A hamstrung D-11 begins crucial cafeteria cuts to balance underfunded government mandates

By Matthew Schniper @MatthewSchniper | The Colorado Springs Independent

“Hey son, what did you have for lunch today at school?”

Well, we can tell you one thing Timmy didn’t dine on, if he chose a hamburger, or meatloaf, or pasta with meat sauce: Ranch Foods Direct’s Callicrate Beef. Colorado Springs School District 11 discontinued RFD’s use last month, after seven years, to slash roughly $50,000 from its budget, says D-11 director of food and nutrition services Rick Hughes, who’s also the driving force behind the district’s ambitious Good Food Project.

“We’re funded on a corporate food system, which serves cheap food, and we’re trying to do something different than that,” he says. “But it’s getting to the point with the unfunded [state and federal] mandates that we can’t continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them, and we’re trying not to destroy the whole thing.”

The Good Food Project, implemented in 2009, targets childhood obesity and diet-related illnesses. The district has eliminated foods with artificial dyes, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, excess sugar and sodium, as well as fried items. In their place has come district-wide, from-scratch cooking, plus more fresh fruits and veggies, some grown on the district’s own educational …

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Castrating a bull

For Mike Callicrate, an outspoken critic of the “beef cartel” and big believer in building a strong, sustainability-minded regional food system, School District 11’s move away from Ranch Foods Direct products is all too familiar. Inside of the last year, he says, he’s lost business from Greeley, Falcon and Boulder school districts, due to the same kind of financial squeezes. Altogether, he projects losing somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million in revenue from lost school contracts in 2015. It’s a figure that includes the loss of steak-cut sales, which must balance with his ground beef sales in order to move a whole animal through his production line.

“If you don’t have ground beef business, you can’t be in the meat business,” he says, noting that he’s cut four RFD jobs already. “This is a very ugly marketplace, dominated by just a handful of big companies, and they are brutal and ruthless. … We’re really screwed. You can’t shift it this fast.”

Callicrate says he was shocked to see the U.S. government step in last week and sue to block a merger between the country’s two largest food providers, US Foods and Sysco. But it’s not a game-changing victory. Even in today’s market, he often can’t compete with big companies that undercut what he calls his best, barely-break-even price by 25 percent — not when they import inexpensive beef while the overall U.S. herd continues to decline in population and rise in price.

“They’re able to dollar-cost-average the meat they sell … and totally wipe us out of the market. What the heck happened to farm-to-school? To our commitment to feed our kids better and support local economies and ranchers and farmers?” he asks. “The USDA fails to fund these programs they come up with. … And you know damn well these big industries have major lobbying power. …

“But hey, it’s back to performance-enhancing drugs, and pink slime is fully back” — at least in the wider marketplace, if not D-11, for now.

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COURTESY DISTRICT 11 – Choosing healthy: Fresh foods are a welcome sight, but come at a cost.

Mike Callicrate is the inventor and owner of the Callicrate Bander a humane, drug-free method of castration.

Watch Jobs That Bite: Castrating a Bull – a 3 minute video program by National Geographic’s Nat Geo Wild hosted by Jeremy Brandt.

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