May 11, 2023 at 7:52 p.m.

Smooth transition

Minnewaska schools serve fresh milk

By Jan Lefebvre- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

GLENWOOD, Minn. – Although Gay Finn, head cook for Minnewaska Elementary School, was skeptical at first, she said her school’s transition from milk cartons to a milk dispenser has been a success.

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“There’s so much less waste now, and the kids can help themselves whereas before there were gallons of milk being thrown away,” Finn said. “Yes, there are a few kids who take too much, but the majority take just what they will drink. If they are only going to drink half a glass, they take half a glass.”
Now, only about half a gallon of milk is dumped during a complete lunch period at the school compared to on average 4 or 5 gallons, Finn said. Plus, garbage has been greatly reduced due to no more cartons.
The transition came at the beginning of the school year, not only for the elementary school, but also for Minnewaska School District’s secondary school, which holds grades 4-12.
Bridget Gallagher is the director of food and nutrition services for the district. When she heard about the grant available for milk dispensers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered through Midwest Dairy, she said she was immediately on board.
“Our superintendent had gotten an email about the grant available for the equipment and forwarded it on to me, and I thought, ‘Yep, we’re going to do this,’” Gallagher said. “I had just been in my position a couple of months.”
That was in January 2022. Gallagher needed to convince lunch staff the change was doable.
“Their big concerns were spills and swapping out the machine,” Gallagher said.
However, Gallagher said neither have become a problem. At the secondary school, two dispensers were placed at the front of the food line.
“Spills are not any more of an issue than they were with the cartons,” Gallagher said. “At the high school, a lot of kids have learned to fill their glass and set it on the table before going through (the food) line. We have some who will stand there and drink one glass while they’re waiting in line and refill it right away.”
The elementary school’s one dispenser is placed at the end of the food line.
Finn said even the youngest students have figured out the best method for handling both milk glasses and food trays.
“With kindergarten, they set their trays down first, then they come get their milk. At the elementary level, paraprofessionals pick up the glasses afterward.”
One reason Minnewaska schools experienced a smooth transition is they put in effort at the start of the school year to ready students. During student orientations last fall, students and parents had a chance to try the dispensers.
“We had the dispensers up and running and fully stocked, so we were encouraging families and kids to come in and get a feel for what was going to take place,” Gallagher said. “We had that benefit of being able to prep everything to kick off the program first thing.”
Help also came from the Vold family that owns and operates Dorrich Dairy near Glenwood. Suzanne and Brad Vold, along with Brad’s brother, Greg Vold, milk 450 cows with seven robotic milking units. Suzanne is also a Minnesota division board member for Midwest Dairy.
“The Volds spent a couple of weeks at each of the schools, helping the kids acclimate to the dispensers,” Gallagher said. “They were very instrumental in helping out and getting everything to run smoothly, especially for the kids who weren’t at orientation. They also helped with the grant process itself.”
Due to mandated school lunch guidelines with overall fat and sugar limits, Minnewaska dispensers offer 1% and skim milk Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays, they also offer chocolate milk.
Nash Rassmussen, a first grader, said he likes milk from the dispenser.
“It’s cold, and there’s other kinds,” he said. “I would say 1% white milk is my favorite. I drink any kind of milk unless it’s skim.”
He also said he chooses chocolate milk on Fridays and prefers glasses to cartons.
“(Cartons) get dents in them and stuff,” he said.
Gretta Gremmels, a kindergartener, said the dispenser is easy to use.
“I like it because you just have to pull up,” she said. “It tastes normal. It’s good.”
The positive student reaction, Finn and Gallhager said, has led to an uptick in milk consumption. Chocolate milk is by far the most popular. On days it is not offered, 1% milk tops skim milk.
The elementary school has around 350 students, kindergarten through third grade.
“I can go through eight of (the 1% bags) during the week to every one bag of skim,” Gallagher said. “(On Fridays,) I can go through four of the 5-gallon bags of chocolate just at this school.”
Each container with a milk bag placed in it weighs about 40 pounds. On a usual day, Finn needs to change out a container once or twice per lunch except on chocolate-milk Fridays when she changes about four bags. She said the task has not been difficult.
“I’ve been doing it the whole year, and it doesn’t bother me,” Finn said. “If I feel a need, I could ask somebody to help me out. Before, we had coolers sitting outside each door, and we’d have to load all that milk in for breakfast and for lunch. Now, we are just located to one spot.”
Since the dispensers stay plugged in and cold, the bags can stay in the dispensers until empty without having to move them to a cooler at night. When there is a longer break during the year, such as over the holidays, the machines get a deep clean.
The dispensers were delivered from Hubert, a food merchandising company out of Harrison, Ohio.
“Once we were selected for the grant, everything got shipped to us,” Gallagher said.
That included the glasses in their crates, dollies for moving them, the dispensers themselves with their wheeled bases and containers that hold the 5-gallon milk bags.
Minnewaska schools bought extra, smaller glasses for the elementary school as well as a few more dollies. They also bought disposable plastic lids that fit the elementary school’s glasses, used only for the few times students carry glasses of milk to their classrooms for various events. For ease and speed when switching out bags during lunches, the district also bought a few extra milk bag holders so they could be ready to go when switching.
The bags of milk are delivered by Cass Clay, owned by Kemps, which also made for a smooth transition because Cass Clay had previously been supplying the district’s cartons of milk.
“It’s actually a little bit of a cost savings,” Gallagher said. “We get it delivered here once a week, twice at the high school.”
However, Gallagher said she especially likes the savings on waste.
“It’s good just having less waste going into the dump with cartons being a nonissue and less waste in product,” Gallagher said.
She also hears and sees good reports from both students and staff.
“Some kids were put off by drinking out of a paper carton – that alone turned them off to drinking milk – so having an actual glass, they say, gives a fresher taste,” Gallagher said. “We have kids who recognize the benefits of the colder, better-tasting milk, so they are drinking more.”


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