Tag Archives: Oakhurst Dairy

Striving for Local Lunches at the Keene School District

Keene’s Food Service Program Making Connections and Serving Local

By Kate Kerman

A note at the top of my granddaughter’s school lunch menu caught my eye.  “We buy local!” it declared.  I went to visit Maureen Wells, director of the Keene Food Services Program, to see what that note meant.  The program is part of the New Hampshire Farm to School.

Here is something to boggle your mind.  The enrollment in the school district and the outlying towns served by this program is over 4,000 children from preschool through seniors in high school.  Try to picture the complications of serving that many children by extrapolating what it is like to serve two or three young ones at home.

Maureen told me that they try to buy local apples, for instance.  Here are some of the issues they faced this year.  The really local apples, like Alyson’s Orchard, suffered from a late frost, which meant that they didn’t have a lot of apples of their own to sell. The school district was able to purchase apples from New England, however. Second issue.  Federal rules require them to buy small apples – thinking about what a kindergartener can eat.  Another issue: schools are out during the time of year when local produce is most plentiful and inexpensive.  And how about the issue of introducing children to new food?  Kids say they would like to have meatloaf, but that means meatloaf the way my parents make it which means the program is almost certain to fail the taste test for most children.  Last year they tried to introduce a pork and gravy meal only to find that very few people eat it that way these days and the children rejected it.

The annual budget of the program is $696,000.  They receive federal funds for the free and reduced lunch program, but are self-sustaining in terms of local funds, which means that local tax dollars are not needed for the program.  One of the things that helps balance the budget is the “a la carte” menu at Keene High School.  Last year, the program stopped selling any kind of candy for the “a la carte” menu, although they were worried about the impact of this decision on their budget.  The school board took this a step further and made a new rule that there could be no candy sales during the day in any school in the district.  This means clubs cannot sell candy for fundraisers unless it is outside of school hours.  The program serves dessert only once a week, and they tend to pair it up with one of their less popular menus to encourage children to give it a try.

They buy milk from Oakhurst Dairy of Maine, which pledges not to use growth hormones. Eggs come from federal government surplus.  Local meat is too expensive to buy in sufficient quantities. A popular item at both the high school and middle school is the salad bar.  Food in the salad bar varies according to what is available seasonally.  They work with two produce distributors, and having let them know that they want to buy as locally as possible, they are glad when they can get products from New England.  Realizing that local farmers wouldn’t be able to supply them with all of any given produce item that they would need, they have expressed a willingness for local farmers to supply them with a portion of what they need.

I came away with a better idea of the vast complications of feeding a district’s worth of children in any fashion, and the amount of juggling and thoughtfulness that has to go into trying to move this large entity in the direction of serving local food.  Hats off to Maureen Wells and her staff of 56 employees for making the effort.

Our Goal at Keene Food Services is to serve healthy and fun meals to our students, while exceeding the State and Federal nutritional guidelines to enable every student to reach their full potential. Hungry kids don’t learn!

For more information about the Keene Food Services program, go to http://www.keenefoodservices.com/facts.htm

(Photo from: http://www.sveassoc.com/PROJECTS/KeeneHS.html)