Here’s what’s happening
We approached the business manager at Albany County School District over the summer about a grant that helps get local meat into schools by covering processing costs. This state grant is definitely not producer-friendly and only reimburses USDA butchering costs at $.80/lb, which clearly is not sustainable. But we felt like it was an opportunity to start a conversation and get healthy, local meat into schools, so we went for it. And we knew that our community would help us support this initiative. We told the District we would be willing to donate 300 lbs of ground beef.
We found out we got the grant right before Christmas break. Chili will be on the menu in February for all the elementary schools and it will be noted as being supplied locally, by us. That’s over 1500 school-lunch students who will have access to healthy, local, pasture-raised meat. It is AMAZING!!!
I've had a lot of folks asking questions about this important development and how we can keep it going. The best thing? ASK QUESTIONS. The school administration and especially the school board REALLY listen to parents. You have the power here. If you are interested in supporting our farm to school program with a donation, we can cover costs and even potentially expand the program for this school year. If the school district worked with the food service program to put our meat on the menu in February, we are on to something. Pass around this link, email it to parent groups and school staff. Let’s keep the momentum building.
Here’s what I know
The school board is currently evaluating the 5-year contract with Sodexo, which is up this year.
Here is the recommendation from the food service consultant, paid by a USDA grant to review the food service program, give a summary report of program effectiveness and recommendations.
In our experience, USDA-supported programs can be tricky to navigate, because government policies are lobbied so heavily by the commercial food industry (which is caught up in the complex processed food, corn commodity issues).
Full disclosure: my mom was the School Food Service Director for ACSD for over a decade when I was growing up. She was replaced when the school district decided to go a managed food system, many moons ago. I don’t have any experience with the current food programs, but I do know quite a bit about the schools’ kitchen capabilities and potential staff needed, as they cooked as much as possible at individual schools during that time.
As a family, we’ve been listening to the Omnivores Dilemma (the kid's version) and it’s been a really helpful perspective in this conversation. We have it on Audible, but here is the book: https://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Young-Readers/dp/1101993839/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516226856&sr=8-1&keywords=omnivores+dilemma+kids
Here’s what I don’t know
I don’t know where the Board is at in considering the food service program. And here are some of the questions I am asking:
Would ACSD be willing to negotiate with a management company to buy meat and produce locally (again, I’ve heard that most management companies don’t do that)?
Are they willing to look at taking the food preparation back in-house? What are the financial and staff considerations of making a move like that?
If buying local meat and produce (or having schools grow some of their own) is cost prohibitive for either the district or management company, are there other resources to consider? Grants? Donations? How could we help make a program like this sustainable?
I think we have to listen as much as we talk in order to get a revolution started. And I’d love to hear what everyone is learning! Please share your comments below and let’s keep the momentum going!
Resources to check out:
Contacting the school board:
Opinion piece in NY Times about Sodexo in the schools:
And here is the response: