Sourcing local beef has been a focus of University of Montana-Missoula’s Farm to College program since its inception in 2003. Over the years, supply volume and consistency have been a challenge for the university’s Montana beef suppliers. In 2009, ranchers Bryan Ulring and Zachary Jones responded to this challenge when they combined portions of their herds to form Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, a company dedicated to maintaining a “triple bottom line” that measures success based on economic, social, and environmental responsibility. Yellowstone Grassfed Beef and the University’s Dining Services were introduced through the Farm to Market Connections program of the Western Sustainability Exchange, and over several months, they had many face-to-face meetings that laid the foundation for a long-term relationship.
The university needs over 25,000 pounds of ground beef annually, and while Yellowstone Grassfed Beef markets their high-end cuts online to retail and restaurant buyers across the state, they needed a large-volume outlet for their ground beef. To help reduce the cost of processing, Dining Services purchased equipment to make their own beef patties, and now buys bulk ground beef, stores it on campus, and patties it as needed. They also employ students to do the work, building their skills and understanding in quality food service. A carefully negotiated yearlong pricing agreement between the two parties gives the ranchers a stable market, and although they may be able to get a higher price selling to other outlets, the guarantee of relatively long term high volume sales is worth it.
Regular communication between the ranchers and UM Dining Services has been critical. By visiting each others operations on campus and on the ranch, the business partners have increased their understanding of the others operation. The University of Montana is thrilled to be serving such a high quality beef product that thoroughly supports the values of Farm to College, while Ulring describes the Farm to College program as “truly remarkable” and the “backbone of our business.”
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