Update for Oct 18, 2021
from Ehrens Consulting
North Dakota School and Rural Distribution Challenges
School foodservice operations are facing many challenges this year. Among the challenges are staffing shortages at the local level, manufacturers facing their own set of staffing and ingredient challenges, distributors facing warehouse worker and truck driver shortages, all amid the food supply chain unsettling that first began during the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. For schools, this is resulting in outages and short orders of food and supplies. These factors are impacting schools (and other businesses and institutions that prepare and serve and sell food) across the United States, and have been covered in both the
New York Times, “No Veggies, No Buns, Few Forks: Schools” (pdf of article accompanies summary)
Washington Post, “The cold truth about hot lunch: School meal programs are running out of food and workers” https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/29/schools-supply-chain-crisis/
Specific to North Dakota, a school purchasing co-op, North Dakota Educators Service (ESC) Cooperative, https://www.ndesc.org/domain/8 had facilitated a bid order for food items serving 100+, or about half of the school districts in the state. The co-op and schools received word that Cash-Wa Distributing would not fulfill the contract as of the beginning of November, 2021.
U.S. and North Dakota organizations have been coming together in response. Here is a summary of some groups’ responses:
- The USDA is supporting schools through the pandemic and supply chain disruptions. They are not penalizing schools who are unable to meet meal pattern guidelines due to national supply chain difficulties, and have announced “up to $1.5 billion to provide assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions” https://www.fns.usda.gov/fact-sheet/fns-0006.21
- The ND Department of Public Instruction, Child Nutrition and Food Distribution Programs, is meeting with other states and the USDA to inform them of the situation and learn about what other states are doing in similar situation. NDDPI personnel are providing technical assistance including a procurement assistance web page at: https://www.nd.gov/dpi/districtsschools/child-nutrition-and-food-distribution/school-nutrition-program/snp-procurement .
- The ESC Co-op is trying to work with some other food service distributors to try to fulfill the bid and seek other solutions, and meeting with grocers and other groups across the states seeking solutions.
- ND Department of Agriculture has increased information on their website,
- School foodservice professionals in kitchens across the state are responding with creativity and determination when they find their food orders have been shorted or do not arrive, and are continuing free school meals for all students although many schools are short of workers.
- The Creating a Hunger Free ND Coalition is bringing information and the chance to learn of and brainstorm potential solutions through meetings in August and September, and bringing network of connections to the table.
- The ND Local Foods Development Alliance is holding calls and contacting local food growers who might have product, especially produce, that can be sold to schools. This topic was on the 9.21.21 agenda, meeting summary at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1033tQ021ExJ-THGvZ9n1q0EkuCbv9Gi0/view
Meeting recording at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rui1KQZa4_E
Organized a K-12 Food Supply Chain Shortage & Farm-to-School on 10.2.21, meeting summary at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aE3mzM-6pZoFdkeekg5quy6-GmKNeYh6WRCEppUh6Bo/edit?usp=sharing
- FARRMS Executive Director Stephanie Blumhagen is sharing information about opportunities for local producers, such as, in a high tunnel/hoop house, it can be possible to still grow short season crops such as radishes and greens. They have been sharing information to local food producers on disaster preparedness and the role of local food systems in pandemics and other unexpected, unknown situations. Informational webinar posted at Pandemic Response and Safety Grant: www.farrms.org/webinars Their approach to this time and circumstances is to consider at an “opportunity for transformation.”
- NDSU Extension Service is reaching out to local growers and has published an online Guide to Buying and Selling Local Food
- ND Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Lori Capouch, Rural Development Director, shares that the NDAREC’s, using knowledge and connections gained through working on viability of rural grocers, which also is impacted by distribution/logistics (https://www.ndarec.com/ruralgrocery), is bringing grocery stores into the conversation as a source of ordering food for schools. The NDAREC’s is also continuing conversations with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on opportunities to utilize the postal service, who still makes deliveries to every North Dakota community. The USPS can be an effective option when transportation to a particular location is the main issue. NDAREC’s is also holding discussions with the Great Plains Food Bank for potential to work with their delivery trucks.
Karen Ehrens, summarizing the issues in role as the Coordinator for the Creating a Hunger Free ND Coalition