North Dakota school kitchen managers and cooks recently participated in an educational workshop about cooking beef and ‘growing school meals’. The class was a collaboration between multiple groups including the North Dakota Independent Beef Association (I-BAND), the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI), the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA), the North Dakota Beef (NDBC), North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) and Cenex Harvest States (CHS). The workshop took place at the Bismarck Heritage Center on Thursday, August 11.
Approximately 70 people, including 50 chefs, support staff, I-BAND board members and the North Dakota Friends Commission attended to hear from speakers Rebecca Polson, a certified chef from Minneapolis, Jason McKenney with Co-op Director and NDFU Transportation, John Roswech with South 40 Beef Processing Plant, Corey Hart with Bowdon Meat Processing, Rhonda Amundson with NDDPI and Kayla Hart with ND FFA.
IBAND office manager Kari Goldade was instrumental in building the classroom. Board member Jeremy Maher brought the idea to the table and Goldade took it from there. She helped select speakers recommended by Deb Egeland or other board members, found a location and worked with various organizations across the state to make the class complete and useful for school cooks across the state.
“The biggest difficulty was probably finding a place because we didn’t know what the class size would be. It was also a challenge to figure out which way to go with speakers and find speakers who could be relevant to the topic,” Goldade said.
She said the feedback they have received from the schools has all been excellent.
“We sent out a survey to everyone in attendance on the day and the feedback has come back really, really well. They liked the material covered and thought it was relevant. “Most of them said they really liked the cookbook, so in the future we might just add new recipes with different cuts of meat,” Goldade said.
All participants received goodies sponsored by IBAND and NDBC, including a cookbook of hand-picked beef recipes from scratch, a food code book provided by the Department of Health, kitchen items, notebooks and pens.
Assistant Director in the ND DPI Child Nutrition Program and head of the Farm to School program, Deb Egeland knew this class was important to helping schools serve more local beef by giving kitchen managers and chefs recipes to cloud. NDBC suggested Rebecca Polson, a school nutrition specialist, as a featured speaker. She demonstrated how to prepare and cook the hamburger patties in the oven so they look more flavorful, instead of having pockets of gray fat (as some of the chefs had expressed concern). Polson also made a Korean beef bowl, which Deb said was flavorful and delicious.
“I think the best thing about getting food from the chefs was how easy it could be to serve home-raised beef more often. One cook said she had a lot of beef left but wanted to start serving local beef, and I told her to serve it more often. They can serve beef three days a week,” Egeland noted. She said there was no aspect of serving home-raised beef that they didn’t cover in class.
“The only thing I would have changed is that I would have invited the child care providers, but some of them are so understaffed that it would have been difficult for them to leave to attend class,” Egeland said.
Egeland, Goldade and other class organizers chose a meat processor from each state to speak. Corey Hart, purveyor and part owner of Bowden Meat Processing in central North Dakota, answered questions about the possibilities of offering different cuts of meat to schools.
“It’s kind of sad, some of these schools only serve beef once a week. I think the main issue is that chefs worry about how long it will take to prepare the meat, and the second issue is the price. Some commodity beef is $1 cheaper than ours. A lot of the schools are pinching pennies right now, but some of the schools really love our beef,” Hart said. Overall, he thought the class went well, but he would have liked more kitchen managers and chefs to have the opportunity to participate.
Hart also mentioned during the workshop that Bowden Meat Processing will provide beef to every school across the state. While the logistics have been a challenge, he said the schools he has worked with in the past year have been a ‘homerun’. Hart emphasized that the beef is not shipped in from another country and repackaged – it is 100% locally produced in North Dakota.
Goldade and Hart both commented on the higher quality of domestic beef compared to commodity beef. While serving local beef is beneficial in some obvious ways, some other benefits of serving school-grown beef in schools include the large availability throughout the state and because some students may have access to the meat local beef only when they are at school.
“One of the topics they were discussing was that school is the only time some of these kids actually get, I don’t mean real beef, but fresh, home-grown, Dakota-raised beef. North. Some of the chefs said their kids have never eaten any roast beef other than hamburger, so they’re going to try to bring a lot of different cuts to the schools,” Goldade said. “The chefs were asking questions about fajitas and if the factories processing could cut the beef into strips for them so they don’t have to spend so much of the kitchen time preparing to cut all these steaks. They were full of questions.”