Small school in Sanders County cannot ship milk to students

THOMPSON FALLS — Remember the popular phrase “Got Milk?” Well, for dozens of Sanders County students, the answer is no.

MTN News recently sat down with the superintendent and principal at Trout Creek School, where students were without a milk truck driver to drop off boxes.

Preston Wenz tells us this has been the case for more than 18 months.

I never thought in a million years that getting milk to a school would be so difficult,” Wenz said.

Preston Wenz Trout Creek School

MTN News

Trout Creek Schools Superintendent and Principal Preston Wenz

Staff at Trout Creek School in northern Sanders County make an approximately 90-minute round-trip trip in their personal vehicles to a local grocery store each week to pick up milk for the students.

“Thompson Falls, Trout Creek and Noxon, all three of us don’t get milk shipped to our school district,” Wenz noted.

“Currently, the milk comes to Thompson Falls to the Harvest Foods grocery store, and then all three of us have to go to the grocery store to pick it up,” he continued.

Wenz says they have been in talks with Meadow Gold Dairy – the company that supplies milk to the local grocery store – to get the milk straight to the school.

“I can’t remain silent on the situation until we know for sure it’s coming,” Wenz told MTN News.

MTN News reached out to Meadow Gold to find out why the company can’t drop the milk directly at the school, but hasn’t received a response yet.

trout stream school

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Trout Creek School in Sanders County

As the school and company continue to search for solutions, Wenz says concerns for school workers are spilling over into other areas, particularly about Montana’s icy roads.

“Just going from school to the grocery store, some might say, isn’t a big deal,” Wenz said. “A lot can happen in between – even in one block – to the point of car accidents and so on. It’s still a liability issue for the district.”

But faculty and staff aren’t the only cargo Wenz wants to keep safe.

“When school starts at the end of August, beginning of September, it is hot. We ship that milk 20 miles back here, and even if you come straight back, you need to make sure it’s air-conditioned inside,” Wenz said.

He noted that the school gets groceries from other nearby states like Idaho or Washington, but there is a roadblock regarding milk distribution across state lines.

MT milk rule

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“We’re 30 minutes from the border, so people are like, ‘Fine, get it from Idaho.’ Yes, I would if it were allowed, but it’s not allowed,” Wenz explained.

“So at the moment we’re on lockdown [in}. We have to get it somewhere in Montana, whether that’s Kalispell, Missoula. Those are the biggest distribution centers near us. It’s not happening.”

Wenz is referring to the 12-day rule in Montana that states “no Grade A pasteurized milk may be put in any container marked with a sell-by date which is more than 12 days after pasteurization of the milk for sale in Montana”

“It’s all a part of the dates they use. My understanding is Montana uses a sell-by date on our milk. That’s what’s stamped on there, and Idaho and Washington — again if I understand it right — as a used-by date,” Wenz said. “So, what’s the big difference? I don’t know.”

We reached out to the Montana Department of Livestock in hopes of reaching a solution for the school.

They released a statement saying in part:

“The Department of Livestock first became aware of the distribution issue faced by Trout Creek Schools in late September of this year. Since then, we have been working with leaders in Montana’s dairy industry to find a distributor that will make direct delivery to the school. Our understanding from conversations with Trout Creek Schools and our industry partners is that a solution may be very close at hand.” – MT Dept. of Livestock

DOL Milk statement

MTN News

MTN News also reached out several times to the previous milk distributor for the school, 4H Distributing, but we have yet to receive a response to our inquiries.

Faculty and staff will carry on bringing milk to the school asstate agencies continue working toward a solution.

Meanwhile, Wenz says he will keep fighting to get what’s federally required, delivered directly to his students.

“It’s schools and if we’ve gotten so far out of the mindset of taking care of our kids, and getting them the basic needs, which is what this is, then we’ve really fallen farther as a country than what I think,” Wenz concluded.