BELGRADE, Minn. — Students at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School live in the heart of Minnesota’s dairy country, so most are familiar with the pleasure of drinking fresh milk.
On Oct. 24, two new milk dispensing machines were added to the school’s cafeteria, providing a local, fresh product. A few weeks later, a third milk machine became available to students using the weight room.
Aaron Radermacher, a dairy farmer who has been on the BBE School District’s board for six years, took part in launching the change. He said it all began with a question from high school principal Laura Spanier.
“(Adding dispensers) was something I had brought up to people before, but it didn’t gain much traction,” Radermacher said. “Then Laura mentioned to me about another school getting dispensers, and she asked me, ‘What’s this all about?’ So, I checked into getting a grant through Midwest Dairy, and that’s how we got the ball rolling.”
Spanier said Radermacher was instrumental in making everything happen.
“He really took the lead and got the grant,” she said. “For the first day we rolled out (the dispensers), Aaron did a good job of contacting local dairy farmers and having them come in and help the kids and explain how to use the machines.”
Radermacher completed paperwork for the grant in July in time for Midwest Dairy’s August due date. Beginning Oct. 24, two machines were operating at the school.
The grant included both machines that have two dispensers each, the stainless-steel tables to put them on and dishwasher racks filled with the needed number of plastic glasses. BBE Schools purchases 50-pound bags of milk for the dispensers from Prairie Farms. At first, lunch staff offered chocolate milk at two dispensers and white at the other two. However, they soon changed the ratio.
“We have three chocolate (dispensers) and one white,” Spanier said. “The chocolate is definitely what we are changing out faster.”
Another option many students choose is to mix chocolate and white.
“I think students get a little more ownership in it — such as if they want to mix it — and they don’t have to take a full cup,” Spanier said. “They have more control in what and how much they’re drinking.”
Both flavors come in 1% milkfat because of government dietary guidelines for all school meals, which are now free to all students in Minnesota. Students receive an 8-ounce glass of milk with their meals and can purchase a second glass for 50 cents.
“We have more kids coming back for second milks than we did with cartons,” Spanier said.
Spanier credits the taste.
“You get a better-tasting product — a cold product — that is more consistent and that correlates to not turning kids away from milk because of a bad-tasting milk,” Spanier said. “It increases consumption.”
Student and staff reactions have been positive.
“It’s a good change,” said Max Heieie, junior. “It’s easier to get milk.”
Max’s twin brother, Gunnar, agreed.
“You don’t taste a little bit of cardboard when you take a sip of it,” he said.
Sophomore Aiden Radermacher approves of his dad’s, Radermacher, efforts to bring fresh milk to the school.
“It tastes a lot better out of a cup,” he said. “It’s a more natural flavor. We also reduce waste; we reuse better. It’s good to have local (milk) in the school because it pulls the community together.”
Lunch staff, led by food service director Patty Viaene, were on board with adjusting to the change.
“The first couple of days, it took all of us a little time to figure out how to make it all work, but it’s gone well,” Viaene said. “I thought there would be a lot more spilling, but I don’t think hardly any spills happened.”
They made adjustments as needed. For instance, they first put the dishwasher racks for depositing used plastic cups at the end of the cleanup line. Kids had previously put their used silverware in a plastic bin and then dumped cartons, napkins and leftover food off their trays into the garbage before depositing their trays at the end. This ingrained process led to many cups ending up in the garbage by accident. A simple switch to moving cup racks to the beginning of the cleanup line took care of the problem.
Viaene complements lunch staff for being open to changing their system in order to help their school.
“Definitely the garbage is less because of the cartons, and the kids are drinking more milk,” Viaene said. “Kids like using (the dispensers), and I don’t mind filling them. I also find it exciting.”
The decision to add dispensers created somewhat of a fresh-milk renaissance at BBE High School.
“I had heard that Melrose (High School) athletes get free milk after they are done lifting because there are a whole bunch of benefits from chocolate milk replenishing a body after workouts and practices,” Spanier said. “So, I talked with Nate Teres at Stoney Creek (Dairy). He said, ‘Buy the milk from us, and we’ll get you the machine.’”
As of Nov. 13, students in physical education classes as well as athletes began having access to free chocolate milk after workouts because a milk dispenser machine from Stoney Creek was installed in the office of the weight room.
“The kids can have as much as they want; it’s free for our students,” Spanier said. “We fund it through our fun run.”
The fun run is the school district’s big annual fundraiser that helps support needs across all grades and schools in the district.
BBE High School is also working with Stoney Creek Dairy to offer pint bottles of milk in its concessions stand. Stoney Creek Dairy was willing to let the school try selling milk on a trial basis. Selling bottles of milk brings with it logistics challenges because of the faster expiration date in comparison to pop, but the school will first try selling milk during the winter season when concessions are busier with more indoor sporting events leading to faster product movement.
One of the greatest benefits of the school’s focus on milk, Spanier said, is how it highlights the community.
“It brings focus back to our rural area — a large number of our students come from farming families, and we are a farming community,” Spanier said. “For those kids, it’s a different work ethic; they are getting up early in the morning and milking cows and then coming to school and not being able to participate sometimes because they have to go home and milk cows. To see them have some ownership and have some joy in this is a really cool thing. They can say, ‘This is my hard work; this is my family’s hard work.’”
Viaene agreed. She shared a story of a student in the cafeteria recently asking her several questions about the milk dispensers. She could tell from his questions that he was from a dairy farm family. He asked her where the school got the milk that the students were drinking. Viaene smiled and answered him.
“This is your milk,” she said.
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