HAYMARKET, Va. — Inflation costs and ongoing supply shortages have complicated how school districts serve meals to students. In Prince William County, school officials relying on local sourcing have received the attention from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Two USDA officials and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) recently visited an elementary school in the county to discuss how local producers can help with the school food supply chain.
PWCS Food & Nutrition Services Director Adam Russo said the department has leaned into local sourcing since the pandemic because transportation of goods has been the biggest challenge.
"The more local something is, the less it has to travel and the fresher it is," Russo said.
Many of the items served to students are local or within a 250-mile radius, including the nacho chips made from Abuelita Mexican Foods in Manassas Park.
Supply chain issues are forcing the school district to find local partners and think creatively to utilize resources they already have.
"On any given day we're receiving thousands of items of deliveries and we're missing thousands of items from those deliveries," Russo said. "It's actually more economically advantaged to make items from scratch. The more processed they are, the more humans touch them and the more they ultimately cost."
Inflation is already driving up costs for the school system by up to 25% for certain staple items. To combat rising prices, PWCS is receiving extra money for each meal served through USDA waivers.
However, those waivers are set to expire by the end of the school year, which could put school nutrition programs in a "catastrophic state" since they will operate will less money, per Russo.
PWCS is currently looking for emerging partners who may not have the largest market share with bigger companies and more hungry with their consistent business. Competition with major businesses such as Chick-fil-A and Panera have suppliers gravitating more towards them instead.
The school system serves 90,000 meals daily. They have seven broadline distributors and 50 suppliers.