Schools Growing Produce for Their Own Use

The Michigan State University Extension is aiding local school districts in setting up onsite gardens to supply their meal programs with fresh produce and herbs.

For the past three years, the Charlotte (MI) High School Agriscience department and Future Farmers of America program has been growing food hydroponically for use in the school’s cafeteria, producing and selling around two pounds of salad greens per week to the lunch program. Some surplus has also been donated to a local shelter. Plans are to enhance the growing platform to add herbs and other produce as well.

The program is one of several nurtured and supported by the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) through the Eaton (MI) Good Food Council (EGFC), which seeks to promote local production of fresh produce, including engaging students in growing, harvesting and selling to their respective school food service programs.

Charlotte Schools Food Service purchases the produce at a discounted rate due to volume and the elimination of packaging or transportation requirements. The revenue goes back into the program. Salad greens and tomatoes have been the most popular items and the two crops that students have had the most success in growing.

EGFC and MSUE also worked with the Eaton Rapids (MI) School District to secure funding to purchase four aeroponic tower gardens and assemble two raised-bed gardens at the Eaton Rapids High School. The gardens will be used in the school’s Farm to Table initiative to grow a variety of fresh herbs, greens, and tomatoes that will be sold to the food service program for use in school meals.

Eaton Rapids Food Service Director Linda Vainner says she is planning to use the herbs to season sauces and incorporate the fresh greens and vegetables into the salad bar.

Initially the plans are to grow the produce for school meals and in time potentially sell to school staff and the Eaton Rapids Medical Center farmers market.

The project was modeled on a similar initiative started a year ago at Olivet (MI) High School where Olivet Agriscience and FFA member Dalton Humphrey grew a variety of herbs and greens then sold to food service director Karla Love for use in school meals. Love says she is very engaged in offering seasonally fresh produce in the cafeteria and strives to make several school food purchases from farms around Olivet.