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The Power of Local Purchasing

School districts across the country are purchasing locally as a solution to supply chain disruptions

As with many industries, school district meal programs are facing numerous supply chain disruptions. We understand this can be extremely challenging to navigate while trying to stay on track with menu cycles, meet nutritional requirements, and overall, to feed kids healthy scratch-cook meals at school.

Fortunately, some districts have been able to reduce these challenges by purchasing more local foods in their communities. We reached out to schools all over the country to gather ideas on how school food teams have used local procurement to their advantage. Read on to see how these districts have improved their overall operations by purchasing locally:

Staunton City Public School District

Amanda Warren, Director of Food & Nutrition Services

I have definitely felt the strain and stress over product shortages, but have mostly been able to make quick modifications and substitutions to assist. I really think that, for us, October couldn’t have come at a better time! While I was planning our Farm to School month, our commercial supplier’s chicken products were slowly dwindling. No whole grain patties, nuggets, tenders, etc. We’re using a lot of USDA foods for our quick scratch hot meals, so there were only a few menu days here and there where lack of these products made holes. Farm to School allowed us some space to fill with interesting quality meals on menu days where these shortages might have seemed apparent.

We also saw shortages of romaine, which we use as dark leafy green quite often, and a lack of the variety and quality in other commercial produce, so I found local sources to mitigate this. I was able to get local dark leafy greens from Project Grows, local chicken and beef from 4P Foods with Local Food Hub, and a variety of fruits and veggies from other local sources. We featured four of The Lunch Box recipes with our local goods and all of it was a hit. Chicken Burrito, Kung Pao Chicken, Beef and Broccoli and Penne with meat sauce (where we subbed a local scratch pasta instead of penne).

We also saw shortages of romaine, which we use as dark leafy green quite often, and a lack of the variety and quality in other commercial produce, so I found local sources to mitigate this. I was able to get local dark leafy greens from Project Grows, local chicken and beef from 4P Foods with Local Food Hub, and a variety of fruits and veggies from other local sources. We featured four of The Lunch Box recipes with our local goods and all of it was a hit. Chicken Burrito, Kung Pao Chicken, Beef and Broccoli and Penne with meat sauce (where we subbed a local scratch pasta instead of penne).

Caroline County Public Schools

Beth Brewster, Supervisor of Food Services

We currently have a registered dietician intern from the University of Maryland Easten Shore. She did her competencies on local foods. The blueberries are local and the baker is local. The apple cider doughnuts come from a local orchard in our county using their apples. We also purchase our lettuces from two local hydroponic farms year round.

Napa Valley Unified School District NOSH

Kristen Tekell, Food Service Director

We are buying local bulk ground beef and burgers from Marin Sun’s Mindful Meat program. We continue to buy produce from Pac Rim and Ag Link, who often sources California grown items. We also purchase local tortilla products from Mi Rancho, a CA company, and our dairy products come from Clover in Sonoma County, CA.

Napa Valley Unified School District NOSH

Kristen Tekell, Food Service Director

We are buying local bulk ground beef and burgers from Marin Sun’s Mindful Meat program. We continue to buy produce from Pac Rim and Ag Link, who often sources California grown items. We also purchase local tortilla products from Mi Rancho, a CA company, and our dairy products come from Clover in Sonoma County, CA.

Boulder Valley School District

Carolyn Villa, Food Service District Manager

Of course, we purchase a lot of local produce and we’re trying to expand our local meat. It’s been reliable for the most part, though the local farms and processors are also struggling with a labor shortage, so there have been some close calls where the food almost didn’t get to us in time. That said, they’ve been more reliable than our “big” vendors this year. We’re purchasing our Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program produce from a farm just down the road this year because we had some quality issues and procurement issues with our national produce company. We also switched to local beans for our pinto beans. We’re also looking at some smaller companies, though not all are local.

Boulder Valley School District

Carolyn Villa, Food Service District Manager

Of course, we purchase a lot of local produce and we’re trying to expand our local meat. It’s been reliable for the most part, though the local farms and processors are also struggling with a labor shortage, so there have been some close calls where the food almost didn’t get to us in time. That said, they’ve been more reliable than our “big” vendors this year. We’re purchasing our Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program produce from a farm just down the road this year because we had some quality issues and procurement issues with our national produce company. We also switched to local beans for our pinto beans. We’re also looking at some smaller companies, though not all are local.

Oakland Unified School District

Amy Glodde, Menu Planner & Registered Dietitian Contractor

We are partnering with Marys Chicken (not new) to get drumsticks into the Central Kitchen. We also recently purchased local apples from a farmer in the Delta - a lot of schools are buying his product.

San Luis Coastal Unified School District

Erin Primer, Director of Food & Nutrition Services

We purchased blocks of local cheese during our weekly pantry box program. Now that students are back on campus, we order wheels of this delicious local Cal Poly cheese, slice it in house, and make these local cheese plates (with whole grain flatbread and local produce). For nacho day, we tried to source an individually wrapped/portioned chip, but those were out of stock. The local option came through, at the last minute, and made it super easy to get us what we needed. They saved nacho day!

San Luis Coastal Unified School District

Erin Primer, Director of Food & Nutrition Services

We purchased blocks of local cheese during our weekly pantry box program. Now that students are back on campus, we order wheels of this delicious local Cal Poly cheese, slice it in house, and make these local cheese plates (with whole grain flatbread and local produce). For nacho day, we tried to source an individually wrapped/portioned chip, but those were out of stock. The local option came through, at the last minute, and made it super easy to get us what we needed. They saved nacho day!

My last share is a funky and cool new local find: Finger Limes (or lime pearls, citriburst, lime caviar, I’m sure there are more names)! These are locally grown by a family in our district (who has a farm) and provide an exceptionally fun food experience for kids. We tasted them as part of a “freaky fruit tasting” to celebrate National Farm to School Month and Halloween. Kids LOVED them- they are like nature’s sour patch kid- tart, bright, a pop of limey fun! It’s been fun to connect with what we can find locally!

My last share is a funky and cool new local find: Finger Limes (or lime pearls, citriburst, lime caviar, I’m sure there are more names)! These are locally grown by a family in our district (who has a farm) and provide an exceptionally fun food experience for kids. We tasted them as part of a “freaky fruit tasting” to celebrate National Farm to School Month and Halloween. Kids LOVED them- they are like nature’s sour patch kid- tart, bright, a pop of limey fun! It’s been fun to connect with what we can find locally!

Ocean View School District

Vanessa Zajfen, Director of Food & Nutrition Services

Like all school districts across the United States, Ocean View School District in Ventura County, California is experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19. While a much beloved menu item, the cheeseburger, went missing on menus at school districts across Ventura County, OVSD Food & Nutrition Services didn’t even notice. That is because in the school year 2021-2022, OVSD began sourcing and serving 1/4 pound raw grass fed hamburger patties from a local ranch and butcher shop operation in Ojai, CA called Watkins Cattle Company. Watkins grazes cattle on over 400 acres in Ventura County and processes primal cuts of meat by hand at their butcher shop in Ojai. OVSD worked with the team at Watkins to develop a 1/4 pound raw burger patty and pack it just for OVSD. 50 patties come in a case, the raw patties are frozen at Watkins with paper between each patty and delivered two days before service at OVSD.

Ocean View School District

Vanessa Zajfen, Director of Food & Nutrition Services

Like all school districts across the United States, Ocean View School District in Ventura County, California is experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19. While a much beloved menu item, the cheeseburger, went missing on menus at school districts across Ventura County, OVSD Food & Nutrition Services didn’t even notice. That is because in the school year 2021-2022, OVSD began sourcing and serving 1/4 pound raw grass fed hamburger patties from a local ranch and butcher shop operation in Ojai, CA called Watkins Cattle Company. Watkins grazes cattle on over 400 acres in Ventura County and processes primal cuts of meat by hand at their butcher shop in Ojai. OVSD worked with the team at Watkins to develop a 1/4 pound raw burger patty and pack it just for OVSD. 50 patties come in a case, the raw patties are frozen at Watkins with paper between each patty and delivered two days before service at OVSD.

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