Examining, Optimizing, and Building Capacity for Montana’s Local Beef to School Supply Chain

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2015: $220,021.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks
Montana State University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Education and Training: extension, networking, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, social networks, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    In Montana and across the country, producers and consumers are beginning to see benefits (social, environmental, and economic) from local procurement efforts that link ranchers and local beef processors with schools in their community and region. These “beef to school” (B2S) efforts involve support of local beef from a variety of actors, including producers, processors, and foodservices and students at K-12 schools. The long-term goal of this project is improving Montana beef producers’ and meat processors’ viability and sustainability, while increasing the availability and consumption of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities. This project is aimed at discerning which B2S methods are most sustainable for producers, processors, and schools. This new information will be used to improve current B2S programs and assist new communities in the adoption of B2S programs. In order to optimize local and regional B2S efforts in Montana and elsewhere, this project will: 1) conduct comprehensive case study research to identify the benefits, challenges, best practices, and gaps that exist for beef to school (B2S) procurement models; 2) identify beef supply chain issues (e.g., timing, storage, and use of cuts) that impact the spectrum of involved stakeholders and collaboratively plan solutions; 3) obtain student acceptance data about B2S in comparison with commercial beef supplies; 4) create stakeholder-specific educational guides and promotional materials about the beef supply chain, curriculum for students, and peer-reviewed publications; and 5) conduct trainings to assist producers and their processing partners interested in selling to schools and to foodservice directors interested in using local beef in school meals. B2S efforts can increase the sustainability and viability of local and regional food systems as they have the potential to enhance community food literacy and connections to local agriculture; keep money circulating in local economies; reduce the need for transportation, packaging, and other inputs; increase access to local food; provide farmers an additional market for their beef; and possibly utilize cattle that are grass-fed and not finished on feeds (e.g., corn, soy) that must be imported to the state. Yet, as schools and ranchers in Montana are beginning to work together to bring local beef into schools, the results have been mixed. Some procurement models seem successful for all parties involved, while others have faced significant barriers in making B2S programs viable.  The tools and findings of this project will give Montana’s producers, processors, and schools the resources they need to form productive, sustainable procurement relationships. The resources will be applicable and adaptable to broader farm to institution markets as well, such as universities and hospitals. Additionally, by engaging a diverse group of producers and other stakeholders in meaningful roles throughout the process, this project will foster partnerships among producers, processors, and other stakeholders, garnering long-term interest and investment in local and regional beef markets as well as the sustainable production and marketing of other local and regional meat products.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      • Conduct comprehensive case studies of at least five schools procuring local beef.




      1. Using baseline data gathered by the MTB2SC in 2014, the research will identify different procurement models that schools in Montana are currently using to purchase local beef (e.g., purchasing an entire cow directly or purchasing boxed beef).


      1. Collect data about each of these B2S systems, focusing on the perspectives of the participating producers, processors, and the foodservice directors and students at the school.




      • Examine local beef utilization at schools.




      1. Collect information about specific uses of local beef and recipe modifications at schools.


      1. Obtain student acceptance data about local beef utilization by collecting meal participation rates and conducting plate waste studies to understand the level of consumption and preference regarding local vs. non-local beef.




      • Build upon case study and local beef utilization findings to conduct an evaluation about the larger B2S market in Montana to understand benefits, challenges, best practices, and gaps.




      1. Develop and pilot test a B2S evaluation tool that tests findings from objectives one and two with a larger, representative sample of potential and participating B2S stakeholders in Montana.


      1. Analyze findings to characterize B2S supply chain issues (e.g., storage, social benefits, use of cuts) that impact the spectrum of involved stakeholders (i.e., producer, processor, school) and corroborate with case study and local beef utilization findings.


      1. Assess the slaughter and processing capacity of state-inspected facilities throughout the year.


      1. Estimate the cattle available for B2S programs under various social and economic conditions and environmental regimes.


      1. Approximate storage capacity needs for B2S stakeholders.


      1. Use evaluation results and the expertise of the MTB2SC to create solutions to identified barriers.



    The findings from objectives one through three will be evaluated to identify B2S benefits, challenges, best practices, and gaps and find solutions for producers, processors, and schools. We expect to specifically understand:



      1. B2S procurement and utilization methods that are feasible for varying sizes of producers, processors, and schools in Montana.


      1. Purchasing, pricing, and marketing arrangements that are financially sustainable for producers and schools.


      1. Barriers to success and knowledge gaps that exist and descriptions of strategies used to ameliorate them.


      1. Tools (e.g., equipment, budgeting, recipes, marketing) that are needed for schools and producers to adopt local and regional beef in schools more readily.



    The results from the first three objectives will be used to develop objectives four and five.



      • Develop stakeholder-specific B2S outreach and educational materials, including:




      1. Outreach, research, and promotional materials to share findings.


      1. Various implementation specific materials aimed at particular B2S stakeholders.


      1. Educational materials for K-12 students and teachers, and university students studying local food systems.




      • Conduct trainings




      1. Four trainings will be conducted for professionals interested in entering the B2S market: two trainings for producers/processors and two trainings for schools.


      1. Develop three webinars that demonstrate successful B2S strategies.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.