Days spent in the classroom barely a month ago have quickly turned into days spent running outside, lounging by the pool, and hanging out at family barbeques. Summer is here to stay for a short while and even though that means no kids coming through the lunch line, it doesn’t stop the planning for next year’s school lunches from taking place; specifically planning on where the meat will come from that supplements those lunches.
A couple years ago, the Niobrara County School District (NCSD) decided to break from the Federal Lunch Program and instead created the schools own lunch program. In a 2016 interview about the decision for the school, Stuart Larson, NCSD Business Manager, and Judy Lucas who runs the kitchen, were quoted saying, “[We had a] Loss of local control. It [Federal Lunch Program] was very restrictive and not kid friendly or healthy. The amount of paperwork and other restrictions were just too much”. Roughly two years into the project, the new NCSD Lunch Program has been highly successful on multiple levels including offering students a nice variety in their meals, allowing students to participate in the growing of vegetables used in their meals, and, perhaps one of the nicest kickbacks, the fact that the meals are homemade and utilize locally grown beef. “Students and faculty have been impressed at how tasty the home grown meat is” says Donna Hanson, a Niobrara County Cattlewoman. Hanson, who was on the school board at the time of the decision to leave the federal program, is an active Cattlewoman and is the Chairperson for the Niobrara County Cattlewoman ‘Beef for School’ committee. This committee partners with the school district, where, per Hanson, “Both have the same goal; to help the kids have nutritious beef” in the schools lunches. While the school keeps track of and collects the money for processing, Hanson’s committee keeps track of the actual beef that is donated. Shoshoni in Fremont County also has a similar partnership. “Unfortunately, our district cannot apply for funds to help with the meat processing because we do not participate in the Federal Lunch Program” states Hanson, adding, “The district operates the lunch program at a deficit, the donations for both the meat and the processing have helped the school budget”.
As we roll into summer, to get prepared for next year, the Niobrara County Cattlewoman ‘Beef for School’ committee is asking for processing and beef donations. “Niobrara County School District has been very fortunate over the past two years to receive gifts of meat from various ranchers. The beef [and] pork is processed at a State inspected facility” says Hanson, adding that any donation is greatly appreciated. Anyone wishing to make a processing donation can contact Stuart Larson at the NCSD District Office; via phone at 334-3793. Anyone wishing to make a beef donation can contact Donna Hanson at 334-3357.