Drought and School Food Prices

By Naomi Dillon

In an era of epic weather events -- think headline grabbers such as the February 2010 “Snowmaggedon,” the June 2012 derecho, and this fall’s Superstorm Sandy -- the drought of 2012 was an unassuming calamity, silently creeping across the U.S. It has inflicted untold damage on crops and communities.    At its peak, the drought spread across two-thirds of the country, making it one of the worst such disasters in terms of sheer size. And while the true cost of this prolonged absence of rainfall won’t be known for some time, analysts are predicting that the effect on the nation’s food system will be historic, too.

Districts, already grappling with upgraded federal standards for school meals, are bracing for the drought’s impact on their bottom line, with many already forced to make modifications to their menus.

“Back in the spring, the farmers promised we’d have watermelon until the fall,” says Stacey Weichelt, the food service director for Wisconsin’s Marshfield School District. “But by Labor Day weekend, they were saying they had to pull the melons from the field because the heat was drying them out.”

In Oklahoma, one of the states where the drought was the most severe, Deborah Taylor says they stopped getting summer squash, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes from local farmers weeks earlier than they had anticipated. 

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