The smell of the grill wafted slowly down the hallways. Curious students and staff stuck their head out of classrooms, eager for lunch to arrive. “Oh my gosh,” one student exclaimed, “It smells SO GOOD!” “I’m STARVING!” I understood their feelings. It was just before eleven, and the smell of the cooking burgers was delicious, distracting, and too good to be ignored. What was the occasion for the barbecue? May is beef month. To celebrate, Waukon High School and Jr. High students ate local beef grilled by Allamakee Cattlemen and food service staff on May 7th.
While the afternoon went quickly, burgers easily devoured, the event took much planning and coordination. It takes a village, as they say, to bring the beef to students’ lunch trays. Teresa Wiermerslage of ISU Extension made the event possible. Thanks to her leg work, grant funding given to the Iowa Food Hub from USDA Farm to School and Allamakee County Community Foundation covered the cost of processing. Food Service Director Julie Magner was willing to buy the beef and have her staff prep it. The Allamakee Cattleman’s Association agreed to help grill and serve the burgers. Two beef princesses form the county helped count and serve burger patties during lunch (and one is a current student at the high school)! Without all of these core partners, the local beef would not have been possible. It’s not everyday students enjoy local beef from a cow raised in Allamakee County then processed at Quillin’s in town. That money from the sale and processing stays within the county, helping fund local businesses and people. While students were enjoying a tasty lunch, they had little idea the impact their meal has on their school district.
Students had no beef with the beef on their trays. I asked a few students what they thought of their burgers. “It’s really good.” “I wish we could have grilled burgers everyday.” To be honest, most did not answer, their mouths were too full of food. The real test of the lunch came when students went to throw away their trays. Nearly all were completely empty. I’d say, we had many satisfied customers.
I’m proud to serve in a district that takes the time to honor local food and support local agriculture. Schools can be a model for what a sustainable food system could look like. For that change to happen, it will take a village. And maybe one very large grill.