Students enrolled in Boulder’s Summer Feeding program enjoyed local beef crumble tacos in June.

According to the most recent Montana Department of Agriculture livestock inventory, Montana is home to 2.5 million cattle and calves. Two and a half MILLION. That means there are more than twice as many cows as people living in Montana. With so many prime ribs and rump roasts roaming our pastures, why are the majority of Montanans consuming beef that is finished and processed out of state? Why aren’t we demanding local beef in our grocery stores, restaurants, and public cafeterias?

More and more people are beginning to ask this question, including a recently formed Montana Beef to School coalition. The group began with a series of conference calls among interested parties: FoodCorps representatives, ranchers, school food service directors, meat processors, Office of Public Instruction staff, and others. On July 31st, the Montana Beef to School Coalition is holding its first meeting to formally get the group and its projects underway. We will meet in Butte from 10 a.m – 4 p.m. If you are interested in participating, please RSVP here.

While the Montana Beef to School coalition is relatively new, the idea of getting local beef in schools isn’t. More than a handful of individual schools and districts have been purchasing local beef using a variety of models. Read on to learn more and see examples…

Models of Beef to Institution

Direct Purchasing from Rancher This model can be preferable because it involves a direct relationship between the institution and the grower. Advantages include knowing exactly where your meat comes from and how it’s raised; guaranteeing the rancher a fair price; and quality of product. Potential disadvantages include distribution/delivery challenges (depending on the rancher), and higher prices (though NOT always the case).
*Seeley Lake Elementary School gets all of its beef from Mannix Family Beef who makes deliveries to the school on an as-needed basis. The school has grant funding to help purchase the high quality meat.
*University of Montana, Missoula has purchasing agreement with Yellowstone Grassfed Beef that ensures consistent supply and demand on both ends.

Purchasing from Processor Several schools, especially larger ones, prefer this method. Advantages include a relatively consistent supply, competitive prices, and streamlined ordering. Potential disadvantages include not knowing exactly where the beef is from or how it was raised (in some cases), and distribution/delivery challenges (depending on the processor).
*Kalispell School District #5 buys all of its hamburger beef patties from Lower Valley Processing in Kalispell. Since making the switch, they haven’t had any increase in costs and have contributed to the local economy!
*Butte School District #1 is planning to purchase the majority of its beef for 2013-2014 from Ranchland Packing Co. in Butte. They piloted the ground beef last year and were convinced of its quality as well as the many ways the local processor contributes to regional agriculture and job security.

Purchasing For Special Occasions Most schools begin local beef purchasing by piloting a small amount of product for a special event or for a school summer feeding program that serves fewer meals than during the regular school year. This is a great way for food service directors to ease into a new business relationship and test out the new product.
*Wilsall and Clyde Park schools held a special event that included Muddy Creek Ranch beef (also regularly served in Livingston Schools) and a rancher visit in the elementary lunchroom
*Boulder Elementary School’s summer feeding program recently featured Montana beef from Ranchland Packing Co. as well as an educational visit from a local rancher.

Map courtesy of: Montana Department of Agriculture, click to enlarge.

*Hellgate High School sourced local, grassfed beef from Mannix Family Beef for its end-of-the year school picnic in May 2013.
*Missoula County Public Schools is working with Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center to pilot a local beef/lentil crumble that would meet new nutrition guidelines while also supporting local agriculture.


View previous Homegrown Profiles here.