“As I was driving by, I noticed 3 younguns alongside the road. The oldest couldna been more ‘n 7. They was draggin’ a dead deer behind ’em, happy as could be, takin’ it home I reckon.”
Thus was the story that was relayed to my friend and me about some children in NE Georgia, an area that’s been hard hit in these economic times. We surmised that possibly these children were dragging that deer home for their momma to use for supper. It didn’t matter to those children that it was hot as blazes outside, nor that the roadkill may have been laying there for a while.
It made me shudder to think this could even be a possibility. My friend and I are on the board for a ministry that hands out food and clothing to those who have come into hard times. My friend said to me, “Cyndi, can’t you do something with your beef so we can give it away to kids like this?”
The wheels started turning…
The Farm to School Movement had caught my interest several months beforehand and I’d constantly been trying to figure out how I could help get local food into our elementary school in Statham.
In the month of July, I visited a Junior High in Washington state that had an amazing “farm” program for their students. The children grew food in the school gardens and sold it at the Farmer’s Market which was located next to the school.
I was excited. Statham had a Farmers Market and Statham also had an elementary school just a couple of blocks from the Farmers Market. This was the direction I was headed until I heard the story about the children dragging the dead deer.
My farm, Lazy B Farm, obtained a private meat label for our beef and pork in June of 2011. I now am able to sell beef and pork by the individual package and not just by the half or quarter. A private label means the meat is USDA inspected.
Now that I had a label for our beef, I wondered if it was possible to just donate beef to the local school. I started asking questions and kept coming up empty handed. No one knew because no one had done this before.
I called the Georgia Department of Agriculture and talked with Melanie Hollingsworth. She agreed to do some investigating for me.
And so began the journey of the formation of “Cows in the Cafeteria.” Needless to say, it’s been quite a journey and we’ve been trudging through uncharted territory. In the end, we needed to get approval from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Department of Education, and the USDA. And it didn’t stop there. Just because I had the approval at this level didn’t mean our beef would make it into the school cafeteria. I needed final approval from the Nutritional Directors of the counties where the schools resided. And lastly, it helped to have support from the school principals and cafeteria supervisors.
I’ve learned a TON about the workings of our public school food system. I also had wonderful interactions with all those who helped along the way, at all levels. Each one who found out about “Cows in the Cafeteria”, became a cheerleader and encourager to keep going and make it happen.
Just as we were coming to the end of the journey and I was getting ready to transport 2 steers to my processor, I received a phone call. My butcher advised me he was quitting and getting out of the business. I was now without a butcher. It had taken me 6 months to get my first label and I didn’t have that kind of time now. I’d promised beef to two elementary schools and the steers were ready to be processed.
I quickly called Happy Valley Processing (who’d been highly recommended) in Dearing, GA and asked if he would take me on as a private label. He agreed.
Next, I called Glen Echols at the Georgia Department of Agriculture to see if there was anyway to expedite a new label. He agreed to meet me in Dearing at Happy Valley Processing so we could meet face-to-face and do all the paperwork right there with Donald Palmer, the owner of Happy Valley, and the state inspector.
Dearing is 2 hours from my farm, one way. There are only 4 or 5 processors in the entire state of GA who are able to carry private labels. There are a lot of regulations for everyone involved. Glen Echols worked with Donald to make it possible for me to bring my steers for processing as soon as I could deliver them. Their help to get me out of a bind was unbelievable.
I met with the Nutritional Directors who ran the food programs for Statham Elementary and South Jackson Elementary. They had final say about whether they would be willing to accept donated beef for a school. It was the equivalent of asking a mom to make a special meal for one of her 10 children. Our meeting was wonderful and I had full support from both of them, Pamela LeFrois from Barrow County and Dr. Debra Morris from Jackson County. They already had been trying to get fresh local foods incorporated into the meals for school students. Once all their questions were answered and concerns addressed, I moved onto the final stage.
It was decided that the best use of the beef was to have it made into hamburgers. Most children liked hamburgers. Was it possible for my processor to make hamburgers for hundreds of students? Better yet, was he willing?
I called to talk with Donald. Yes – it would not be a problem.
And so, on January 25, our local beef, made into hamburgers, will be served to the students of Statham Elementary and on January 26, our hamburgers will be served to the students of South Jackson Elementary.
This is a huge victory and so worth the anxiety and sleepless nights wondering if “we” could make this happen.
“Cows in the Cafeteria” hasn’t been a solo project by any means. It’s taken many others with the vision to make a difference in the food consumed by our school children, to make this all happen. From the art teacher, Paige Ostrander at Statham Elementary who willingly donned a cow costume to raise awareness about the difference between pastured local beef and the typical school meat, to the cafeteria supervisor, Lottrell Sims who decorated her cafeteria with all kinds of cows, cow placemats, and chef’s jacket and hat with spots, to Glen Echols at the State Dept who went the extra mile, literally – these and more are the people who made “Cows in the Cafeteria” a possibility.
My passion is education – education about making wise, informed choices regarding nutrition, food consumption and the way we live. “Cows in the Cafeteria” is making this happen within the school classrooms as children inquire, “what’s it all about?”
How is “Cows in the Cafeteria” funded?
Lazy B Farm has donated the first hamburgers to Statham Elementary and South Jackson Elementary. I wanted to give back to my community here in Statham. I have friends who teach at Statham Elementary and friend’s children who attend this school. I also wanted to thank all those who purchased our beef this summer at the Statham Farmers Market. I chose Jackson Elementary because my friend, Pam Johns, is the principal at the school and is trying to make a difference in the food choices for the children in her school.
I saw the vision of getting local beef into the school cafeteria but I wrestled with the logistics of making this a sustainable program. Eventually all the pieces fell into place and met the regulations of all the departments involved.
When a consumer purchases any meat from Lazy B Farm, a percentage of the profit goes directly to “Cows in the Cafeteria.” The monies from the “Cows in the Cafeteria” fund purchase steers from local farmers, pay to process the beef under the Lazy B Farm label so it meets USDA requirements, and then the beef is transported and donated to a local school cafeteria in the form of hamburgers.
600 hamburgers = $600
600 hamburgers will feed a typical elementary school for one lunch.
The dividends of this set-up have far reaching benefits for the local community.
- Financial support of local farmers
- Reinvesting in the local economy
- Great quality food for the community’s school children
- The opportunity to help children understand the importance of buying local food
- The means for local consumers to purchase all natural meats and make a difference in the lives of local school children at the same time
- Helping to achieve the goal of the Farm to School movement in Georgia
- Allowing the community to take control of the food situation for their schools without depending on government interference
The Dream for “Cows in the Cafeteria.”
I have a dream for “Cows in the Cafeteria.” My dream is for others to catch the vision for making a difference in their community. My dream is to see other farms who have their private label for meats use this program to bring great quality food into their own community’s school. My dream is to see a program like this go national so we, the people, provide food for our own school children who are the future of our neighborhoods and towns and cities. My dream is to see children take an interest in what they are consuming and putting into their bodies and to make healthful choices. My dream is to provide a means that makes great local food more accessible to the people of our community.
How can you make a difference in your community?
When you purchase your beef and pork from Lazy B Farm, you automatically help feed the local school children a higher quality beef. Spread the word to others so they too can support “Cows in the Cafeteria.”
If you know a farmer or a farmer yourself and would like to donate a steer to the “Cows in the Cafeteria” program, we will have it processed and given to the school of your choice so long as it’s within a reasonable driving distance from Statham.
Help start a school garden. The produce is able to be used in the cafeteria or the children may take it home with them.
Check into your local Farm to School movement and see where you can lend a hand.
So there it is folks! It’s taken months to get to this point and I couldn’t wait to share all that’s been happening with you. Little did I know that wanting to donate local beef to my elementary school would lead to this place. It’s been an incredible, very educational journey. Thank you for taking the time to read this very long blog. But mostly I thank you for your encouragement and support of Lazy B Farm. Oft times it’s because of the friends of the farm that I keep pushing to work through the tough stuff so all may benefit. May Cows in the Cafeteria only be the beginning for a major change in getting local produce and meat into our school cafeterias.