For many kids in school, lunch time is a chance to recharge halfway through the day. With the hard work and dedication of the Wall FFA Chapter and community businesses, the students at Wall School in South Dakota have even more to look forward to — locally raised beef in their hamburger patties.
What started off as an idea to give students local beef and increase market potential for regional ranchers became a reality when the Wall community worked together. It all started when Ken Charfauros bought the Wall Meat Processing plant and wanted to bring local beef to the Wall School District.
In order to make this a possibility, it would require work from multiple organizations and individuals. Dani Herring, the Wall FFA Chapter Advisor, is also on the town’s Economic Development Board of Directors. Once she heard the about the program, she was eager to get the Wall FFA Chapter involved.
Herring went to the school lunch director to figure out how to help get local beef eligible for the weekly lunches provided by the district. Herring found out the FFA chapter could help with two of the USDA regulations — they must provide nutrition education and beef education to the elementary school. The Wall FFA members decided to lead the education piece for the USDA requirements.
To implement the education piece, the Wall FFA members created a unique learning experience for grades K-5. One of Herring’s classes, the Leadership and Communication Class, has 14 students who went to the elementary classrooms three times during the spring semester. Herring let the students do everything. They did the research, talked to the teachers, and created lesson plans. In addition, students orchestrated a kick off event when the local beef was served for the first time for lunch.
Herring said how proud she was of the students for really stepping up. The lessons they created built upon one another and connected the students to the farm. Lessons on beef included raising cattle, meats judging, beef nutrition, and different cuts of beef.
The spring pilot program could not have been possible without the five ranchers who donated beef to the program. Since there was no cost associated to begin, donations from different organizations and individuals was then used for the processing fees. The processing plant donated the processing for one cow and everything else was paid for by the donations.
However, donations would not be sustainable for the future, and the fall will be run differently. Since the processing plant adheres to the USDA’s requirements, the school lunch director will be able to use the USDA procurement dollars and buy local from the meat processing facility, just like she would previously buy meat.
During the spring semester, 1,240 pounds of ground beef, 317 pounds of beef patties, 45 pounds of roast beef and 35 pounds of cubed beef were used to create these meals for the Wall students.
Although they were successful, the Wall School District and the Wall Meat Processing facility had to jump through many hoops to get local beef into the school cafeteria. The facility must be federally inspected, send in samples, meet certain requirements, etc.
In an effort to make that process easier, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced the Farm and Ranch to School Act, which would amend the National School Lunch Act, Farm to School Program, to include funding to make local livestock and meat procurement for school lunch programs a priority.
According to a press release, “Under the current Farm to School Program, meat and livestock producers are underserved,” said Johnson. “In South Dakota, we grow our meat locally. The Farm and Ranch to School Act will give South Dakota producers a fair shake at serving their product in the lunchroom. South Dakota’s students deserve the best and freshest quality meat in their lunches, this legislation will make that a reality.”
Under the current Farm to School Program, the USDA does not specifically allocate funds for local farm-to-school meat product sales. This legislation would also enhance educational opportunities in the classroom related to livestock production and meat processing.”
With the Wall Meat Processing facility cleared, five additional schools in the area are looking into the same program and utilizing the local meat processing facility.
According to federal regulations, the schools must bid out where they buy their products from. The school lunch director sent out request for bids as normal for the school year. Turns out, it is cost effective to source the beef locally and they plan to continue purchasing the beef locally and support the local community. Through this program not only do students get the value of local meat, the FFA members also get to step into the elementary school and become role models for the young students.