The Beef to School Project in Montana has had another productive year, with continued success in cultivating enthusiasm and developing strategies for getting Montana beef to Montana kids.  In late April, members of the Beef to School Coalition (the stakeholder arm of the Beef to School Project) met at Bozeman High School to discuss the past progress and steps for the future of beef to school. At the Beef to School Coalition In-Person meeting on April 28th, the team generated bold ideas and goals for mooooooving forward based upon the previous years’ work. This day also happened to be National Poetry Day; coalition members created and shared haikus in honor of beef to school and poetry. One of the favorites is quoted below:

Stainless Steel Machines

Take Us To The Tacos Please

Time For Local Beef

Read on to see what we have learned in the past year, what’s coming up in the realm of beef to school, and find the place where you want to plug in!

WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
The Beef to School (B2S) Equation
Beef to school = beef producer + processor + foodservice.  Each of these stakeholders is involved in some aspect of local beef production, procurement, and service. In 2017, The Beef to School Project developed a case study report to explore different models for how producers, processors, and foodservice work together to make a beef to school program successful.

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Many strategies were generated from the case study research about making the beef to school equation successful. For example, many schools mentioned the importance of parents and the broader school community in generating support for serving local beef. Each case study site also encouraged new beef to school programs to START SMALL with one local beef meal per week, month, or semester. Ensuring that producers and processors are meeting food safety and agricultural standards is key to success. Schools, producers, and processors need to negotiate so that budget needs are met for all operations.

But Why?
Some of the primary motivating factors for beef to school programs are quality, locality, nutrition, and food literacy.  Many stakeholders that engage in local beef procurement mention that local beef is of a higher quality than conventional or USDA Foods beef products.  In addition to quality, stakeholders are excited about building community through their purchasing strategies.  Many stakeholders perceived local beef to be nutritionally superior and as an avenue to increase “food literacy” by teaching about the beef supply chain.

It is estimated that 1,000 animals would supply all the Montana schools at the current beef protein rate consumed.  Already 200 to 250 animals are being consumed in the state, and there doesn’t seem to be any issue with finding 1,000 animals to supply the state’s school systems.

Economics of B2S
Through our research it has become evident that, in most situations, local beef will be more expensive than non-local beef. Many schools value the benefits of local beef despite cost and have strategized ways to afford the product for the school lunch program.

We have found many strategies to overcome cost differences. The first is selecting cull animals to be  proceseds for beef to school programs. Montana producers typically raise calves and send them out of state to be finished and processed. Cull animals are animals that are removed from the breeding herds, and can be purchased at lower prices than prime finished steers to be turned into hamburger. These culled animals can end up at weekly auction yards, of which there are about a dozen across the state. Schools are welcome to attend the auction to buy culled cows and pay for processing.

Many other cost reducing strategies exist. In smaller communities, one rancher donating a cow can supply a school. Then, the school only has to pay the fee for processing. In communities with high end restaurants, producers or processors can market their steaks at a premium, and may be able to sell hamburger to the school at a lower price in order to market the entire cow that has been processed.

WHAT’S COMING UP
Current B2S Events
The Beef to School Project has many important steps planned for the coming year to further understand how to facilitate successful beef to school programs. The processor survey is currently underway and intended to evaluate interest, participation, and barriers in B2S from the processors’ point of view. Soon to follow this survey will be a producer survey, to evaluate similar objectives. Stay tuned!

There are also two school-based experiments currently in process. First, a combined taste test and plate waste study. The B2S Research Team is developing a protocol for doing a taste test between local versus non-local beef, and measuring the amount of food that is thrown away when each are served.  The second experiment is runoff testing. Every cafeteria staff member surveyed for the case studies said that local beef has less runoff (water and fat that is expelled from the beef product during cooking). The B2S Research Team is working with two schools to develop protocol to measure runoff in local versus non-local beef in order to determine if this claim for local beef is reality or perceived.

The B2S Research Team is also developing a B2S request for proposals (RFP) and informal bid template.  Both of these documents are intended for use by food service staff to ensure that their search for a vendor for local beef is both equitable and legal, depending on the purchase size.

Many outreach materials are planned to be published in the coming year to help stakeholders navigate the beef to school process.

Further Down the Processing Line
Many old and new ideas were discussed at the in-person meeting for outreach materials. If you have any input, please reach out to beef2school@gmail.com with your ideas or comments. Some of these ideas include:

B2S Decision Tree: This document will provide methodical guidance for food service, processors, and/or producers that are interested in B2S.

Pitch Kit: Collection of documents and marketing materials that can be used by coalition members to start the local beef conversation in schools.

Producer/Processor Database: List of producers/processors interested in working with schools on local beef procurement. This will be an online database, and most likely an extension of NCAT’s Farm to Cafeteria Network Producer Database.

Regulation Guidelines: Simplified version of food safety guidelines and an inspection status sheet that informs buyers on who they can purchase from and what their safety concerns should be.

….and many more! If you have any ideas to add, or want to add to those listed above, please reach out to

PLUG IN!
Sharing the B2S Story
Montana’s Beef to School mooooovement has received a lot of positive press since the release of the case studies through the news and listservs, a few of which have been mentioned in previous B2S Blog posts. We have also presented around the state and the nation to share the beef to school story. This includes presentations at the Food Studies Conference in Berkeley, California; Sprouting Success: Montana Farm to School Summit; and the California Farm to School Conference.

The Beef to School Project is beginning to piece the B2S puzzle together for Montana, and other states are interested in using Montana as a model.  Remember, we want to grow the support for Beef to School in Montana, so if you know anyone that might like to join the coalition, please let us know at beef2school@gmail.com