WHITEHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — Zoe Fauble, an 18-year-old from Whitehall, created a bean muffin so popular that it was going to be served in some Michigan schools. That’s until the federal government stepped in and rejected it.

But Fauble hasn’t given up, and now her fight could lead to the Department of Agriculture changing its rules.

Last fall, Fauble, then a senior at Whitehall High School, came up with the recipe in her class at the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center. The class has long partnered with Montague and Whitehall Public Schools.

“Our goal has always been to help them get some new menu items to make their cafeterias a little more interesting to kids,” Elissa Penczar, the program’s chef instructor, said. “It helps my kids learn how to take their creativity and follow through and create a decent, enjoyable, tasty meal.”

This year, the program got a team nutrition grant from the USDA for the class to develop breakfast recipes with local food.

“They wanted us to come up with food items for breakfast, like grab-and-go breakfast that would feature local food,” Penczar said. “So we left it wide open for the kids.”

Once Fauble perfected her bean muffin, it quickly became popular in taste tests.

“We brought them to a fourth grade classroom,” Fauble said. “One of the fourth graders said it tasted like a donut.”

The muffin has apples, pureed sweet potatoes and white navy beans.

“A lot of people were shocked at how good it tasted,” Fauble said. “And how there’s beans in it.”

But the USDA said the muffin could not be served in school cafeterias. Penczar said that because the beans are pureed, they aren’t visible. Under USDA standards, that means the muffin doesn’t qualify as protein.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Penczar said when she heard of the news. “This just seemed crazy.”

“I was like, ‘What?’” Fauble said. “Why? Why is it like this. Why can’t it just count? Because it didn’t make sense.”

Penczar said that a complete breakfast under USDA’s healthy food standard needs to have protein.

“Because it has sweet potato, winter squash and apples, which are all from Michigan, it would count toward your vegetable and fruit mixture, because you could see those,” Penczar said. “But because you couldn’t see the beans, the protein in it would not count toward the other rule.”

Under this rule, schools would have to pay more money for a separate source of protein as part of the meal.

Penczar asked the class if they wanted to try and get the rule changed.

“They said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’” Penczar said.

They met with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and went to East Lansing for a Senate hearing over the nation’s farm bill, urging the USDA to make the change.

The effort, dubbed “Make Michigan Beans Count,” is receiving growing support. They’ve received letters of support from state legislators like State Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, and State Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon.

Zoe Fauble's bean muffins. (June 22, 2022)
Zoe Fauble’s bean muffins. (June 22, 2022)

Penczar said that on Tuesday, the Michigan Bean Commission passed a resolution in support of the rule change. Michigan is one of the largest bean producers in the country.

“The vast majority of dry beans that are grown here in Michigan are exported out of the country because they are considered such terrific products,” Penczar said. “Eighty-five percent leave the state and leave the United States.”

They plan on sending a letter to the USDA secretary soon. On Wednesday morning, Penczar said a senior nutrition analyst with the USDA agreed to meet with them about the situation.

Penczar has seen the effort inspire Fauble firsthand.

“The growth I’ve seen in her and her classmates through this process is amazing,” Penczar said. “They just all developed into really confident young men and women.”

For Fauble, the effort has been life-changing.

“It opened my eyes and showed me I could actually make change,” Fauble said. “It doesn’t matter your age or where you stand in the world, you can make change if you try hard enough.”