Food hub provides local products for Decorah student meals during closure

May 1, 2020

by Chad Elliott, food director and culinary specialist, Decorah Community School District

School food service workers prepare grab-and-go bags of food.
Packing the grab-and-go bags. Thanks to local volunteers for donating masks to help protect our staff!

Our first week of serving 5,300 grab-and-go meals to students at Decorah Community School District felt a bit unpredictable. Schools with a 50% or more free and reduced meals rate qualify for COVID-19 Emergency Closure Meal Service. Schools under 50% need to apply for a waiver to receive funding for serving meals when school is not in session.

Our nutrition department received a generous local donation to cover the costs of the first weekly grab-and-go meal. Since we are only 24% free and reduced, we were not sure how many more weeks we would be able to serve without additional funding.

Another roadblock occurred when staple items such as peanut butter, tuna, apples, raisins, and paper sacks were in short supply. That meant we were unable to fill bulk orders for the grab-and-go meals.

Food for grab-and-go bag.
Delicious food including lots of local products in this week’s grab-and-go meal!

That was the moment it occurred to me: we could guarantee delivery of product and help out our local producers at the same time! I called our Iowa Food Hub coordinators Teresa Wiemereslage and Kayla Koether to work on a local food order for our next grab-and-go meal. I felt relief knowing the food was ordered for the next week’s meal. And I did not have to worry about whether or not we would receive product. 

Relying on local producers

Decorah has included WW Homestead Dairy cheese curds (Waukon), Country View Dairy yogurts (Hawkeye), All Seasons Harvest salad greens and cucumbers (Cedar Falls). We have also included salad greens, spinach, beet greens, and pea sprouts from our very own high school greenhouse. Anderson Erickson is our local milk source and Pan-O-Gold is our local source of whole wheat bread.

It is a win for the producer, a win for the school, and a definite win for the students. We plan to serve these local items at least through the end of April in our weekly grab-and-go meals! I have always felt fortunate to have access to local producers, and during this emergency we have truly experienced the great value of local. We want them to be still here for us when this is over.

Find an Iowa food hub in your area on the FFED Iowa Food Hub Directory.