Ranchers supply beef for Oregon lunch programs
BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP)--Three cows or three chicken nuggets? For Mike Corley, the choice was easy.
The superintendent of the Pine-Eagle School District in Halfway, Ore., said the cows that were donated to the district by ranchers last year provided a superior source of protein compared with the chicken nuggets the district had been serving because of rising food costs and school budget cuts.
"Everybody knows the importance of serving a well-rounded meal at school and, for kids to learn, you have to have beef on the menu,'' Corley said at a recent fundraiser for the Baker County Livestock Association's Beef to Schools program.
Roughly 250 ranchers and townspeople raised more than $7,000 for the program. Association President Dan Forsea said the money will pay for federal inspection fees, processing and transportation costs for the 30 head of cattle ranchers are donating to supply beef for school lunch programs in Baker County.
The programs started in Corley's district in January.
"Some people came into the school and saw the three chicken nuggets we were serving (per student), and they said, 'You can't expect kids to learn much serving them three chicken nuggets for lunch,''' Corley said.
"When ranchers came to the rescue by donating three cows last January--1,500 pounds of hamburger--we threw out the chicken nuggets,'' Corley said with a laugh.
It began with Forsea and fellow ranchers Meb Dailey and Dwight Saunders donating those three cows to supply all the beef for the Pine-Eagle School District's lunch program. Now, it's a county-wide program that also extends into Union County's North Powder School District.
Jean Dean, food services manager/cook for the Baker School District, said schools in Baker County and across the nation have been serving more low-cost, low-nutrition food because of budget cuts and the $1.50 gap between the $2.57 per meal National School Lunch Program's reimbursement rate (for free or reduced price lunches) and the $4 average cost of providing a nutritional lunch.
"It's been said the school lunch program needs a stimulus package,'' Dean said at the fundraiser. "But we have been blessed in Baker County. We have the cattlemen.''
Forsea said the average value of a cow to be donated to schools will be $450 to $500, based on current market prices.