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We’ve all heard about “pink slime,” the downright
disgusting mix known as lean finely textured beef, mechanically separated and
disinfected “food.” Now parents in a small rural Colorado school district can
feel better about choosing a school lunch for their kids, because real food is
what they are serving.
Beginning two years ago, Crystal River Beef in Carbondale,
Colo., which is three hours west of Denver, has been selling local, grass-fed
meat to the RE-1 school district – Basalt to Glenwood – this school year.
“We’re excited to show parents that our school children
are eating healthy, natural foods from right in our backyard,” said Michelle
Hammond, the district’s Food service Director. “We’re out ahead of what we hope
will be a national trend.”
The fact that children who purchase school lunches will
be ensured nutritious, grass-fed beef in their cafeterias is both an
acknowledgement of the need to improve our nation’s school food programs, but
it’s also real action behind it.
This step forward began with the Roaring Fork Food Policy
Council. They approached the RE-1 school district with the idea of using grass-fed beef and facilitated a meeting between Hammond and local ranchers. Crystal
River Beef was able to meet demands for the 17,000 pounds of beef the district
needed annually (beef is served two to three times a week on the RE-1 lunch
menus), as well as a price that worked for the district’s budget.
According to the Mayo Clinic some of the benefits of
grass-fed beef is lesser total fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated
linoleic acid (fat that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks),
more antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E.
Crystal River Meats will partner with the local Whole
Foods store, to supply high-quality beef for the 2,000 students daily who eat
school lunches in this district. The beef going to the schools is exactly the
same ground beef being sold at Whole Foods. CRM and Whole Foods forecast the
usage and hold extra beef back at the plant, redirecting it directly to the
schools. This smart production is an example of how modern logistical
efficiencies make it possible to save costs, fuel and time. Through this
partnership, CRM and Whole Foods are able to offer a significant discount the
schools. Ultimately, it makes it feasible to execute a program like this, and
is a great example of “new school” local beef production, according to the CRM
That day she had received an email saying there were 150 pounds of assorted potatoes, 20 pounds of green beans and lots of squash ready for cafeterias to be used throughout the district.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that our business is deeply rooted in the local
community,” says Tai Jacober of CRM. “This is not only a way for us to focus
locally, but also a way to ensure that our children, and the children of our
friends and neighbors, are eating well at school.”
This is just one part of district wide change for the
district’s 11 lunchrooms. Several years ago Hammond brought in LiveWell
Colorado. The LiveWell program provided training for all the food staff in the
district on how to prepare homemade foods. The goal was to switch completely
from processed to scratch-bake cooking. This is the third year the district has
prepared its menu items from scratch. There are no canned fruits and veggies,
and there are now salad bars with fresh fruits and vegetables available to
They are also utilizing the district's two elementary school
gardens and the growing dome at one of its high schools. Hammonds would like to
see the schoolyard garden program expand to all schools that can muster the
volunteer help to maintain them. That day she had received an email saying there were 150 pounds of
assorted potatoes, 20 pounds of green
beans and lots of squash ready for cafeterias to be used throughout the
A book that has
influenced Hammond and her district’s position on fresh food for kids is “Lunch
Money,” by Kate Adamick, co-founder of Cook for America. “Kate and this book
has really has helped to motivate my staff and myself to finding ways to make (fresh,
nutritious school lunches) possible.”
And while gathering
local fresh food for the district is added work for Hammond, she is a strong
advocate for healthy food for kids – food that helps empower children in and
out of the classroom.
“I can’t stress
enough what a passion it is to provide these students the best possible quality
we can give them,” she says. “Every student does deserve the best, and whatever
I can do to make it happen I am definitely willing to try.”
If a small, rural school district in Colorado can get
grass-fed beef on the menu at its local schools, you should be asking, why