Marengo County schools look for new milk vendors after Borden Dairy closes its doors

Published 3:15 pm Friday, September 30, 2022

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Marengo County Child Nutrition Program Director Rita Wright brought troubling news to the Board of Education during its September 22 regular meeting. She announced that Borden Dairy, who has been the milk provider for Marengo County schools for many years, is going out of business and she has had to quickly send out bids for a new provider.

Wright said that Marengo County is “in a terrible place” when it comes to having nearby milk vendors, the closest being a Prairie Farms facility near Mobile, AL. She said she has sent out bids to Barber Dairies, Prairie Farms, and Louisville Dairy Products. Barber Dairies has said they cannot send a bid, and as of last Thursday, Wright had not gotten responses from the other two companies.

Wright said bids will open on Thursday, September 29 at 10:00 and that she hopes they will have a response.

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“If we don’t get a milk bid I don’t really know what we’re going to do,” said Wright.

She said that if she doesn’t get any bids, the school system will have to look into getting shelf stable milk. Shelf stable milk is milk that has been pasteurized and does not need to be refrigerated. It can be stored at room temperature and is good for up to a year. Shelf stable milk can also be refrigerated and then be returned to the shelf without negative effects.

Wright said that the only problem with using this kind of milk is that schools will have to purchase a transfer truck load which will cost around $70,000. A place to store the milk is also an issue as the county schools either have limited space or no space at all for storage.

After speaking with Prairie Farms, Wright is hopeful that they will submit a bid and the shelf stable milk will not be required. She said that if Prairie Farms does not bid, she has sent them a purchase order for milk that will serve as a “temporary fix.”

Prairie Farms already provides milk for local grocery stores in Marengo County and surrounding areas, and Wright said that is a huge plus for the school system.

“We’re lucky too because we have a Walmart in Thomasville and in Demopolis, so they’re already in the area. Places like Hale County have a real problem because there is nothing close to them. Tuscaloosa or Demopolis are the closest to them, and milk companies don’t want to go Hale County,” said Wright. “So we’re lucky that we are between two Walmarts. That keeps the milk companies wanting to come through here.”

Wright said that several surrounding school systems have already purchased shelf stable milk, but she has been hesitant to make a purchase because of how much has to be bought at once. She has also begun searching for a place to store the shelf stable milk if she has to make a purchase.

“I’ve called around to the Sears stores in Demopolis and Thomasville, and Dave’s Market in Thomaston to try and find a place to store a transfer truckload of shelf stable milk. It’s a massive delivery,” said Wright.

Wright said to store the milk in the Sears store in Demopolis is $4,000 a month as is the store in Thomasville. Dave’s Market in Thomaston would only charge for electricity for the building and could provide a lift for moving the milk.

Marengo County Superintendent Luke Hallmark asked about working together with the Linden City Schools system to share the rent of a building. Wright said she had discussed the idea with Emily Thornton of the Thomasville system, and would reach out to Linden and Demopolis to help cover the rent costs.

“All I can ask at this point is that everyone pray for us, and hope that Prairie Farms bids on the milk and comes this far,” said Wright. “Let’s hope we won’t have to cross the bridge with the shelf stable milk because it’s going to be very complicated.”

Borden Dairy closed its dairy facilities in Alabama and Mississippi on Friday, September 30.