MVRHS shifting to in-house cafeteria plan

School leaves Chartwells food service and gets cooking.

The MVRHS school committee moved forward with a plan to replace the school’s current food-service provider with an in-house plan that utilizes the facility’s kitchen.

During a meeting Monday, the committee unanimously agreed not to renew the contract with Chartwells food service, a for-profit company whose contract with the school expires at the end of the year. “Chartwells has been great,” Principal Sara Dingledy said. “They are very responsive to feedback, and have worked with us to do a lot of the ordering and managing of the program within the school.”

However, Dingledy said, the school needs to focus more on using the kitchen to its maximum potential, and expand the food service program beyond just a cafeteria plan. “This is about feeding kids, connecting with the culinary program, and supporting students as best as we can,” she said.

The success of the new program, according to Dingledy, would be predicated on an increase in student and faculty participation. “We need students to be buying our meals and liking the food we provide in order for this to work,” she said.

Dingledy introduced Kevin Crowell, owner of Détente in Edgartown, and a part-time culinary instructor at the school.

Crowell explained that the new program would not be cost-neutral, but noted the school is already in a deficit with its cafeteria program.

“The cafeteria is the capital asset of the school, we should be looking at all options,” Crowell said. “Career Technical Education programs such as horticulture, along with gleaning programs and outside fundraising opportunities, are being used very minimally.”

Crowell said people were not originally apt to donate money to the food service program because it was a for-profit company. “But if the donations were going directly to the school, I think people’s outlooks would change,” he said.

If the school cafeteria program could be aligned with school curriculum, Crowell said that would be a huge benefit.

He listed the four pillars of the in-house cafeteria program: improving the health and overall wellness of students, teaching and informing students about the culinary arts, increasing participation rates as a result of improved quality, and using the cafeteria as a hub for the school.

“We know students perform better and are more successful if they are being fed nutritious and healthy meals,” Crowell said. “This is as much about promoting the success of students as it is the success of this program.”

He said the culinary classes at the school could be linked with the cafeteria, and the horticulture class could provide any extra fresh produce. “The horticulture programs wouldn’t be solely for the cafeteria, but some purpose growing would help integrate all the different elements,” he said.

If students enjoy the food and feel more informed about where their food comes from, they will be more inclined to participate, Crowell said. “If we see our goal of increased participation from students and faculty, our yearly deficit will decrease.”

Crowell laid out some long-term goals for the program, such as a zero-waste policy, composting efforts, utilizing local food services, and supporting local farm economies.

“We hope to reduce costs for the school by cutting down on paper products and being more self-sufficient,” Crowell said. He said it would benefit the school and the local economy to use gleaning programs and make connections with family-owned farms.

He even suggested the idea of a student-run food truck. “The truck could go around to different sporting events, and with some guidance, could be operated by students,” he said. Other outside revenue streams Crowell mentioned were community dinners and bazaar sales during major school events. “Dinners have the highest reimbursement rate of any meal,” he said. “And events at the PAC or during football games could be a huge fundraising opportunity for us.”

Emily Gazzaniga, junior class president and student ambassador, presented a survey of 200 students and faculty at MVRHS on their opinions of the cafeteria food. She said 50 percent of those surveyed eat the school lunch every day, or very frequently. Over 50 percent of those surveyed said they were extremely dissatisfied with the school food. “Hot lunches are the biggest that people complain about. A good amount of students said all the hot lunch options are not to their standards.” Gazzaniga said.

If the school food were to improve, 55 percent of those surveyed said they would be very likely to purchase school lunches. “Students just want to feel comfortable with what they are eating,” Gazzaniga said. “A large majority of students I have talked to said they refuse to eat school food because of its quality.”