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Putting beef back on school lunch trays

Community rallies together to provide beef to small-town Missouri school.

David Warfield did not like what he saw on the school lunch menu. There were no meals with beef as the main protein source.

It’s been a while since David, along with his wife, Sherry, paid much attention to a school lunch menu. Their children are grown. Now, they are interested grandparents. “I was just looking at the menu and noticed it,” Sherry said. “All they eat is chicken. Is that really a balanced diet?”

Make no mistake, it is a personal issue for the Warfields. David devoted his entire career to managing cattle operations — whether in Illinois, Tennessee or currently in southwest Missouri. Beef has always been on the dinner table.

About a year ago, the couple made it their mission to put beef back on the menu at their grandkids’ school in Butler, Mo.

The program

Warfield attended a Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Convention and heard Mark Russell, executive director of the Missouri Beef Industry Council, talk about a new program — MoBeef for MoKids.

Russell said that MoBeef for MoKids launched in October 2017 at Mount Vernon public schools in Lawrence County, which is the largest beef cow-calf county in Missouri.

“The goal of the program is to increase the amount of beef consumed by children,” he said, “and increase their knowledge about the health benefits of beef.”

Russell said beef provides 10 essential nutrients needed by growing children. “We want to educate and inspire them to eat beef for the next 50 to 60 years,” he said.

With the addition of Butler R-V School District, the program is in 10 schools across the state. Russell said that number continues to grow, but adding beef into schools requires local support.

The promoter

MoBeef for MoKids requires a commitment by local beef producers. So, David Warfield approached the Bates County Cattlemen’s Association.

Cattle are donated either directly from a producer or a business can buy one from a local farmer. “It takes more than one producer to make this happen,” Warfield said. “It is really a network of cattle producers coming together to bring beef into the schools. It is a community effort.”

Ultimately, one cow per month will feed all 620 students at Butler R-V Schools. While the cattle mainly end up as ground beef, Warfield noted the animals cannot be shelly cows, old and in poor condition.

“We want to get the most product off the animal as possible,” he said. Each processed cow will yield about 500 pounds of meat for the school per month.

Warfield needed only one beef producer to get the program started.

The producer

Larry Burch did not give a second thought to donating one of his own stock to MoBeef for MoKids.

As a young boy growing up on a farm near Butler, Burch ate some form of meat three times a day. His favorite meal was his mom’s Sunday pot roast. “When you grow up liking what mom or grandma feeds you,” he said, “it shapes what you like as an adult.”

When the Bates County cattleman learned local schoolchildren were not eating beef, he stepped in. “It is important to start introducing kids to beef at an early age,” Burch said. “It is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. And is a healthy part of a diet.”

Burch, who has been in the insurance business for 42 years in the area, said finances are tight for many families. “Beef is just not on the dinner table like it was when I was growing up,” he said. “It is sad to me that some of our kids will never eat a good hamburger or steak.” He wanted to change that — for at least one meal.

Burch, who started his own herd in 1983 with only 60 head of cattle, runs a cow-calf operation of about 200 cows. He said there is just something about beef straight from the farm to the meat processor to the plate. “It is fresh. It is flavorful. It is how mom made it,” he said.

The processor

Finding a meat locker willing to butcher one cow a month, work with a school lunch supplier and be USDA-certified can be a tall order. However, just up the road in Clinton, Warfield visited Powell Meats.

“We wanted the beef processed locally,” he said. “And it needed to be by a USDA-inspected facility to meet school guidelines.”

Travis Powell knew it was a fit for his company. “We are big on supporting the community,” Powell, owner of Powell Meats, said. “It is about the kids, being able to provide them with a quality product.”

Powell Meats opened three years ago. “I bought the place to put a car dealership here,” he said, “but then realized the community would benefit from a local meat shop.”

It serves as a one-stop custom butcher shop processing anything from beef to goat. Powell even offers seafood from the Gulf Coast and the occasional alligator from the South. However, kids at Butler elementary and high schools will only eat beef.

Warfield said kids will taste the difference of locally processed beef. “There is a difference between it and the beef they buy in the store,” he explained. At Powell Meats, the product can properly age. “It is not just cut and wrapped,” Warfield added. “It can chill 48 hours or hang for two weeks, which only adds to the flavor.”

The product

Butler R-V School District Superintendent Darin Carter said the addition of Bates County to the donation of beef helps the school financially.

“We are a small town,” he said. “Without this program, it was hard to economically provide beef to our students. Now we can provide a healthy, nutritious, wholesome food product to our kids.”

Butler School food service director Tina Simmons said beef breaks up the monotony of chicken-filled menus. Students dine on dishes such as tacos, nachos, meatloaf, barbecue beef and sloppy joes.

“I think it is good that the younger generation has the opportunity to eat beef and enjoy it,” Simmons said. “I want them to know what local-grown beef tastes like. I hope they enjoy it.”

Agriculture is the biggest economic driver for this small town. Carter said the school already has a lot of support from the farming community, “but they continue to provide us with more.”

The Warfields are happy beef is back in school, but they are not stopping with only one school. The couple wants the program extended to schools in the county.

“MoBeef for MoKids allows our organization in school to talk about beef production and the nutritious aspects of beef,” David Warfield said. “Hopefully, it will put in our young people’s mind a positive image instead of the anti-meat agenda that is coming into many schools.”

 

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