Helena Schools working to include more Montana produce and livestock in student meals

Central Elementary Lunch Lady
Posted at 5:55 PM, Dec 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-13 11:27:52-05

HELENA — Where's the bison? Thanks to a $29,000 grant, Helena Public Schools (HPS) will incorporate more locally sourced livestock and produce onto kids plates.

HPS Food Service Director Robert Worthy said, "We've got choices from beef stroganoff to tacos to whole meatballs for kids to be able to have a marinara with some stuff in there. Chilies, stews, including not just the bison, but we are going to put Montana potatoes, onions, lentils in with our stew or with our soup. "

Currently, all of the milk cartons used in schools come from Montana, and depending on the time of year, different fruits and vegetables do, too.

Fruits in Central Elementary School lunchroom

Worthy says the grant money, which comes from the United States Department of Agriculture and Office of Public Instruction, must be used by May. It will allow them to provide fresher meals while supporting local farmers.

"It's so important for students to get to know where their food is coming from and, to be connected with their communities, and to just know that my food isn't coming from somewhere obscure. How powerful that it's coming from Montana and that we can learn about the farmers or learn more about the animal we are eating," said Principal of Warren Elementary School and HPS Wellness Committee Member Letitia Wilkins.

Worthy is working on the application for a $100,000 grant that would provide students with opportunities to see where their food comes from; possibly sending them to farms and purchasing a hydroponic station so they can grow their own produce.

This summer, he was able to keep over 2,000 kids fed through their Free Summer Meals Program. At 63,178, he hit the highest number of meals in Montana.

HPS Food Services works directly with Western Montana Growers Cooperative to ensure the food served to students is safe.

Worthy said, "They have their own protocols. They work their co-op and get multiple smaller farmers together to help [give] access so I can reach these farmers. It has to be through a process where I can pay the bill, guarantee they have insurance, guarantee they have what I need, and then look at the availability, as well as making sure that the food is safe."

Parents can come and try the new menu items for the price of an adult meal, which is $5.00.

Central Elementary School lunch buffet

HPS Food Services is running a survey to help build their Montana-made menu. It has ten options, which will then be narrowed down to five that schools will serve to students.

The survey ends on December 25th, and meals will start rolling out in February.

To cast your vote, visit here.