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.