Beef to School

Montana is home to over 2.5 million cows; that’s more than twice the number of residents living in our state! With cow-calf operations weighing in as the second largest agricultural commodity in Montana, it only makes sense for schools and other institutions to purchase and serve beef that’s raised and finished in Montana.

The Montana Beef to School Coalition has the goal of helping schools and producers make connections with each other and overcome barriers to serving local beef. Formed in July 2013, coalition members collaborate on research, education, and outreach related to beef to school with the hopes of supporting healthy Montana children, vibrant rural communities, and strong local economies.

The coalition is made up of over thirty different stakeholders including ranchers, meat processors, foodservice directors, non-profit organizations, the Montana Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Public Instruction. To learn more about the coalition and how you can be involved, please email

Montana Beef to School Fact Sheet                                     
The Montana Beef to School (B2S) Project is a three-year collaborative project between beef producers and processors, schools, researchers at Montana State University, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Montana Department of Agriculture, and various community partners whose goal it is to increase the use of local beef in every Montana school. We will be looking into ways that beef to school can benefit schools, ranchers, and local meat processors, as well as highlight best practices from Montana communities. In the meantime, we have suggestions to help get you started on bringing Montana beef into your school. Follow the link in the header to view this fact sheet and learn how to get started today!  Stay tuned as we work through this process and continue to provide you with best practice guidelines.

Montana Beef to School: Five Profiles
More than a dozen Montana schools are purchasing local beef for school cafeterias. This practice has the potential to increase kids’ understanding of Montana’s ranching heritage and where their food comes from, while also providing economic support for local ranchers, meat processors, and agricultural communities. Read on to learn about the various methods of beef to school efforts that are bringing Montana beef to Montana kids.

Montana Beef In Schools 2012
What is the difference between wet-aged and dry-aged beef? What state-inspected meat processor is closest to your school? Developed by the Montana Department of Agriculture, this document is a guide to sourcing Montana raised and finished beef for your institution.

Montana Beef to School Video
Montana’s 2012-2013 FoodCorps Fellow Lea Howe put together this video that demonstrates the growing efforts to serve local beef in Montana’s school cafeterias.

Let Us Help You…

Producer Database

Get information about Montana food producers, processors, and distributors who are interested in selling to institutions.

Institution Database

Get information about Montana institutions utilizing local food systems to put food on the table.

The Farm to Cafeteria Manual for Montana is now available!

FTC Montana Manual
We’re excited to announce our new resource, the Farm to Cafeteria Manual for Montana, a how-to for farmers, ranchers, foodservice directors, and community leaders.

Blog Archive


Annual Beef to School Coalition Meeting on April 28th, 2017

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We need your input at this year’s Beef to School Coalition in-person meeting to be held on Friday, April 28th at Bozeman High School. This meeting will inform out outreach strategy for the coming year and add to our understanding of what resources exist, where they are, and what the Beef to School Team needs to be creating to facilitate the growth of B2S in Montana.
Please RSVP to by Monday, April 17th so we can count you in for lunch, and let us know if you have any agenda items you would like to discuss. Snacks and lunch will be provided. We would love to have as many members of the Coalition present as possible!

We will begin the day at 9:30 a.m.and conclude by 2:30 p.m. see below for the agenda:

9:30 Appetizers + Taste Tests + Mingling
10:00  Welcome + Introductions
10:30  Project Review + Updates
10:50  Stories from the Field
11:10   Beef in School Lunch
11:30  Lunch + Tour (Central Kitchen w/ local beef taco bar)
12:45  Report on Processing Resources and Survey Progress
1:05 Beef to School Toolkit…What’s Available + What’s Needed?
1:45 Actionable Steps…Montana Beef in Every Montana School
2:00 Closing + Networking + Input

Thank you for your support.


Celebrating the March Harvest of the Month with Yellowstone Grassfed Beef: A Producer Profile

Celebrating the March Harvest of the Month with Yellowstone Grassfed Beef: A Producer Profile

As we round the corner into March, schools across the state that are participating in the Montana Harvest of the Month Program are looking to Montana ranchers and processors for local beef.  March is Beef month, a fabulous time to highlight the beef producers that live all around this state.  One such producer is Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, and they’re doing a wonderful job of using Beef Month to get healthy, locally grown beef into Montana schools through the Harvest of the Month Program.

Yellowstone Grassfed Beef started about 7 years ago as the brainchild of two ranches that both came to the same conclusion: their cows are too good to be shipped to a feedlot. Twodot Land & Livestock and the J Bar L Ranches had both been using holistic livestock practices for years, and united under the belief that genuinely better grassfed beef comes from happy cows and resilient landscapes.  Yellowstone Grassfed Beef stands behind an unwavering commitment to what’s in the best interest of its animals, its customers, and the greater community.

Speaking with Erika Hartmann, their director of sales, we learned about the values and relationships that Yellowstone Grassfed has built in their time in the industry.  “I try to bring home our triple bottom line of ecology, economy, and community. Giving an opportunity for people to try not only a local beef, but a grassfed local beef,” said Hartmann.

Yellowstone Grassfed Beef processes all of their beef at Stillwater Processing in Columbus, a USDA inspected facility, and much of their product is shipped through Summit Distribution. This enables them to sell across state lines into places like Yellowstone National Park, in addition to their own online marketplace.  The company sells an abundance of beef within Montana, their first priority, but has had to market much of their higher end product elsewhere in order to remain economically viable.  Hartmann stated that one of their main goals is to continue to sell the majority of their Montana grown beef within the state. In order to be able to offer affordable rates to Montana schools and other institutions, they have increased the geographic area that they serve.

When it comes to sales to Montana institutions, their first big account was the University of Montana.  Next came Livingston Healthcare, and in the past six months they have added almost 10 schools to their growing list of relationships with institutional buyers.   During the month of March, Yellowstone Grassfed Beef representatives like Erika Hartmann will be making trips into schools and classrooms to talk about raising beef from ranch to fork in Montana. Contact with real producers bring the food system full circle, and Erika is excited to help serve delicious Montana beef to Montana kids on the lunch line, and in taste tests, wherever she can.

Hartmann also pointed out two significant barriers to sales to institutions: price and communication. “What makes it happen is when people come to YGB and say hey, we really want to work with your product, and we value the work that you are doing, and they want to sit down and negotiate and find the balance in price.”  Hartmann gives a lot of credit to the champions within the schools and institutions with which they have worked for opening up the conversation with the producer.  In Livingston, local foods champions are even starting the conversation around cooperative purchasing between the hospital and the school, so that each can enjoy local beef from Yellowstone Grassfed at a lower cost.  Many institutional food service staff have become accustomed to set prices, packaging, quantities, and deliveries, and Yellowstone Grassfed is trying to reopen the conversation with these folks to figure out how they can work together for mutually beneficial relationships. They want to serve more Montana schools, but Hartmann notes that it needs to become a dialogue first, overcoming the barrier of communication. “If you’re interested in using our beef, let’s talk, We’re ready, and we’re ready to meet you half way.”

To the folks that run Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, regenerative agriculture is the name of the game. They value relationships not only with their buyers, but with their animals and the land that they steward. With low stress livestock management and wildlife friendly practices, it’s clear that Yellowstone Grassfed Beef strives to be both environmentally and socially conscious.  However, when they ask their consumers what they like best about Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, the answer is an overwhelming, “Because it’s local, and it tastes good.”

Beef to School Case Studies and More!

Beef to School Case Studies and More!

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 Messageb2s-infographic
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 screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-9-20-03-pmResearch 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.

Processor Survey
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.

Thanks for following the Beef to School project, and as always, stay in touch by email at or check out our Beef to School website,  Facebook page, or Twitter account.


Beef to School Coalition Gathers: “Montana Beef in Every Montana School”

Happy Spring! The Beef to School project is mooving right along and we are excited to share the latest news. In late March, the Beef to School Coalition gathered at the Livingston Food Resource Center to discuss resources and  and dig into the barriers that can encourage or prevent Montana schools from serving Montana beef. Read on for a few highlights from the gathering and stay tuned for more beef to school activities in the coming months!

Lower Valley and Somers/Lakeside Case Study Highlight

Jeremy Plummer from Lower Valley Processing speaks about selling to schools.

Jeremy Plummer from Lower Valley Processing speaks about selling to schools.

A highlight of the gathering was hearing from Jeremy Plummer of Lower Valley Processing in Kalispell and Robin Vogler of Somers/Lakeside school district. Jeremy kicked off the day by relating how he started selling to the Kalispell school district about four years ago. He was approached by the food service director at the time, Jenny Montague, who wanted to serve local beef in the school meals and who asked him if Lower Valley could provide that beef. Her visit led to negotiations on a price point match that would work for both parties, and the processing plant had to purchase a refrigerated truck for deliveries to the school. Lower Valley continues to deliver to the Kalispell schools two times a week with fresh, bulk burger. One of the ways he keeps the cost down for the school is by sourcing culled animals and older bulls to create a blend of beef that is cheaper than the market beef. Jeremy also talked about the “feel good” factor of working with schools, as it keeps money local and saves transportation time and energy. Additionally, Lower Valley has hosted field trips for elementary students to tour the processing plant to learn about where their beef comes from.

Robin Vogler, food service director at the Somers/Lakeside school, provided a buyer’s perspective by sharing her story of serving local beef  over the years. She started sourcing Montana beef in 2006 after there was a beef recall and has worked with a local rancher to buy culled beef until that rancher moved. Price point is a challenge for her, so she buys Montana beef for special meals. Robin talked about how she wants ranchers and processors to get a fair price and would like to see policy changes so that she could use commodity dollars to purchase local products.

“Beef And” Series

Local Beef and Mushroom Chili: try it, like it, love it!

Local Beef and Mushroom Chili: try it, like it, love it!

Another highlight of the gathering was hearing from Dayle Hayes of “School Meals that Rock” about strategies for pairing local beef with mushrooms, with the goal of allowing schools to purchase local beef (at a potentially higher cost) by stretching the amount of beef required for entrees. Dayle talked about the natural complementary tastes of beef and mushrooms. She also pointed out that using mushrooms allows schools to meet vegetable meal pattern requirements, and including mushrooms or lentils in the entrée allows for larger portion sizes. Many participants in the meetings had questions for Dayle and were interested in hearing more about this concept of blending to stretch beef.

This presentation was the first in what the team hopes will be an ongoing series highlighting innovative strategies to incorporate beef onto the lunch tray. For example, lentils have also been blended with beef in school meals with the same idea of extending the beef through blending.

More Beef on the Beef

Everyone at the meeting had the chance to sample lots of beef dishes! A “Local Beef and Mushroom Chili,” recipe created by Malissa Marsden, was served with whole-grain cinnamon rolls. Conference attendees voted whether they “tried it,” “liked it,” or “loved it,” just as students in schools do when they participate in a taste test. The voting took place on Ipads with an app developed in collaboration with the Mushroom Council and NutriSlice. Conference attendees “loved it!” Lunch was served at Park High School, where once again attendees got to eat as the students do, enjoying a Taco Crunch made out of Lazy SR beef.

Enjoying a delicious lunch at Park High School: local beef taco crunch

Enjoying a delicious lunch at Park High School: local beef taco crunch

Montana Beef in Every Montana School

The day concluded with an overview of all the resources currently available to schools and producers for reaching out to one another (available by request!), as well as brainstorming on what still needs to be created. Suggestions included guidelines on school food, such as portion sizes, delivery method, and packaging information for producers and price points that schools can work with.  More exciting and innovative beef to school recipes to come in the near future!

Please email to be added to the Beef to School Coalition list, and follow the Beef to School project on our Facebook page or our Twitter account.

Winter Report from Lazy SR and Muddy Creek Ranches

Happy 2016! The Beef to School team spent some time at two different cow/calf operations in Wilsall as 2015 came to an end. We would like to share some highlights and lessons learned with you from these visits to Muddy Creek Ranch and the Lazy SR Ranch. Please be in touch with your stories and questions regarding beef to school as we continue to meet with ranchers, schools, and processors across the state! Email, check out our Facebook page, or our Twitter account.

Muddy Creek Ranch

Muddy Creek, a Wilsall beef operation, sells grass fed and finished beef. They have the distinction of offering Lowline Angus cattle; a breed not very common in Montana. Muddy Creek sells many of their calves each fall and also keeps some of their steer calves for an extra year. The remaining steer calves  are marketed to local and regional customers, including restaurants, hotels and individuals. Their mission is “to produce quality seedstock, productive commercial cows and predictable carcasses for a growing demand for grass fed beef.”  Muddy Creek is certified by the Western Sustainability Exchange, which means there is a focus on no hormones or antibiotics, low stress livestock handling practices, and sustainable stewardship practices.

The owners of Muddy Creek Ranch also own a bar and cafe in Wilsall and serve some of their beef there. The ranch was proud to have previously partnered with local schools, but it is not currently marketing their beef to schools. While the ranch initially sold some of their product to the school in Wilsall, they stopped because they were selling the beef at a loss. The ranch found that they have enough other customers for their hamburger, which is often the product that schools purchase for their lunch programs.

Lazy SR Ranch

The Lazy SR has been raising Angus cattle in the Shields Valley for decades, and the ranch takes pride in producing and supplying beef in the local area. In addition to raising and selling Angus calves each fall, they keep a portion of their calves on the ranch until they reach market weight. After processing, individual cuts of the meat are then sold in a several county area to individuals, grocery stores, restaurants and foodservice companies with the assistance of a distributor.  Lazy SR raises hogs and chickens as well, and the ranch does their own poultry processing.

Lazy SR raises about 900 calves every year. Their beef is processed at Ranchland Packing in Butte. The owners like to process their meat in a federally-inspected plant to allow for some sales over state lines. Because Lazy SR finishes their animals on grain, they have the ability to slaughter year-round and could increase their supply to meet growing demand for local beef, whether from schools or other markets. Right now the beef to school is just a small piece of their market and they are selling to the Livingston School District. (See our last blog post for more about Livingston school district’s commitment to beef to school.) Lazy SR has also worked with schools in another capacity by donating beef to schools for such events as the FFA spring banquet.

Lazy SR Cattle in Pasture
Thank you to the Muddy Creek and Lazy SR  ranches for hosting the Beef to School research team!

Beef to School Fall Updates

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

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

It’s All About the BEEF TO SCHOOL!

Mooove oSARE_Western_Logo_ Highver veggies, farm to school in Montana has a new face, and it looks a lot like a cow. Thanks to funding from a Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program) grant, several partners from across the state of Montana will be working together to understand the ins and outs of sourcing local beef for K-12 schools across the state.

With far more cows than people, Montana is the ideal place to explore the potential benefits of a beef to school program. There are several foodservice directors, ranchers, and processors who are already championing the local beef effort and serving delicious Montana-grown meals in cafeterias. Others in the industry are interested in doing the same. Many schools are excited about the potential to provide nutritious, Montana agricultural products to students while supporting their neighbor’s ranch and community’s meat processing facility by buying local beef.

The lasagna at Park High School in Livingston, MT, a student favorite according to Foodservice Director John Polacik, features beef from local ranches.

The lasagna at Park High School in Livingston, MT features beef from local ranches.  According to Foodservice Director John Polacik, the entree is a student favorite.

While some schools and producers have already developed a beef to school program that is mutually beneficial, others have struggled to find a price point, delivery system, or sourcing method that works well for all parties involved. Funds from the SARE grant will be used to research and report successful models and effective strategies for beef to school programs. This information will be used to increase the availability and consumption of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities and help improve Montana beef producers’ and meat processors’ viability and sustainability.

This project will begin with case study research to identify the benefits, challenges, best practices, and gaps that exist for beef to school models. From there, the team will seek to identify beef supply chain issues (e.g., timing, storage, and use of cuts) that impact the success of stakeholders and work collaboratively with these stakeholders to plan solutions. Next, the team will obtain data about student acceptance of the local beef being served in comparison with commercial beef supplies. From this research and with the help of all involved stakeholders, the team will create stakeholder specific educational guides and promotional materials about the beef supply chain, curriculum for students, and peer reviewed publications. Finally, the team will conduct trainings to assist producers and their processing partners interested in selling to schools, and to foodservice directors interested in using local beef in school meals.

Lead researcher Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks of Montana State University.

Lead researcher Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks of Montana State University.

The grant team is led by Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks of Montana State University and includes Thomas Bass and Joel Schumacher of MSU Extension, Karla Buck of Bear Paw Meats, Katie Halloran of National Center for Appropriate Technology, Jennifer Montague of Kalispell Public Schools Foodservice, Garl Germann of Montana Meats, Jeremy Plummer of Lower Valley Processing, John Polacik of Park High School Foodservice, Aubree Roth of Montana Team Nutrition and members of the Montana Beef to School Coalition.

Byker Shanks reports, “The recently published 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlights that beef production has a potentially large impact on the environment. In Montana and beyond, it is important to support beef production through efforts such as beef to school programs. Beef to school programs have the potential to impact the environment, economics, and social aspects including human health.”

If you would like to learn more and stay updated on this exciting project, be sure to like and share the Montana Beef to School Facebook page, follow us on twitter (@MTBeeftoSchool), and look for quarterly blog posts on the Beef to School website.