Creating fresh consumers

Cannon Falls Area Schools get bulk milk dispensers

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CANNON FALLS, Minn. — Students at Cannon Falls Area Schools can now enjoy fresh, cold milk from bulk milk dispensers, thanks in part to two local dairy farmers. 

On Sept. 18, the Cannon Falls High School and Middle School, as well as the elementary school, had their first day serving milk from two bulk milk dispensers in each building. These dispensers were purchased through a combination of two Midwest Dairy grants, a Minnesota Department of Health Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grant and donations from the local community. 

Roxanne Sauter, a local dairy farmer, member of the Goodhue County American Dairy Association board and former teacher at Cannon Falls for 36 years, was a key player in bringing the milk dispensers to the schools.

“(Students) will develop a lifelong taste for milk,” Sauter said.

Jessica Anderson, a member of the project, dairy farmer and Goodhue County ADA member, has heard positive feedback from students.

“There’s been a lot of comments from kids (saying), ‘The milk is so good,’” Anderson said. “That’s ... not just an everyday conversation you hear.”

Besides being a dairy farmer, Anderson is also the nurse at the elementary school.

“The kids are little,” Anderson said. “They’re still growing. ... (Milk is) an important product to put into their diet to help them grow strong.” 

Before switching to the milk dispensers, the school district was using cartons of milk. Lori Hanson, who is the food service director for the district, said they were having problems with their cartons.

“We really were looking for a fresher product,” Hanson said.

The two school buildings in the district serve their lunch program to approximately 500 students each. In those buildings, they serve three, 5-gallon bags of white milk and four bags of chocolate milk each day in each building. The students dispense the milk into washable cups to reduce waste.

Students are allowed to go back for seconds on milk. Hanson said a student even asked if they could fill their thermos with milk. She said that they are also allowing students who brought their own lunch to get a glass of milk to go with it.

Anderson said allowing all kids to have milk helps ensure quality nutrition.

“At least (we) know they got one healthy thing,” Anderson said.

Switching to the dispensers has meant there is reduced trash and less product is wasted, though both school buildings report having lost about 100 of their permanent cups each due to students accidentally throwing them in the garbage.

Work began earlier this year to implement the dispensers. 

Sauter said the kitchen staff were quickly on board with the idea after going to Goodhue Public Schools and observing their bulk milk machines. 

“They came back ready to start the next day,” she said. 

Sauter said other staff was hesitant. She encourages other schools considering a similar project to communicate with staff members as well as administration.

To help pay for the project, Sauter and Anderson each applied for a grant through Midwest Dairy. Midwest Dairy previously offered grants specifically for milk dispensers, but when Sauter and Anderson applied, the available grants were focused on reaching Generation Z. The pair focused their grant applications on increasing dairy consumption among young consumers.

This is not Sauter’s first time helping bring milk into schools. When she was a teacher, she was known as “The Milk Lady.” She had a vending machine which she would stock with milk and sell at a dime over cost.

Hanson applied for the SHIP grant after Sauter learned that the St. Charles Public Schools used this grant to pay for a similar project.

Hanson did a lot of behind the scenes work from May through July. Sauter said she and Hanson talked daily about the work.

As the group was moving forward, they did not know whether they were going to be receiving grant money or not.

The Goodhue County ADA had committed to pay the difference on the project for money they were not able to raise.

In order to raise more money, the group sent out a letter requesting money from the community.

“We knew there were plenty of people in ag that were very supportive of the whole thing,” Sauter said. 

Without prompting beyond the initial letter, Sauter said money began coming in.

“There’s been even more people that said, ‘Well, if you ever need any more money, let us know,’” Sauter said.

The Midwest Dairy grants were $3,000 each, the SHIP grant totaled $10,000 and the money raised via donations for the project beyond the grants totaled about $7,000, including the ADA’s donation and a Cannon Falls Education Foundation donation.

The final cost was just under $20,000 for the dispensers and a little less than $4,000 for cups, trays and carts. Cannon Falls Area Schools did not incur any expenses for the project.

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