Beginning in August, MSUSD will run its own food program, said superintendent Barry Barnhart, following the model that Butteville Elementary uses in its own smaller-sized kitchen.

Students at Mount Shasta Elementary and Sisson School will soon have a daily salad bar as part of their lunch program. The Mount Shasta Union School District board voted unanimously on Feb. 19 not to renew a food program contract with Weed Elementary School.

Beginning in August, MSUSD will run its own food program, said superintendent Barry Barnhart, following the model that Butteville Elementary uses in its own smaller-sized kitchen.

MSUSD has been in a contract with Weed Union Elementary School District to provide food services since 2005, said MSUSD’s Chief Business Official Amanda Bonivert.

Barnhart said the addition of a salad bar brings the district’s food program “to the next level.”

Following Butteville’s well-oiled model will allow MSUSD to become independent without the need to immediately expand Sisson’s current kitchen at an estimated cost of $500,000, Barnhart said.

“We can get it started in our smaller kitchens at MSE and Sisson and see how things go. Maybe in the future we can go ahead and expand,” he added.

The catalyst for the change was the fact that the food service contract was up for renewal this year, Barnhart said. “We either had to renew it or go in a different direction.”

While MSUSD had the option to renew the contract, “so did Weed,” Barnhart said, and the possibility that they might not want to continue, leaving MSUSD in a lurch, was not a comfortable position to be in.

In addition, healthier, more appealing food with fresh vegetable and fruit options have been consistently requested by students and their parents for years.

An $8,500 donation from the School CAFE Club will cover necessary one-time costs associated with the new program, including the purchase of a new large refrigerator, adding another prep sink at Sisson, additional storage and other various necessary items to make the transition, Barnhart said.

Founded in 2016 by sisters Maya and Ella Rawitch, School CAFE (Culinary Action for Education) is now a youth-led superintendent’s committee consisting of interested students, parents, board trustees and school employees. The fiscal sponsor for the club is the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center.

MSUSD currently pays Weed approximately $80,000 a year for food services, said Bonivert. The district is then reimbursed by the federal and state governments a certain amount for each lunch sold: $3.33 for students who qualify for free lunches, $2.93 for reduced price lunches and 33 cents for full pay.

Even with these reimbursements, running the food program encroaches on MSUSD’s budget by approximately $60,000 annually, Bonivert said.

Running an in-house food program will cost the district an additional $4,000 per year, she said.

The goal of the new program is to make lunches healthier and more appealing and to get more students interested in taking advantage of the school’s food, said Barnhart. Revenue from full pay students would help offset costs and eventually allow the district to utilize money currently subsidizing the food program in other ways, such as in the classroom.

The hot food options offered next school year will stay similar to the food currently offered Barnhart said. However, when hamburgers are served, for example, students can use fixings from the salad bar to spruce up their burgers and make them tastier and more nutritious.

Currently, MSUSD employees must drive to Weed to pick up lunches, which are prepared in Weed Elementary  School’s industrial kitchen. They will no longer have to make that drive daily, Barnhart said. And because the district will have “full ownership” of the food program, they will have less food waste, Bonivert added.

While the arrangement with Weed worked well for 14 years, things have changed that made the shared services more difficult, said Bonivert, including calendars that have diverged over time.

School CAFE wants to focus on nutrition education and intends to bring the community together to ensure healthy meals for Mount Shasta Union School District students. They hope to provide an understanding of and an appreciation for real food that is delicious, local, organic, and fresh.

School CAFE is always looking for new volunteers. To learn more about the organization, go to www.schoolcafeclub.org.