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​Eating La Vida Local

All About Food | March 16th, 2022

By Olivia Slyter

oslyter@cord.edu

A movement is currently circulating around North Dakota to provide locally-raised beef in ND school lunches.

The movement was initiated by the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND) wondering how to go about donating and/or selling local beef to ND public schools. The main purpose of the movement is to create a sense of community pride. Deborah Egeland, Assistant Director of the Child Nutrition Programs in the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) explains the overall motivation of the movement:

“Kids win, farmers win, the community wins! USDA, which is who we receive federal funding from to run the NDDPI, has a corporate priority to promote farm to school efforts to encourage more students to think about careers in agriculture and have an appreciation for where their food comes from.”

To kick-off this initiative, I-BAND requested a meeting with the NDDPI, at which the NDDPI invited local food specialists to explain the requirements of the inspection of the locally-sourced beef. After the meeting, I-BAND was approved to donate $3,000 (1,000 lbs) worth of ground beef that they delivered to 13 different school districts. The beef was raved about by students and staff, and even more districts contacted the NDDPI to find out where they could get their own.

“We also contacted almost every head cook in the schools to let them know there’s alternatives to getting beef on their menus. It was a team effort from all our board members, the inspected butcher shops, the ND Dept of Ag and the ND DPI, especially Deb Egeland. And now we’re hearing from many across the state what a great idea this is,” said I-BAND Vice President Frank Tomac.

Still, many schools, parents, etc. are worried about this change. How much more would it cost? Are there health drawbacks that may occur?

I-BAND reports that it is actually cheaper for school districts to purchase their beef from local ranchers rather than processed beef. Due to the consistent rise in food prices, a local butcher would be paying less for a local cow to meet the 85-15 blend of hamburger recommended. Of course, this is subject to change in the possibility of food distributors hiring more warehouse workers, drivers, etc.

Of the price concerns, Egeland says “If the local beef were to be more expensive, at least the money is staying in the community supporting local ranchers that pay taxes to support the school. Schools are allowed to pay more for geographic preference of foods raised/grown within the local area or state.”

Two of the schools who were delivered the locally-sourced beef did a test on the local versus the processed beef they were previously buying. The results showed that the local beef had at least 7% more usable product than the processed beef, partially due to the fact that beef from local butcher shops is 100% natural beef, according to I-BAND. This can have major impacts when schools are serving hundreds of students every day.

The importance of these farm-to-table initiatives can often be overlooked. Obtaining locally-grown, fresh produce (i.e. beef) into school systems creates biosecurity. Farm-to-table meals also provide a sense of pride within communities.

In an agricultural state such as North Dakota, raising high-quality food is extremely important. This comes from advocating for local food producers that help make farm-to-table meals possible in our schools.

There are many different ways for the public to support groups like I-BAND as they participate in movements and initiatives like this one. One way to do this is by contacting your local Superintendent, head cooks at schools, and school boards, letting them know the benefits of serving locally-sourced food in schools. Educating ourselves and others about the benefits is also important. On ways to support, Tomac said the following:

“Talk with a speaker or rancher in the area telling the kids this is where this beef is coming from, and this beef you’re eating is supporting our way of life, and explain all the good the ranchers and cows are doing, by feeding the kids and maintaining the clean air and environment. At most of the smaller schools the kids already know this. But the medium to large school systems have lost touch with their rural counterparts.”

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