THOMPSON FALLS - Remember the popular phrase “Got milk?” Well, the answer is no for dozens of students in Sanders County.
MTN News recently sat down with the superintendent and principal of Trout Creek School where students have been without a milk truck driver to drop off cartons.
Preston Wenz told MTN this has been going on for more than 18 months.
"I never in a million years would’ve thought getting milk delivered to a school would be so much trouble,” Wenz said.
The staff at Trout Creek School in northern Sanders County take about a 90-minute round trip in their personal vehicles to a local grocery store to pick up milk for students every week.
“Thompson Falls, Trout Creek, and Noxon, all three of us do not get milk delivered to our school district,” Wenz noted.
“Currently, the milk comes into Thompson Falls to Harvest Foods grocery store and then all three of us have to go to the grocery store to pick it up,” he continued.
Wenz says they’ve been in talks with Meadow Gold Dairy — the company that delivers milk to the local grocery store — in an effort to get the milk brought directly to the school.
“I can't be quiet about the situation until we know for sure it’s coming,” Wenz told MTN News.
MTN News reached out to Meadow Gold to see why the company can’t drop the milk off directly at the school but have yet to receive a response.
As the school and the company continue seeking solutions, Wenz says concerns are spilling into other areas for school employees, especially with Montana’s icy roads.
“Just going from the school to the grocery store, some might say it’s not a huge deal,” Wenz said. “A lot can happen between — even in a block — as far as car accidents and whatnot. It’s still a liability issue for the district."
But faculty and staff aren’t the only cargo Wenz is aiming to keep safe.
“When school starts at the end of August, early September it’s hot. We’re transporting that milk 20 miles back here and even if you come straight back, you have to make sure it’s inside air-conditioned,” Wenz said.
He noted that the school gets food from other nearby states like Idaho or Washington, but there’s a roadblock in terms of getting milk distributed across state lines.
“We’re 30 minutes from the border so, people say ‘well get it from Idaho.’ Well, I would if that was allowed, but it’s not allowed,” Wenz explained.
“So right now, we’re locked in," Wenz said. "We have to get it somewhere in Montana, whether that’s Kalispell, Missoula. Those are the biggest distribution centers near us. It’s not happening.”
Wenz is referring to the 12-day rule in Montana that states in part, “no Grade A pasteurized milk may be put in any container marked with a sell-by date which is more than 12 days after pasteurization of the milk for sale in Montana," according to the Montana Secretary of State's website.
“It’s all a part of the dates they use. My understanding is Montana uses a sell-by date on our milk. That’s what’s stamped on there, and Idaho and Washington -- again if I understand it right -- as a used-by date,” Wenz said. “So, what’s the big difference? I don’t know.”
We reached out to the Montana Department of Livestock in hopes of reaching a solution for the school.
They released a statement saying in part:
“The Department of Livestock first became aware of the distribution issue faced by Trout Creek Schools in late September of this year. Since then, we have been working with leaders in Montana’s dairy industry to find a distributor that will make direct delivery to the school. Our understanding from conversations with Trout Creek Schools and our industry partners is that a solution may be very close at hand.” - MT Dept. of Livestock
MTN News also reached out several times to the previous milk distributor for the school, 4H Distributing, but we have yet to receive a response to our inquiries.
Faculty and staff will carry on bringing milk to the school as state agencies continue working toward a solution.
Meanwhile, Wenz says he will keep fighting to get what’s federally required, delivered directly to his students.
“It’s schools and if we’ve gotten so far out of the mindset of taking care of our kids, and getting them the basic needs, which is what this is, then we’ve really fallen farther as a country than what I think,” Wenz concluded.
MTN also reached out to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office, the Montana Office of Public Instruction, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 4H Distributing, and Meadow Gold for statements addressing the milk distribution issue for Trout Creek School.