Munson Healthcare Foundation Nabs $400K Kid Nutrition Grant

Culinary medicine support. A peer-to-peer network for food service directors to share healthy food best practices and recipes. School farmers markets and vouchers for teachers to purchase produce. Farm fruit and vegetable drop-offs at purchasing worksites.

Those are just a few ways that a $401,513 grant flowing through the Grand Traverse region hopes to make a health impact. The grant, awarded this spring to Munson Healthcare Foundations by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, aims to improve childhood nutrition and wellness by touching schools, families, health care providers, and employers.

It’s about “placing the child in the center amongst all of the different spheres of influence and really trying to hit on all of them,” said Alyson Kass, coordinator with Shape Up North, a five-county initiative through Munson Community Health. She is coordinating the grant.

There is no small number of players involved. Collaborators in the grant include the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD), Taste the Local Difference, Michigan State University Extension and the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.

“It is ambitious. But I’m very confident that we have all the right players at the table,” Kass said. “I think it’s going to come off effortlessly, and I think that we’ll even come up with some other great ideas … learning from this.”

One area of support is an upcoming culinary medicine conference at the culinary institute, for physicians and other health care practitioners (see related story in TCBN, p. 20).

Grant funds will also go toward an effort by Taste the Local Difference to build the number of employers who participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) workplace wellness programs, which connect local farms with businesses whose employees purchase shares of produce delivered to the workplace.

Operations director Tricia Phelps said Taste the Local Difference will match employers to farms, help market the employee sign-up process and provide other program support. As an incentive to sign up, employees at participating worksites who have children under 18 could receive $100 off their CSA cost. Phelps said Taste the Local Difference hopes to create at least five to seven new worksite programs through the grant.

Taste the Local Difference is also looking to facilitate additional pop-up farmers markets at schools in the region — typically single-day events that Phelps said are “a way for the kids to connect with the local food community during its peak time, in the early fall,” serving both educational and nutritional purposes.

Grant funds will also pay for vouchers that teachers can use to purchase produce at the farmers market events. “I think if you’re leading by example, it’s the best way to get that excitement going with the kids and their families,” Kass said.

Another part of the grant is to create a food service director network throughout the five-county TBAISD region to share best practices and recipes and to interact, communicate and collaborate. It will provide an important venue “for food service directors to have a space to talk amongst their peers,” said Meghan McDermott, Groundwork food and farming program director.

Grant funds will also go toward increasing the capacity of TBAISD and its local school districts to integrate farm-to-school activities and lessons and provide a healthy school food environment, including by hiring a farm-to-school coordinator.

The coordinator will be on TBAISD staff and will be a point person for farm-to-school resources, activities and questions. Plans also call for the coordinator to supervise up to four AmeriCorps VISTA members who would serve as consultants to a dozen individual schools and help administrators and staff make changes that further health and nutrition goals.

Ultimately, grant partners hope to make a positive impact on both the health of children and health care costs, by having children become early adopters of healthy habits that can last through their lives.

“It’s really pretty basic,” Kass said. “Healthy habits will help keep them healthy.”

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.