Don't tell my kids, but it won't be all that long before classes begin again in local schools. Thanks to programs like Beef in the School, students this upcoming year will enjoy high-quality school lunch meals that were grown very close to home to fuel their minds and bodies.
Even in my own hometown, local directors of the Knox County Cattlemen Association, an affiliate of Nebraska Cattlemen, parked their corn planters long enough to grill burgers at the end of the last school year in May for nearly every school district in the county.
My children, and I'm sure students around the county, appreciated their efforts, not only because they knew where the great burgers were coming from, but also because of the agricultural education aspects of the gesture.
More than 50 school districts in Nebraska now benefit from some form of Beef in the School program. "There is no wrong way to set this up," Hebron, Neb., cattle producer, Rob Marsh, told participants at last year's Sandhills Cattle Association convention in Ord.
Speaking as part of a panel, Marsh noted, "Beef is nutritious for the kids. Such programs promote area agriculture and beef to the students, staff and school. And it offers a chance for the community to work together."
For Marsh and local producers near Thayer Central School at Hebron, their four-year program began with the establishment of the Titan Beef Boosters organization. Volunteers around Hebron asked local beef producers for donations of quality cull cows. They asked families, individuals and businesses for cash donations to help cover processing costs. A total of 12 cows were donated to cover the first school year of the program, where the district prepares about 320 lunches on average per day.
Much of the $18,000 total processing costs for the animals was also donated. According to Marsh, total contributions to the program as of 2017 had come from 113 donors who contributed 33 animals, and cash and in-kind donations of almost $92,000.
Because the beef was donated, it helps the school lunch program cut costs. And because the beef was raised by local producers, it provided an opportunity to talk with students and staff about local agriculture and beef production.
"You may think that all rural kids know about agriculture," Marsh said. "But they don't. So why not teach them about agriculture and feed them each day like we feed our families out of our own freezers."
I'm told the Knox County Cattlemen now have nearly enough beef donated to cover the school lunch needs going into this upcoming school year for several districts, including Crofton.
"We sure appreciate everyone's support," says Brock Foxhoven, Crofton area Knox County Cattlemen board member. "Thanks to our producers and community partners we are able to supply locally grown, fresh ground beef in our schools. We are big believers in our youth."
Cattle groups and community partners around the state and across the Midwest have had similar success. The time has come for this kind of partnership between farmers and ranchers, school districts, and communities. These efforts and others like them could be models for other commodity groups around farm country to follow suit.
All it takes is a few farm leaders, like the board members in our local cattlemen group, to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. The rewards are ample not only for producers, but for our precious students and schools as well.