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Food for thought: School District keeps fare local

May 1, 2013

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At the Colville School Board meeting on April 24, the board unanimously passed a motion that entailed not renewing a contract with their food supplier—Southwest Foods—and opting instead to depend on local suppliers for their food sources in the future.
The board agreed that buying local foods would promote quality meals as well as lessen the overall cost inherent in contracting with food suppliers. It will also allow more control over the food served.
“This is the second year that we have been with Southwest Food Service,” explained district Director of Business and Operations, Fred McCurdy. “We have made some changes, but we are still not experiencing the improvements anticipated.”
In 2012, Colville School District food service was able to bring the cost per meal to each student down, but the number of meals purchased by students had decreased by 26,000, according to McCurdy.
McCurdy added that the sizeable decrease in interest for school meals had resulted in a $62,000 loss for revenue from the food service's annual income.

Students don’t like the food being offered

“You try to cut costs, but the kids say 'we don't like this,” McCurdy said. “And if you increase the cost of food [buying higher quality supplies], you sell more meals.
“There is that fine balance. How much can you spend to bring in more meals? [And will that increase of meals] sold bring in more revenue to support that [increase in cost of supplies].”
The current cost for elementary meals is $1.50 for breakfast and $2.25 for lunch. The current cost at the junior high is $1.75 for breakfast and $2.50 for lunch. Current cost for the high school is $2.25 for breakfast and $2.75 for lunch. All of the students can purchase milk for 25 cents.
McCurdy suggested that it would cost the district less to buy supplies from local growers and would also increase the quality of the food served. He suggested that the school board should not renew their contract with Southwest Foods, but should instead seek contracts with local food suppliers to meet meal demands. He explained that would deal with the problem of poor quality food and dissatisfied, disinterested students as well.
“Mostly, we get back to what do the kids want and will it meet set standards,” explained McCurdy.
School board member Sandy Moore supported the idea of buying food from local suppliers.
Previous to the school board meeting, Moore said she had investigated how other school districts were buying local. She said those districts have found that buying local was a positive experience.
“There are some programs out there that are designed to allow school districts to partner with local growers,” stated Moore. “There are other ideas to have better quality food.”
McCurdy reasoned that the Colville School District would not have to hire extra staff for this new project. But McCurdy explained that the Colville School District would have to open a new position and hire a food supervisor—possibly selected from personnel already employed by the district—who would be in charge of the food menu as well as buying from local growers.
“I ran some rough numbers, and I believe we can run the program with the staff we currently have,” stated McCurdy. “[However], we would open a position and hire a person to run [the program].”
All the meals will still need to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that they are currently modeled to meet; it will simply be a change in supplier.

More control with added quality

The benefits of the new program will include cost reduction and quality increase, but McCurdy explained the biggest benefit of buying food locally for the Colville School District is the district's control in food selection.
“We will have more control over what will actually be served,” McCurdy stated.
After weighing the pros and cons of changing food suppliers, the Colville School Board voted unanimously against renewing their former contract with Southwest Foods.

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