Greetings Montana beef enthusiasts, winter is upon us and local proteins abound! This update contains an overview of the Montana Beef to School Project’s work over the past few months, including the recently released beef to school case studies.
Sharing the Beef to School Message
Excitement about beef to school is plentiful around Montana. At the Montana Farm to School Summit on Friday, September 23rd, 2016, Carmen Byker-Shanks, Janet Gamble, and Robin Vogler presented the story of Montana Beef to School to a packed room of conference attendees. In their breakout session, “Mooooving Forward Together: Beef to School Basics”, the team shared the creative ways that schools are working with producers and processors in Montana to procure local Montana beef in hopes that Montana farm to school advocates could bring tested beef to school strategies to school menus in their own communities.
Also at the Montana Farm to School Summit, beef to school received a special shout out from Superintendent Denise Juneau in the opening session. She even mentioned the beef and mushroom blend that’s being tested in schools including Whitefish and Kalispell!
On October 12th, Tommy Bass attended the 6th International Conference on Food Studies at the University of California – Berkeley to present about the Montana Beef to School Project in a presentation entitled “Montana Beef to School Supply Chain Relationships: Initial Case Study Findings”. The conference was attended by food, health, and agricultural scientists, historians, policy makers, entrepreneurs, journalists, and others. Tommy Bass presented on behalf of the whole Montana Beef to School Research Team, sharing highlights from the recently completed case studies and some resulting recommendations. The conference had about 175 attendees, providing opportunities to have meaningful discussions. Bass’ session held the attention of about 20 individuals and received a positive response in one of the conferences facilitated discussion groups. Bass recalls, “People were fascinated by the project and the small schools!”
Releasing the Case Studies!
After many months of traveling to collecting beef to school stories around the state of Montana and synthesizing all of the data, the final case study report is available to the public! In celebration of National Farm to School Month, these case studies were released to the public on October 28th, in conjunction with an MSU News press release. The Montana Beef to School Project aimed to find and share beef to school strategies that work for producer, processor, and school partnerships. Through this case study research, the benefits, challenges, best practices, and gaps that exist for beef to school procurement models were identified.
The first 8 pages of the Case Study Report provide readers with an overview of beef to school basics in Montana, including a summary of what is needed to make a beef to school program work. A few of these important strategies are briefly laid out below:
- Build community relationships to generate buy-in and resources that support beef to school
- Build procurement relationships; schools must work closely with local beef producer and/or processor
- Work with a producer and/or processor to choose meat specifications, quantity, delivery, and price
- Start small with one recipe on a menu or in one meal in a month
- Balance the budget; cost remains the biggest barrier to beef to school, budgeting over one semester or the full school year rather than price per meal can help to alleviate concern for cost
- Capacity building; meeting basic processing, purchasing, and equipment needs and adapting recipes is crucial for sustainable beef to school partnerships
- Encourage promotion and education within the institution and community to build a base of support such as donations, policy changes, and motivation for beef to school
The case studies examine 6 different schools, 2 producers, 2 processors, and 1 producer/processor from Montana, providing new information that will be used to improve current beef to school programs and assist new communities in the adoption of beef programs.
Later in the fall, the research team will be releasing a survey for processors, seeking quantities information to build upon the qualitative case studies. The Montana Beef to School Project is interested in collecting survey responses from the roughly 40 state and federally inspected processors in Montana. Our research to date shows potential for increasing the viability and sustainability of Montana’s processors through the expansion of institutional markets, such as beef to school. With input from these processors, the Montana Beef to School Project hopes to be able to determine the economic impacts of the current beef market and to gauge the opportunities in selling local beef to schools.