Jackson-area schools taking part in school lunch program that touts foods produced in Michigan

jackson1Michigan-grown produce is cropping up in cafeterias around Jackson County this week as part of a statewide promotion to use local products in schools.

The Mi Products, My Michigan, Mi School Lunch Program features a five-day menu consisting of healthy foods produced by Michigan farms and companies.

Patti Russell, food service director for Northwest Community Schools, said the goal for such a promotion is to have children grow up expecting to eat Michigan foods.

“By doing these things, kids get used to it as they get older,” Russell said. “We’re going to do it every year a couple times, and by the time they get to be in high school it will be like broccoli and carrots.”jackson2

Russell said her district has already been working to incorporate more Michigan-made products into the regular menu. She said students are sometimes amazed to discover what kinds of dishes are made from foods grown in Michigan.

“It’s just bits and pieces of awareness,” Russell said. “Kids today have a more educated palate, and there’s a lot of competition. We need to be introducing newer foods.”

Among the items on the menu this week in Jackson-area schools are asparagus, apples, dairy products from Jackson County and produce from Grand Rapids’ Markon cooperative. Other products include Bosco Sticks from Warren, Rice Krispie Treats from Battle Creek and salad dressing from Lowell-based Pepper Mill.

Four hundred schools around the state are participating in the lunch menu promotion, which is taking place in conjunction with the fifth annual National Farm-to-Cafeteria Conference this week in Detroit. Across the state, schools are serving up everything from roasted red pepper hummus to Philly cheesesteak sandwiches – all using Michigan products.

Northwest, Jackson Public Schools and East Jackson Community Schools are among the many districts in the area participating.

Glenn Schramm, food services director at East Jackson, said he makes Michigan products a part of his district’s regular menu. He said this week’s promotion is important to make people aware of Michigan products, but ultimately the decision to use local foods is a business choice.

“It’s mostly about convenience and what we’re offered to buy,” Schramm said. “If the people we buy our products from make them available (then we buy Michigan foods).”

However, Schramm said buying local does have its challenges. He said Michigan’s growing season often works at odds with the district’s schedule, with many foods coming into harvest during the summer. He said he has to buy certain products from outside the state to keep costs down.

“You try to do as much as you can, and I do (buy them) when I can get them,” Schramm said. “There’s a lot of things you can’t get here, like pineapples and lettuce. All that comes from California, Texas and Florida, but we buy them from Michigan companies.”

The promotion is especially effective in elementary schools, said Cari Bushinski, Northwest Community Schools curriculum director. She said students in third and fourth grades at Northwest are learning about Michigan history, and this week’s promotion should give them a new perspective on what Michigan is all about.

“It’s really important that students have a great understanding of Michigan history and the state that we live in,” Bushinski said.

By Jackson Citizen Patriot staff Kyle Feldscher

May 20, 2010, 10:26AM