Last year, I had the privilege of visiting Mark Kastner's organic farm, Hillcrest Farms, in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Mark's passion for organic, chemical-free food and his dedication to sustainable farming practices were evident during my previous visit. Now, as I embark on a new commercial storytelling photography project for the Michigan Department of Education's 10 Cents a Meal Program, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Mark and delve deeper into his involvement in this important initiative.
The 10 Cents a Meal Program, a state-funded grant designed to support schools, childcare centers, and community-based organizations, is at the heart of this new adventure. Its goals are far-reaching and impactful: reducing the carbon footprint by prioritizing local food, fostering a sustainable economy by supporting Michigan's farmers, and enriching the school setting with nourishing, wholesome meals.
Nurturing a thriving future starts with planting a seed...
rooted in the fertile soil of our own Michigan backyards.
During my conversation with Mark, I asked him about his initial inspiration for joining the 10 Cents a Meal Program and his commitment to supporting Michigan's school-aged children. He revealed that it was an invitation from the Hoop Houses for Health program by Michigan State University's (MSU) Extension that sparked his interest and led him to embrace this initiative wholeheartedly.
Hillcrest Farms plays a vital role in the program, supplying schools with a bounty of fresh, locally-grown produce. Each week, Mark and his team deliver a variety of nutritious offerings, including crisp lettuce, vibrant greens, and, during the plentiful growing season, an assortment of fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
As a former teacher, this project resonates deeply with my own values and passion for education. I understand the transformative impact that nourishing meals can have on a child's ability to learn and thrive.
Likewise, the impact of witnessing the food he cultivates being savored by Michigan's school children brings Mark immeasurable joy and fulfillment. He expressed his delight in witnessing the transformation from processed box meals to the vibrant, nutritionally superior dishes that grace the students' plates, nurturing both the body and the mind.
Beyond the direct impact on nutrition, Hillcrest Farms' involvement in the 10 Cents a Meal Program has forged a deeper bond with the local community. By employing around 20 students from the school district over the years and mentoring students from MSU, Mark has instilled a sense of ownership and pride in the values of organic farming.
One of Mark's fondest memories of the program is when a student proudly told her friends that she had personally plucked and washed the Black Cherry tomatoes served on the cafeteria table. That single act of connection sparked a ripple effect, and the demand for these juicy tomatoes has only grown since then. It's a testament to the program's ability to shape children's preferences and foster a genuine appreciation for fresh, locally grown produce.
I personally tasted the sweetness of these Black Cherry tomatoes and understand why they became so popular among Mark's youngest fans.
The 10 Cents a Meal Program resonates profoundly with Mark's personal values and farming philosophy. He firmly believes that fresh produce fuels not only his own family but also serves as a cornerstone for shaping the future health of Michigan's children and their families.
Looking ahead, Mark envisions a future where the 10 Cents a Meal Program continues to flourish, igniting conversations among food managers and school districts alike. Just as the industrious bees on Mark's farm pollinate and spread life-giving energy, he hopes the program's success stories will circulate too, influencing Michigan's agricultural and educational communities.
Interesting in following me on this "farm to school" project? Follow along on my blog or Facebook.
Interesting in capturing your commercial story? Let's chat