Fall has officially arrived and school is in full swing across Montana. Teachers are busy teaching, students are busy learning and playing, and at least once a day, everyone at school is busy eating. Meanwhile, the Montana Beef to School research team, a USDA Western SARE funded grant and part of the Montana Beef to School Coalition, is hitting the road to find out more information about successes and challenges of serving local beef to students and staff in Montana schools.

Read on to learn from two communities in Montana who are serving up local beef in their schools, how they are making beef to school work, and why it is a priority.

Livingston Public Schools

Patty machine

Patty machine

Three members of the Beef to School research project team spent some time visiting with John Polacik, the School Food Service Director of the Livingston School District, to discover his motivations and means for serving local beef. Polacik values serving local beef in the school lunches primarily because of the quality of the meat and the ability to know the source of the food. Almost all of the beef in the district’s school meals is locally sourced, with the exception of the occasional specialty item like meatballs. Working within a school food budget is always a challenge, but Polacik is personally committed to prioritizing the purchase of local beef. One of the ways he is able to save on cost is by having his staff turn the raw hamburger into burger patties right in the school kitchen, as the school has its own patty-making machine (check out the video below!). This machine was purchased with funds from a USDA Farm to School grant. The patty-maker helps save on the cost of the raw beef and provides a nice change of pace for his staff who are ready to try new things, including making beef and veggie pasties from scratch.

Lazy SR boxes_smallPolacik currently purchases beef from the Lazy SR Ranch, which is located in the Shields Valley. He found Lazy SR to have a sufficient beef supply to match the demand of the school, and he also is able to work with the price point of the beef. Polacik hopes that there will be more opportunities to connect educational activities with his local purchasing in the future to increase student awareness of the food served in their school lunches.

Bear Paw Meats

Two team members also visited Bear Paw Meats, a multiple-generation family operation that raises, finishes, and processes cattle, in addition to selling the meat at a retail store, meat counter, and wholesale. Bear Paw Meats works consistently with Hinsdale school, as well a few other area schools.

Owner Karla Buck explains that they do not use culled cattle when selling retail beef through their marketing channels. Instead, they use feeder cattle that they finish in their own feedlot, utilizing locally sourced feed, such as Montana corn, barley, or high quality hay. The Buck family is committed to working with schools, restaurants, and other retail customers by providing high quality beef to the communities they serve.

Bear Paw Meats_small

Further processor, producer, and school interviews will be conducted to complete two case studies during this fall and three case study partnerships will be conducted during the spring. Case studies will be used to inform a Beef to School best practices guide and the creation of resources for other schools and communities. If you want to learn more about the team’s progress, how to support beef to school in Montana, or to get involved with the Montana Beef to School Coalition, visit the project’s Facebook page, Twitter site, or email beef2school@gmail.com.

Check out this video of the Park High School Patty Maker in action!