Since 2016, ranchers in Petroleum County have been donating locally-raised beef to the Winnett School lunch program.
For ranchers like Charlie Ahlgren, it was important to support the schools lunch program by lowering the cost of food with a healthy, local product.
"The quality of beef that we produce here in Petroleum County and across the state is the highest quality beef in the world in my opinion,” Ahlgren said.
Following the example of a handful of school districts in Montana and surrounding states, farmers and ranchers in Petroleum County started the Beef in the School Project.
The Winnett Agricultural Community Enhancement and Sustainability (ACES) Committee teamed up with the Petroleum County Stockgrowers and Winnett public schools to serve local beef and make school lunches more affordable.
“It seems to be well received as far as the school cook goes,” Ahlgren said. “She enjoys cooking with it. The kids, from what I've heard, the kids sure like the school lunches. Plus, they know where the beefs coming from.”
Ranchers donate and feed four animals per year. The animals are then slaughtered at a USDA certified facility in Mile City. After that, processed and housed at Ryan's Meats in Jordan. Finally, it's on the lunch menu.
Winnett sophomore Hayley Stahl enjoys knowing what's for lunch.
“We know it's local from people we know,” Stahl said. “We know it's a trustworthy source. Just the fact that we're getting our names out as ranchers to the industry and making sure that the community knows we are here.”
Not only does Stahl enjoy having local beef at school, her family also sees the value in the program. They are one of the many ranches that have donated an animal to the program.
“It wasn't really much of a discussion,” said Stahl. “We knew the second that the program started that we're going to do it. Because we know is important to get beef to our students.”
The tax-deductible program accepts donations of livestock, feed, and monetary support. Charlie Ahlgren hopes to see more communities of all sizes learn from their work.
“Just the organization and getting the word out there is important,” Ahlgren said. “In my opinion, I think you need to have the school cook on board and the school administration and superintendent involved. Then just set a board up and get rolling on it. For us, anyway, it was it was well supported in the community. It was the way that our producers could donate to something and a stayed right here in our community.”
Currently the donations to the Winnett local beef program is set to feed healthy lunches through the year 2021.