Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Local Beef is What's for Lunch in Kalispell!

Katie Wheeler is a Service Member in Kalispell. 

Currently, there’s a movement in Montana to connect K-12 schools with local cattle ranchers. Our FoodCorps state fellow, Lea Howe, is helping lead the charge. The basic idea is that we live in Montana, a state known for it’s beef, so why not serve local beef in cafeterias across the state? In the simplest terms, it makes sense to support local ranchers and get healthier beef into the stomachs of our students. 
Food Service Director, Jennifer Montague,
visits Lower Valley Processing Facility.

Here at School District #5 in Kalispell, we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of serving local beef burgers in our cafeterias. We couldn’t be happier.  In the fall of 2011, we looked into making the switch to local beef but couldn’t find a meat processor with the necessary equipment.  Last March, our Food Service Director, Jennifer Montague, asked that I again look into the possibility of switching to local beef. 

The first call I made was to Lower Valley Processing, a family owned and state inspected facility located less than ten miles away.  I spoke with Jason Mahlen who informed me that they had just purchased a new machine that had an attachment to form beef patties at our desired size. With this simple change we could now buy Montana beef at our schools. 
Katie poses by the patty machine!

Jason, Jenny, and I exchanged a handful of emails and phone calls and by the end of the next day, we had a box of fresh local beef patties scheduled for delivery the following week!  One year later and we are now purchasing 20 cases per week for our 11 schools.

One of the best parts of this story is that no monetary compromises were made by either party involved. Lower Valley didn’t have to lower their price tag in order to hit our budget, and we didn’t have to sacrifice money from a different part of our budget in order to make the change viable.  What did change is that we now serve exclusively Montana beef burgers that are never frozen. In fact, we’re saving $.01 per patty by purchasing this product locally, which equates to approximately $765 of savings per school year.  With this deal, District #5 is putting upwards of $37,000 in the local economy each year!

The scrumptious final product: a local beef burger.

The hurdles to source local food are many but FoodCorps is working everyday to build infrastructure and relationships to get this food into our schools. Beef in Kalispell schools is a great example of our success. If we continue to put in the hard work, we’ll keep money in our local economy and produce a healthy generation of young eaters.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What makes your heart “beet”?

Erin Jackson is a FoodCorps Service Member in Bozeman.

“I know why it’s called a beet: because it’s red and it’s good for your heart! Yummy, my heart wants more!”

Although not all students enjoy roasted beets, this kindergartner sure does! It also appears that vegetable painting spurs critical thinking in the young mind—one more benefit of eating vegetables!

We celebrated American Heart Month with Hyalite kindergartners and first graders this year with beets.

We began our lesson with a discussion on the importance of maintaining a healthy heart and ways in which to do this in our everyday lives, like exercising and eating healthy. As it turns out, red fruits and vegetables are especially good for the heart thanks to powerful antioxidants like lycopene and anthocyanins.

What better way to recognize American Heart Month than to make art with this bright red vegetable?

Students had a blast painting with beet juice to the prompt: “What makes your heart ‘beet’?” Responses ranged from “running” to “playing tag” to “looking at the stars”.

They all tasted roasted beets at the end of the lesson, which turned out to be especially exciting when they discovered that their fingers, teeth, and lips were dyed bright red.

Heart health has been on my mind recently since reading a NY Times article highlighting a study on the effects of a Mediterranean diet on heart disease. The study followed over 7000 people in Spain who were considered at high risk for heart disease based on known risk factors including being overweight and smoking, among others. The results were striking. Participants who followed the Mediterranean diet for five years had a 30% lower risk of heart disease than those on a typical low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, nuts, and olive oil, all of which are beneficial to our health when eaten in moderation.

Meanwhile, our nation is facing a public health crisis driven by the Western diet. The processed, sugary foods we find on the supermarket shelves in this country are bad for our health. We know that. We also know that diets rich in whole foods are good for us.

Which is why I focus on “real” foods in all of my lessons with FoodCorps: foods that are whole and unprocessed. The students at Hyalite may not remember who I am or the day we painted with beets. But I’m confident that they will remember that eating beets is healthy. And that is knowledge they will carry with them for a long time to come.