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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Do you envision a Montana where local beef in schools is the automatic choice? The Beef to School Coalition thinks local beef should be at option for every school, especially in a state where there are more cows than people. With coalition members spanning the agricultural community, academics, government, public, and private sectors, we agree that Montana beef for Montana kids makes sense. In this blog post, we’ll explore an interview with a Montana school that got an offer for local beef that it couldn’t refuse.
“The stuff that were making with the local beef, the kids are just ranting and raving about it.”
Cindy Bainter is in her 18th year working for Big Timber’s schools, and her 9th year as the head cook and food service manager. A couple of weeks prior to our interview, she served sloppy joes to 267 students, an outstanding meal participation rate that Bainter attributes to the beef they used. She said, “The stuff that were making with the local beef, the kids are just ranting and raving about it.”
As a ranch wife, Cindy eats a lot of Montana raised beef. But when it came to making local beef available to the students in the cafeteria, some barriers existed. A few years prior, local ranchers had approached her with the idea of selling beef to the schools, but the cost of the beef and the processing expenses, were too much for a strained school lunch program budget. Big Timber, Montana has two schools, including a K-8 school with about 300 students and a high school with about 165 students. Cindy’s responsibility is to feed all of the students in the same cafeteria, which is located in the high school. The food service uses the National School Lunch Program, which provides a limited budget.
As of today, Cindy has brought close to 1300 pounds of local beef into the cafeteria with commitments for more in the future. So, what changed?
The buzz around local beef in Big Timber began less than 1.5 years ago, when Cindy was approached by representatives of the Crazy Peak Cattle Women (CPCW) with an outstanding offer. CPCW would accept donations of beef from ranchers and donate the beef to Big Timber schools. The school’s only expense would be to pay for processing. CPCW is a non-profit, which means that they can give ranchers a tax write off for their donation, further incentivizing local producers to get involved.
Cindy commented about CPCW, “They are hardworking ranch ladies, and their kids are coming up through the school and they wanted them to be able to have the local beef.” Cindy’s major caveat to purchasing Montana beef was cost, and with their present arrangement, she says they get local beef at the “same cost as it would be if I had to get it from the commodities [USDA Foods].”
The Beef to School Case Study Report explains that the donation model has been successful in multiple schools across the state. The donation model helps schools to provide local beef and frees up dollars to spend on more expensive items through USDA Foods. “Now instead of using the USDA commodities money that they allocate us for beef, I can use it for fruits and veggies.” Cindy said. Additionally, her budget last year was in the black, a state which she claimed “doesn’t happen very often.”
Crazy Peak Cattle Women met with the county health and wellness coordinator initially to develop a plan for a beef to school program. Backed by research and technical assistance from the Beef to School Project, they planned a donation model that fit the needs of the school, ranchers, and processor. The beef they source is as local as possible, and often from families with kids in the school system. Cindy defines local to be Sweetgrass County, plus the 5 neighboring counties. Most of the donated beef are culled animals, which are out of production and often a bit older. More recently, the school was donated a half of grass fattened beef.
All of the beef is processed at Pioneer Meats, just 2.5 miles down the road from the school. The beef is cut to the specifications of Cindy and brought into the school frozen. Cindy remarked that she really enjoys being able to work directly with the processor to specify cuts, packaging, and delivery. She said, “On the plus side, it’s really nice to be able to say, being a rancher, I know what’s going to be cut off of an animal, I know where it’s coming from…” The school uses ground beef, stew meat, hamburger patties, and deli sliced roast that Cindy turned into jerky. She mentioned that she is happier with the custom cuts that she is able to order through Pioneer, as compared to what was available through USDA Foods. The biggest challenge for the school has been coordinating delivery times, which has been a juggling act at times.
The school experimented with recipes and cuts, giving students a chance to provide feedback. They started taste tests last year with several meatball recipes made of the local beef. The taste test was placed at the end of the lunch line for high school students to sample. Then following lunch, students voted for their favorite recipe. In another taste test, students voted that they did not prefer roast beef from culled cows. Instead, Cindy used the culled cow beef to make jerky for a snack cart that students have access to during study breaks.
When asked about promotion efforts and engagement of the community, Cindy noted that the recent local news story increased involvement and knowledge of the Big Timber’s beef to school program. For example, Cindy said “The kids knew about it more than the adults did!” Now, the school promotes local beef on the menus and put it on the morning announcements. After hearing the morning announcement that local beef is on the lunch line, students rush to the cafeteria for lunch.
“If people in the community are willing to work with you, I think you should open the doors and say OK let’s work this out.”
The cafeteria staff are also big fans of local beef, with Cindy remarking “[local beef] smells better when they cook it.” She also made comments about the difference in runoff when they cook the local beef. There were times when the kitchen staff would cook up 80 pounds of USDA Foods burger and end up with close to 5 gallons of runoff, a mixture of mostly water and some fat. With the local beef product, it’s surprising if the cooks end up with a gallon of runoff, meaning that the school is getting more cooked beef for their dollar with the local product.
Cindy hopes to host parents and grandparents in the lunchroom to celebrate the local beef that their school enjoys and hopes to find a way to thank all the people that have made this possible. “I really want to do an appreciation type thing to the ranchers and Crazy Peak Cattle Women,” she said. Knowing that the school uses about 3 tons of beef in a year, she was not sure that donations would be able to fill their needs. But at this point, they have more than enough ranchers willing to contribute, and the future looks great! “If people in the community are willing to work with you, I think you should open the doors and say OK let’s work this out.”
All photos courtesy of Crazy Peak Cattle Women
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.
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.
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 email@example.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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com 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!
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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
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.
Polacik 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.
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 email@example.com.
Mooove over 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.
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.
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.