as 10 Cents a Meal supporters or made statements of support include Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Food and Farming Systems, the School Nutrition Association of Michigan, the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Healthy Kids-Healthy Michigan, Michigan League for Public Policy, and school districts in locations ranging from the Detroit region to the Upper Peninsula.
Last week, Whitmer vetoed $947 million in proposed spending in a bid to restart negotiations with the Legislature. Whitmer had no input in the final budget following a breakdown in talks before the deadline to fund state government.
Ten Cents a Meal, along with other programs whose funding was cut by the Democratic governor’s veto, may be revived if Whitmer reaches a budget deal with the Republican-led Legislature.
Other districts that had participated in 10 Cents a Meal include Flint Community Schools, Genesee Intermediate School District and Grand Blanc Community Schools.