It started out as a complex question. With more than 6 million beef cattle raised in Nebraska, and agriculture’s hold as the state’s top industry, why are Nebraska’s students not served local beef on their lunch trays?
Thayer County beef producer and chairman for the Titan Beef Boosters, Rob Marsh, got to the bottom of the problem. He came up with a unique and local solution.
On August 26, 2015, key folks in Nebraska’s education and agriculture sectors gathered with students and school staff. They were there to celebrate Thayer Central Community School’s Titan Beef Boosters local beef program. It is dedicated to serving local, donated beef for 3 years - even longer if all goes as planned. As of now, little holds this school back from success.
First, Rob Marsh garnered support from local beef producers and community members. To date, 32 beef have been committed over the next 3 years (valued at $45,000), as well as $34,000 in support funds for processing and packaging the animals.
Partners were identified who could help things work efficiently. A Community Foundation will manage the funds and provide tax incentives for donations. A local grocer is providing freezer space for the beef. Organizations like the Nebraska Beef Council are providing promotional and educational opportunities for the students.
The next hurdle was locating a USDA processing facility to take the animals for slaughter and a USDA facility to cut and package the meat into hamburger, patties, and stew meat. Both facilities have been chosen, and they processed the beef for the kickoff event.
Finally, all the critical players at the school level came enthusiastically on board. Food service director Susan Dishman agreed to increase the amount of beef on the menu by 50%. Why not when your budget will benefit, your students will waste less food because it tastes better, and your community applauds the effort. The money the school saves will be used for purchasing more fresh fruits and veggies and updating kitchen appliances.
Administrators like superintendent Drew Harris are supportive, helping to problem solve the transition to a more made-from-scratch cooking kitchen. Students and teachers are on board, celebrating the process.
With 312,602 students in Nebraska, the potential is great when serving and promoting local beef. Few of us would disagree that there is value in students knowing where their food comes from. And if we could keep more dollars local, both with our Nebraska beef producers and processors, economic benefits would be exponential.
Thayer Central Community Schools tied the pieces together, joining together support from school, community, and farmer/rancher. We expect this program is a model others across the country will be inspired to replicate.
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