The state of K-12 foodservice: Success through local partnerships

Community partnerships plus creative thinking help ease supply chain woes and food waste.
Illustration: Shutterstock

Procurement remains an issue for school foodservice teams as they head into fall. A majority (85%) of respondents to FSD's recent K-12 survey say that they’re having trouble sourcing items, and some are turning to other districts and local partners to fill in menu gaps.

Jennifer Montano, food service director at Lake Forest School District in Felton, Del., recommends reaching out to peers for best practices in this area.

“Talk to other directors,” she says. “Everyone has different approaches and perspectives with innovative ideas.”

To secure needed products, some operators are partnering with local farms (30%) or shopping at big box stores (30%).

We have had to do emergency and micro-purchasing at neighborhood stores like Walmart, Sam's, local grocery stores, local farmers, etc.,” says Alicia Tracey, food service director at Whitesboro Independent School District in Whitesboro, Texas. “Between them all, we are able to stick to our menu about 90% of the time.”

At Sleepy Eye Public Schools in Sleepy Eye, Minn., the foodservice team is partnering with farmers for a different reason: sustainability. After seeing how much food was wasted at the end of the school day, Food Service Director Christi Gemmill decided to donate scraps to a local farmer, who uses them as hog, bison and chicken feed.

The scraps are collected in a big green garbage can at the end of the line as students go to throw their trash away.

We usually get two garbage cans full for the farmer,” says Gemmill. “He comes every day and picks them up and takes them to his farm.”

30% of operators are using big box stores like Walmart to fill procurement gaps.

The team has also used this as an opportunity to teach kids about food waste. Posters hang in cafeteria to explain why they’re donating the scraps, and the farmer also comes in and speaks with students. 

“This has saved us a lot of garbage going out into our dumpsters,” says Gemmill. “If you are looking for a project, I would recommend teaming up with a local farmer and getting this started.”

Reducing waste

With students back in classrooms and cafeterias, districts are also bringing back their sustainability initiatives. Here are some other ways they’re working to curb waste.

“We worked with principals and have moved recess before lunch. This has helped with waste.”

Denise Burrows
Food Service Director
Hamilton School District
Hamilton, Mont.

“We try to minimize waste, using as much of the product as we can. We have an active Ag Department, so we donate produce that is starting to go bad to our goats.”

Judi Reynolds
Director of Food Services
Fallbrook Union High School District
Fallbrook, Calif.

“[We’re] using them for [our] Child and Adult Care Food Programs.”

Darlene Shook  
Food Service Director
Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship
Penn Hills, Pa.

Read more of our 2022 State of K-12 Foodservice report.



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