What began in Malheur County, Ore., as an effort to provide local schools with fresh, local beef is filling the plates of students at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School and 13 other school districts in Oregon and Idaho.
Ranchers Feeding Kids was initially a joint effort between the Malheur County Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon State University Extension Service.
The concept was simple: Ranchers donate cull cattle to the school districts, which either pay for butchering the animals or receive grants from ranchers or elsewhere to pay for it.
At Grant Union Junior-Senior High School the donations usually end up in the form of hamburger, said Natalie Weaver, the head cook, who is in charge of preparing 120 breakfasts and 175 lunches a day.
“The hamburger tends to be much leaner” than the ground beef the district usually buys, she said. “The students see a difference.”
Curt Shelley, superintendent of Grant County School District Number 3, and Shanna Northway, OSU Extension agriculture and 4-H faculty, coordinate the effort in Grant County.
The donated beef provides a cost savings for the schools and an opportunity for ranchers to promote their industry, Shelley said.
Three animals have been donated to area schools so far this school year, Northway said.
All beef must be USDA inspected.
The program has operated primarily by word-of-mouth since it started in 2009, Northway said.
In its first four years in Oregon and Idaho, nearly 30,000 pounds of beef were donated, and the value of the cattle donations was nearly $42,000, according to an OSU Extension report.
Some 5,500 students were fed during that time in Adrian, Annex, Harper, Jordan Valley, Nyssa, Ontario and Vale, Ore., and Cascade, Cambridge, McCall, Midvale and Weiser, Idaho. Since then other county cattlemen’s groups have joined in.
“It’s a great thing for us and the ranchers,” Shelley said.