From the farm to the school lunch table
By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
January 29, 2023
Jenny Curry, who serves as Director of Food Services for Greenbrier County Schools, remembers the first day they served hamburgers made from local beef in their schools. “My phone rang off the hook all day,” she recalls. “Everyone loved them!”
Farm to table
Farm to Table is a longstanding concept in the culinary world, including school food. Curry says she’s been doing it for years locally, but they’ve taken it to a whole new level post-COVID. They struggled to get certain products, so they began sourcing them locally. This not only helped the schools and their kids, but it also helped provide revenue for local farms.
“We work with Mountain Steer, Greenbrier Dairy, Spangler Organic Farms, Pyne Mountain Farm, Rainbow Farms, and J&K Farm,” she says. “Beef, cheese, popcorn, potatoes, chicken, and more that we serve to our kids comes directly from local farmers.”
This past Tuesday, Greenbrier County Schools featured two products from local farms in one meal–hamburgers from Mountain Steer and cheese from Greenbrier Dairy.
Lillian Hammons is Head Cook at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School. She is happy to be working with local providers. “We do this to support our farmers,” Hammons says. “The beef and cheese are good quality, and the kids eat more of it knowing it’s local.”
Jamie Tuckwiller and Frank Ford started Mountain Steer during the pandemic. They supply high-end local restaurants with beef. “The kids get exactly the same product as local restaurants for their burgers, tacos, meatloaf, spaghetti, and chili,” he explains.
Last week, Mountain Steer celebrated the grand opening of their retail space in White Sulphur Springs, where local residents can buy beef directly from them. It’s located at 169 Pocahontas Trail.
As Tuckwiller walks around the cafeteria meeting students, they treat him like a rock star, asking for pictures and talking to him about his cattle company. He takes his time talking to students, answering their questions and explaining cattle farming to them. Every table says the same thing, “They’re so good!”
Curry and Hammons agree quality is key. “The quality is better for the kids than what we got before. It’s pure beef.”
Cost of farm to table?
Tuckwiller says that leads to lower product loss, which helps the schools offset the higher price of buying local.
Curry agrees cost is a factor. “In some cases it costs a little more, but it’s better for the kids and the local farmers and economy. I wish we had more produce we could buy from local farmers.”
Principal Sue Lee thinks it’s well worth it, saying, “I think it’s important to support local business. It also teaches our students about agriculture and eating local. Plus, It’s a better product for them to eat.”
W.Va. Fresh Food Act
Greenbrier Dairy, located in Rainelle, sells products to 15 of the state’s 55 county school systems. (Their products are available to the public at IGA Foodland in Fairlea.) Trey Yates founded the company and found a niche for local agricultural products when the WV Legislature passed the Fresh Food Act. It requires organizations receiving state funding to spend at least 5% of their food budget with in-state farmers.
“We began marketing one ounce individual servings beginning with the 21-22 school year,” Yates remembers. “During that year, over 120,000 pounds of milk produced in Greenbrier County by cows owned by Greenbrier Dairy and Fogus Dairy was processed into 8,632 pounds of fresh cheese for West Virginia students. That is almost 4.5 tons of cheese.”
Yates says it is a win-win, for the local farmer and the local student. And they are not done yet. One of the items Curry said she struggled to source was yogurt, which the schools serve daily. Greenbrier Dairy is expanding production in order to produce 10,000 cups of fat free yogurt per day for school systems across the state.
Tuckwiller, Yates, and Curry all say they are excited to see how this initiative grows. Curry says, “We all want to do more!”