U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) on Friday visited Detroit’s Eastern Market and led a roundtable to celebrate school meal programs and local farmers.
“We definitely have a department that gets it and we definitely have a state that gets it,” said Stabenow, who chairs the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
“In the end,” Stabenow added, “it’s about feeding our children, otherwise it doesn’t cut it.”
They toured the market, which opened 1898 and is one of the nation’s oldest continually operating institutions. Federal and state officials, as well as Michigan farmers – both urban and rural – and local school administrators touted USDA school meal programs, which include farm-to-school programs and summer meal programs for children.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a Fiscal Year (FY) budget that includes $160 million to fund free school meals for students for the year. There’s also bipartisan legislation that would make that funding permanent.
Also joining Stabenow and Dean, a University of Michigan alum, were Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Diane Golzynski; Eastern Market Director Dan Carmody; state House Education Committee Chair Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth); and School Nutrition Association of Michigan President Dan Conners.
Dean applauded Congress and President Joe Biden to have “flexible funding” to collaborate with farmers and schools to provide healthy meals for children. She also praised Michigan’s efforts to connect school districts with in-state farmers.
“That is the goal: Breaking down some of the disconnects where you have some school districts who are buying food for five states away,” Dean said. “That’s not the best, and we want to bring the best.”
Speaking to farm-to-school programs was Kevin Frank, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) senior director of culinary services. He was pleased to hear more about the federal and state efforts to strengthen the relationship between farmers and public schools. DPSCD serves more than 33,000 lunch meals per day to Motor City children.
“We have a lot of local growers in the city of Detroit who are operating local farms of that nature. And it’s my responsibility as an economic agent to make sure that, to the extent that I can, we’re helping them to further their cause,” Frank told the Advance after the roundtable discussion. “The reality is that their children are my students. I’m feeding their children. I owe it to those families and the city to do everything that I can to ensure that the food that I’m serving on my plate comes from these local farms.”
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