School menus focus on local meats, produce

By Stephanie Grinnell | Aug 25, 2016
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell John Barnstein of Mainely Poultry in Warren, RSU 71 Director of Food Services Perley Martin and RSU 71 staffers Stanley Lanphier and Carmelo Muriel display local chicken and beef that will be incorporated into school lunches next month.

Belfast — It's that time of year again: Pencils and notebooks are on full display at retail stores, families are cramming in last-minute vacations and teachers are preparing classrooms for the influx of students.

For Regional School Unit 71 Director of Food Services Perley Martin, though, this time of year means accepting deliveries of local meat and produce to be used in the district for meals.

One of those deliveries took place Aug. 15, when chicken from Mainely Poultry and beef from Curtis Meats arrived at Troy Howard Middle School. Martin said he already has planned the September school menu — available on the RSU 71 website along with nutrition information — around the deliveries. He is following the direction of the RSU 71 Board of Directors by removing processed foods from the menu, he said, adding the effort began about seven years ago. Martin said 20 percent of the food budget, about $44,000 per year, is spent on ingredients purchased from local farms, including Mainely Poultry and Curtis Meats, both located in Warren, as well as Cross Patch Farms in Morrill.

“It's a little bit more time-consuming [to prepare meals from non-processed ingredients],” he said, but the quality and nutrition of the food is worth the extra effort. “It's all about healthy choice and a better, healthier life down the road. We're in it for the long-term rewards.”

Martin said he purchases the chickens as whole birds but Mainely Poultry breaks the meat down into wings, legs, thighs and breasts before delivery to the school district. The August delivery included 400 processed chickens. RSU 71 staff picked up 1,000 pounds of ground beef and 1,000 3-ounce burger patties from Curtis Meats for September meals, he said. The food supplies will be distributed throughout the district, Martin said.

The deliveries will be made into a variety of menu items, including marinated chicken thighs, spaghetti sauces and tacos.

“And we're still making our own homemade meatballs and chicken nuggets,” he said.

A benefit of purchasing locally, Martin said, is knowing the meat does not contain added hormones.

“We know what we're purchasing,” he said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, farm-to-school programs exist in every state in the country. Of those schools participating in 2013-2014, districts purchased nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers, according to the USDA, a 105-percent increase over the $386 million of local food purchased during 2011-2012.

Also available on the RSU 71 website are applications for free and reduced lunch.

Two trucks loaded with farm-fresh chicken and beef are parked near the kitchen entrance to Troy Howard Middle School Aug. 15. (Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell)
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