Wisconsin’s School Nutrition Association Conference focuses on healthy, affordable food options

A Green Bay agriculture technology company sponsored the 3-day summit to discuss nutrition, supply chain, inflation and other issues and solutions
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 5:43 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:04 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The School Nutrition Association of Wisconsin wrapped up its annual conference in Green Bay.

The focus this week was on finding solutions to the many challenges facing school nutrition teams, such as ongoing supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising gas prices.

“With inflation and supply chains, there are just so many difficulties right now in getting fresh food to kids,” said Alex Tyink, President of Fork Farms.

School districts are facing a deadline.

Federal nutrition waivers that allow free school meals to all children since the pandemic began are set to expire at the end of June.

“How can we help them take the control of that and put it right on location so that they don’t have to think about it anymore? They know exactly how much they’re going to grow, they’re going to know it’s at a really high quality, it’s really safe, and most importantly they know it’s really affordable,” Tyink said.

Fork Farms, an agriculture technology company based in Green Bay, was a sponsor of this week’s three-day conference inside the KI Convention Center in Green Bay.

The company’s president, Alex Tyink, says they have a solution to all of these rising issues.

“Our solution is a hydroponics system called the flex farm. It grows a significant amount of food, but in a really small space so people are putting them in classrooms, and they’re putting them in cafeterias, or in the front lobby’s, wherever they room basically. They’re able to start growing their own fresh food on-site and really supplement their food supply in a meaningful way,” Tyink said.

Tyink says several local school districts that have partnered with Fork Farms have saved thousands of dollars in food costs by growing 80% of their food needs on-site.

“When they used to be paying $1.50 up to $6.00 a pound, depending on the product, they’re now growing for a dollar per pound, and sometimes less, and that equates to significant year-over-year savings,” said Tyink.

One woman in attendance, Caitlin Harrison, the President of the School Nutrition Association of Wisconsin and the Director of Food Service for the Elmbrook school district, says she’s had a great experience using the flex farms system, “It’s really great to have the students see it from the beginning to end and understand where their food is coming from. It’s a huge saving, not only time but on money as well.”

Harrison also says some of the best aspects of flex farms are how much waste it reduces and increases food quality.

”This produce that we’ve been using with the flex farm, it really lasts a lot longer. We can either keep it in the unit itself or keep it in our coolers. I would say we at least get another one or two weeks out of it, and there’s virtually no waste at all,” said Harrison.

Tyink also says flex farms can be a safety net for schools if the nutrition waivers expire at the of the month.

A conference brings school nutritionists together to discuss providing healthier school lunches while lowering costs

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