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Farm Partnerships Help Schools Obtain Local Produce for Less

Detroit Public Schools was one of the very first school districts in the country to join the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program in 2006. Since that time, district administrators, increasingly aware of the link between healthy students and academic success, have made great strides in improving the meals they offer to students. In the past year the focus has been on enhancing their school meal program by incorporating more legumes into their lunch options. The food service department has partnered with the Pulse Association to expand offerings of beans, peas, and lentils on the school menu. Through working with local farmers, the Detroit Public Schools are creating healthy, enjoyable meals while supporting the local economy.

The district has always been innovative in its approaches to healthy changes and this new introduction of legumes into school meals is no exception. Betti Wiggins, Director of Food Services for the Detroit Public Schools shared, “We are making inroads working with local farmers and we want to take advantage of the fact that Michigan is a big bean producer for the nation. The district is committed to securing at least 30 percent of our produce on our menu from local farmers.” This effort has been fostered through a relationship with the local Eastern Market, a large urban farmers market.

The food service department sees this as a win-win situation as it helps to increase dietary fiber, offers low-fat protein and balances the budget because beans are more affordable than meats. The department is working to come up with creative ways to introduce the legumes into the cafeteria. “We promote Meatless Mondays and offer a three-bean chili to die for! The kids really like it!” said Wiggins.

Various student health groups were surveyed to help provide feedback on these menu offerings and students were able to participate in taste tests. Parents were even involved through a parent feedback survey. School Food Services made sure to garner as much feedback as possible in order to create the most successful meals. Due to their success so far, the district plans to expand on the vegetarian offerings next fall by offering vegetarian entrees twice a week. The district is also working with suppliers to get pre-cooked legumes to make it manageable to serve more than 46,000 lunches and 3,500 suppers to students daily. The hope is to be able to package ‘grab and go lunches’ such as hummus, carrots and whole grain pita or beans, salsa and corn chips that could be used on field trips.