Tuesday, February 12, 2008

[UPDATE]: My Daughter Won't Eat Downer Cows Forever

A commenter on yesterday's post, My Daughter Eats Downer Cows, understandably assumed an adversarial position against the school food service:
That's awful. I encourage you to write to Mr. Burrows, who isn't worried and should be, and your local newspaper and also to encourage other parents to write. Let those meat-choosing folks know they are being watched.
I responded to this with a note of caution:
School lunch programs really don't have a lot of choice when it comes to[...]commodity items; they have to feed kids for a very low cost per lunch, and, if they use their USDA-provided meat, cheese, flour, potatoes, then they can use their funds for things like fruits and vegetables. Until we change a lot of other aspects of federal policy, school districts will be limited in their ability to respond to parent demands[...]
This evening I attended a public meeting intended to increase community involvement in our nascent district Farm-to-School program. The talk revolved around fruits and vegetables; bread, flour, and milk are already sourced locally, along with some other odds-and-ends. During the Q & A, I asked the panel (almost all of whose members I knew from smaller meetings), the following question: "Given current policy limitations and budgetary limitations, how impossible is it to think about meat sourcing?" As the representative from the school food service began to laugh and look a little sheepish, I added: "especially given the article that appeared recently in the paper, which maybe you've been hearing from some people about..."

The panel members said more or less what I'd anticipated (USDA commodities, local meat costs 3X as much, shortage of local processors to deliver the cuts we need, the food service rep provided some hard numbers); I'd just wanted to register the issue and didn't expect surprises.

However, I got one. Bob Burrows, the food services supervisor quoted in the Bozeman Chronicle article linked in yesterday's post, turned out to be present in the audience. He stood up and made an extended comment in response, and though he agreed with the current budgetary assessment, he also expressed a great deal of concern (not manifest in the Chronicle version) about the fact that Montana schools, surrounded as they are by local cattle ranches, are serving mostly beef from the midwest and Texas. For Burrows, the driving force of his frustration was a desire to support the local and regional economy; anxiety about food safety was secondary, he said. But he professed to have been distressed by this particular problem for twenty years, and extremely interested in pursuing policy changes to address it.

He sounded surprisingly impassioned, and I believed him. Even the people within the system, they want to change the system. They're not enemies, but natural allies. If a wide spectrum of interests can gather to keep pushing together on state and federal policy, I think by the 2013(?) Farm Bill we can dream some bigger dreams.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that you feel you have an ally in Mr. Burrows. But, you don't want to wait until 2013 for change, right? Call him up and let him know you appreciate his passion for safe, local beef. Let him know you realize how frustrating it must be not to be represented correctly in the media (if that is what he thinks) Ask him what you and/or your committee can do to help move the process along in the Bozeman schools. If he says there is nothing, reply that there must be some small step. Just one tiny one. There is always one step.
That's my suggestion. Good luck with anything you try.

thirdinstar said...

Members of our committee has been working with Mr. Burrows all the way along in this process, even though this was the first time I'd personally met him; I've signed up for the working group dealing directly with the school food service, so I imagine I'll be seeing him. I don't think there has to be a formal registering of concern-- I see this as a collaborative process of figuring out how to address concerns we all share.

Maybe I didn't make it clear, but the Farm-to-School chapter includes many community stakeholders working together: school parents, the school food service, the community food coop, a science-education school, the university, and of course farmers. There is lots of communication going on, so I don't think I need to make a special call independent of that process; but thank you for your suggestions. I'm sure I didn't explain the context very well.