Many students around the state of North Dakota will soon have the chance to try beef produced in their own backyard.
The Independent Beef Association of North Dakota spearheaded a project to provide at least 12 different North Dakota schools with donations of North Dakota ground beef, which has started the schools thinking about buying more in the future.
Ranchers and I-BAND board members Kerry Dockter, Denhoff; Jeremy Maher, Sioux County; August Huepel, Medina with help from South 40 Beef, Mott, North Dakota, owner John Roswech, delivered 20 to 100 or more pounds of ground beef to a dozen different North Dakota schools, for a total of about 1,000 pounds of beef that the organization donated to Richardton, New Salem, Bismarck, Mandan, Fessenden, Maddock, McClusky, Steele, Medina, Kensal, Valley City and Central Cass. The beef, exclusively from North Dakota cattle, was processed and packed into five-pound packages at South 40 Beef.
Because the frozen beef was just delivered this week, the school cooks haven’t had a chance to prepare it yet, but Dockter said the response has been encouraging.
How did it happen?
Less than a month ago, North Dakota rancher Jeremy Maher and his wife set out on a quest to donate some of their home-raised beef to their sons’ school. The Maher beef was recently delivered to the school in McIntosh, South Dakota, where their boys attend school. McIntosh is located near the North Dakota/South Dakota state line, near the Maher ranch.
As Maher made phone calls to learn which hoops he needed to jump through in order to have his critter processed for school use, Maher also contacted Deb Egeland, North Dakota assistant director of child nutrition and food distribution, to ask how his state cattle organization – I-BAND, could donate beef to schools across the state.
Egeland was excited to help with the project, and immediately arranged a meeting with Maher and a few other I-BAND members.
“While we were sitting down talking about it, the food service director from Fargo called with a supply issue,” Egeland said. “I said ‘I’m talking to some ranchers right now about local beef, would you be interested in buying any?’ She said yes, that sounds really good. She looked up what she was paying for commodity beef, and it was $4.07 per pound. We figured out she could actually get local beef for less.”
Just this week, Fargo public schools served up taco grinders and tacos in a bag from beef processed at Mott, North Dakota’s South 40 Beef, from North Dakota cattle. The staff was excited about the chance to serve local beef, said Cindy Hogenson Director of Nutrition Services for Fargo Public Schools.
Dockter said Egeland was tremendously helpful in putting their plans into action. Egeland said because most schools in North Dakota are small, the five-pound packages of meat may be more efficient than the 10 pound chubs they get from the USDA commodity program. “This way, if they only need 15 pounds, they aren’t wasting any meat by thawing out 20 pounds,” she said.
Egeland also said that some schools are able to utilize ground beef patties. As a former school food service director herself, she recommends that patties be cooked on a flat top grill or an outdoor grill, not baked in the oven or roaster as the pre-cooked patties would be.
Egeland surveyed schools across the state to determine which schools were interested in ground beef, what size of packages they prefer, and so on. Schools responded enthusiastically, and the ranchers weren’t able to provide beef to every school that responded, but they hope that every school continues to look for ways to source their beef locally, and I-BAND says they are here to help.
“There are some schools that want to source their hamburger locally, and maybe we can help them out and get them started,” said Dockter.
In order to be eligible to be served through the school lunch program, beef must be processed at a state or federally inspected plant. (See sidebar for list of processors.) Call Kristine Kostuck at 701-328-2659 for more information about eligible meat plants, or Deb Egeland at 701-391-2884 for general information about school lunch programs.
Dockter points out that there are many plants around the state capable of processing meat for schools. “Several schools we have worked with actually have plants in their hometowns. The opportunity is there for the school districts to help themselves,” he said.
In fact, as a result of the ranchers’ efforts, the Fargo School District recently purchased and served almost 1,000 pounds of North Dakota-produced beef, reporting that the quality of the product is far superior to the commodity beef they usually use, in part because the local beef contained less water.
“We cooked a 10-pound test batch this morning,” said Cindy Hogenson
Director of Nutrition Services, in an e-mail to Egeland
“The cook said there was a good beef aroma that isn’t present with the commodity beef. The test batch also indicates a better yield. Our commodity ground beef yields 67 percent. The test batch ND beef yielded 76.25 percent. Theoretically, we will be getting 85 pounds more in usable beef when we start with 922 pounds raw ND beef compared to 922 pounds raw commodity beef. These results are based on one small test batch. Results may differ when using large quantities and measured several times,” she said.
Egeland said one point she wants to be sure schools and ranchers understand is that public school systems do have the option, as well as the funding, to purchase local beef. She said that schools receive $.39 per meal in USDA funding, which has to be spent on USDA commodities. This part of the budget could not be used to buy local beef, but the rest of the budget could be put toward local beef, she said. Egland also said that schools can consider buying roasts, stew meat and other reasonably priced beef items locally, as well. The schools have control over their own school lunch budgets, and that if they buy locally, they actually have the flexibility to spend a little more.
North Dakota schools use around 400,000 pounds of ground beef per year, which equates to at least $1.5 million being spent on ground beef – most of which is commodity beef that does not necessarily come from North Dakota ranches or North Dakota processors.
I-BAND and Egeland would like to change that. Dockter said this is an opportunity not only for North Dakota producers to market their cull cows and bulls, but also for local processors to find consistent business. “Right now, our cull cow market is not very good. If we can direct a lot of our cull cows to be used within the state, it could help drive prices up. Also, I think this is another step for trying to get packing plants going in the state. They’d have an avenue to process these cows and some bulls. The demand would be here to utilize it right here.”
Roswech, with South 40 Beef, said he sells about 50 pounds of ground beef to his local school in Mott each week. He is now in conversation with several other schools about providing them with ground beef, as well. Currently, he is selling it to the schools for around $3.49 per pound, but the price will fluctuate with the market, he said. Egeland said that North Dakota schools have paid about $3.77 per pound for commodity beef in recent months, with the price more recently climbing to about $4.07 per pound.
Egeland believes the economic impact to the state could be significant.
“The thing is, what we’re talking about, if we could get the schools to steer their ground beef toward North Dakota – I know it’s at least $1.5 million. They could be spending those dollars in their local communities,” said Egeland.
State Inspected Locker Plants
Bowdon Meat Processing, Bowdon
Barton Meats, Inc., Carrington
Maple Valley Lockers, Inc., Enderlin
Myers Meats & Specialties, Garrison
Schweitzer’s Gourmet Meats, Moffit
Mema’s Meats, Berthold
Custom Kut Meat, Inc., Carrington
State slaughter plants
Reister Meats & Catering, Steeter ND
Federal slaughter facilities
Casselton Cold Storage, Casselton
Fairmount Lockers, Fairmount
NDSU Animal Science Dept, Fargo
J & J Hazen Meats, Hazen
Langdon Lockers, Langdon
North American Bison, LLC, New Rockford
6 in 1 meats, LLC, New Salem
Valley Meat Supply, Valley City
Yellowstone River Beef, Williston
South 40 Beef, Mott
Federal processing facilities
John’s Meat Market, Bismarck
Ameristar Meats, Inc., Fargo
Golden Plains Frozen Foods, Leeds
Cloverdale Foods Co., Hazen
M & W Beef Packers, Mandan
Myers Meats & Specialties, Parshall
Bonita’s Pizza, Portland
Fargo Packing & Sausage Co, West Fargo
Quality Boneless Beef, LLC, West Fargo
Green Valley Foods, Devils Lake