FARMINGTON – Andrew Hutchins, director of Food Services in Regional School District 9, told directors Tuesday that over 110,000 more meals were served in October than a year ago.

“That’s an additional 580 meals per day,” he said.

Hutchins also said healthy growth in school nutrition plans is typically 2% to 3%, but recently it’s amounted to 13% at breakfast and nearly 20% at lunch.

“The team is doing a phenomenal job handling the increased workload and are always looking for ways to sustain the current trends,” he said.

Food cost, however, continues to be an issue. As Maine enters its colder months, reliance on produce shipped from the rest of the country is becoming critical, but costly.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now,” Hutchins said. “And I’ve never seen a case of romaine lettuce cost $126. It used to be on average $40 to $50 on it in this time of year.”


According to the director, most of the fresh produce is being shipped from Yuma, Arizona, and while he and his department try to prioritize locally sourced food, Maine and other East Coast contributions only account for 15% in the fall and winter months.

Citrus crops, which RSU 9 relies on heavily in December and January, are having a very poor year and pricing will remain high, Hutchins said.

The cost, however, is not falling on RSU 9, but on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Maine. In July 2021, Maine became one of the first states to offer free meals for all students. This legislative bill has helped shoulder the burden of food cost as well as the increase in student participation.

“You have a kitchen to set up your staff and you serve 400 meals a day,” Hutchins said. “Well, if you jump up to 500, yeah, you’ve gone through more food, but your systems are already in place. So, the more meals we can serve, the more participation we have, the less it costs us per meal.”

Hutchins also highlighted many renovations in the Academy Hill School cafeteria in Wilton. In his slide show presentation, examples included new paint and graphics, new sneeze guards, updated serving line with hot and cold capabilities.

On top of that, new equipment has been introduced in the kitchen with a new energy-star dishwasher, more energy-efficient range and double convection ovens, and a pressure steamer to power two existing 60-gallon steam kettles.

Moving forward, Hutchins hopes to see continued growth and see the stigma of eating meals at school become a thing of the past.

“Kudos to you, Chef Andy,” Vice Chairman Debbie Smith said. “I think we all really truly appreciate the work that you’ve done. And I would just like to suggest that people who may not have looked at the school menus, check them out, it’s really quite amazing. There’s so much healthier and so much better for the kids.”

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