RE1J school district to serve only grass-fed beef
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Not local, but better than the status quo

The Gunnison RE1J School District is taking its support of healthier food one big step beyond the local lunches that were served to students once a month last year. For the 2013/14 school year, the district’s cafeterias are switching the beef they serve to the grass-fed variety from Rocky Mountain Natural Meats.


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Since the meat distributor is from Henderson, Colo. and not located in the Gunnison Valley, or even one of the surrounding agricultural communities, it’s not ideal for Holly Conn and the Mountain Roots community, which financially supports the district’s local food purchases and strives to promote local food production. But moving students from the grade beef being provided by the school’s food distributor to Colorado grass-fed beef is a good step, she says.
“Making a switch from large-scale industry beef to the grass-fed beef is a step in the right direction, just not the one we were hoping for,” Conn says. “Mountain Roots understands that often small steps are the only way toward lasting, positive change.”
School district business manager Stephanie Juneau said, on her end, “The district is pleased to make this commitment as well.”
When the district started offering Parker Pastures’ local, grass-fed beef to students as part of an all-local school lunch once a month last year, the idea caught on with kids and their parents.
“In general, we want to support the district in choosing healthier options, fresher ingredients and cooking from scratch. So our plan this year is to evaluate the places in the food service where we can have the biggest impact overall and make changes that will last,” Conn says. “Mountain Roots’ Farm to School program is part of the National Farm to School and Colorado Farm to School. Across the country, local chapters work in different ways to provide support to youth and to schools.”
Part of the organization’s commitment to the schools is financial, chipping in to cover the additional cost of buying local produce or grass-fed beef.
As the menu for the current school year was being planned, cooks and advisors from Mountain Roots decided it was time to make a sweeping change and since beef was at the center of the tray on local foods day—and because Gunnison County produces a lot of beef—that seemed like a logical place to start. A Request for Bids went out and the winner was U.S. Foods, which started offering natural beef in response to an increase in demand.
“We were very excited to hear, in the spring, that the district was pursuing a switch to all-local beef. As a partner and co-funder of the project, I am surprised by the results,” she said. “As a local food systems initiative, Mountain Roots would prefer to support farmers right here in the Gunnison Valley first, then those of neighboring counties, and so on.”
To that, U.S. Foods’ local representative Chris Coady says, “My procurement department has first priority to buy local when possible. In the summer, when we can get Rocky Ford melons and Olathe sweet corn, we buy it from a Colorado producer.”
But the idea that the schools are making strides toward providing the best meats available for students is a sign that the concerns of Mountain Roots are becoming the concerns of parents and schools.
“The health benefits of the grass-fed beef will certainly exist and will be beneficial to our kids. And, it’s a message to the community that the district is taking action to improve the quality and nutrition of school meals,” Conn says.