The Mount Vernon (Mo.) School District is the first and so far only district to participate in a new program designed to use local cattle ranchers to add more meat to school lunches.
The program is a new partnership between the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Beef Industry Council, Opaa! Food Management and the Mount Vernon School District. If all goes well, the program will double the amount of beef included in the students' lunches, using meat from Lawrence County.
“We were fortunate to be approached by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Missouri Beef Industry Council in the summer of 2017,” says Scott Cook, superintendent
of Mount Vernon R-V Schools. “These two groups met with us—the district and our contract foodservice provider, OPAA!—to inquire about forging a partnership that would incorporate more beef into our students' lunches.”
The program, dubbed MO Beef for MO Kids, launched in October at a "Farm to Fork" dinner at Mount Vernon High School. Since then, Mount Vernon’s 1,450 students are seeing double the amount of local beef in their lunches.
Cook (SC), along with Scott Meyer (SM), area director of Operations for Opaa! Food Management Inc., sat down with FM to share insights into how the program will work and what both parties hope to achieve through it.
Q: What exactly does the program do?
SC: Local farmers donate cattle to the program. The cattle are then processed by a regional processor at a reduced rate. Then the beef comes straight to our kitchens to be served to our students. By doing so, we will double the amount of beef we are able to provide to our students at no extra cost to the district.
Q: Why is this an important partnership for Mount Vernon?
SC: We are located in Lawrence County, Missouri, which happens to be the largest cattle-producing county in the state of Missouri. It’s important to our local economy to teach our students how important the agriculture industry is in our area. We are also able to show them how food is the direct result of someone else's hard work.
Q: What challenges are there with the program?
SC: Sustaining the momentum over the coming years will be a challenge. There is a great deal of excitement right now among area farmers and within our district. Making sure the program has the same energy five years from now will be the key to its long-term success.
Q: How is it funded?
SC: It’s funded through the generosity of local cattlemen and women.
Q: Are you educating the students about the program and the farmers?
SC: We have posters honoring local farmers who have donated hung in the schools. We also have banners in front of each school promoting the program. The goal is to encourage even more farmers and businesses to support the program.
Q: What has been the district's role in getting the program off the ground?
SC: The main role of the district has been promotion, while the other entities involved have done a great job at finding funding, sources and donors.
Q: What has been OPAA!'s role?
SM: Opaa! has worked with the Missouri department of agriculture to identify schools near production and processing facilities that will make the project feasible. In addition, Opaa! has created menus and recipes to incorporate the Missouri beef into the Mt. Vernon program. Opaa! is paying the full cost of processing the beef, and our staff is engaged in changing production schedules and in preparing food that will excite student.
It is our responsibility to see that menus and meal options are exciting to students and that our staff is prepared to meet production demands.