Arkansas school district serves burgers from own calf
Posted September 4
DANVILLE, Ark. — What has been a two-year project in the making finally happened Thursday — the Danville School District served burgers from their own FFA-raised calf and rightfully called them Little John Burgers.
The district comes as the first public school in the state to accomplish this.
Roughly two years ago, Gary Gray, Danville agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, said he was in a meeting where they discussed the Farm to School program, a government program that encourages schools to buy local food.
"They talked about row crops, but never mentioned beef," Gray explained. "I talked to Marsha (Tramel, district food service director) about it (serving locally-purchased beef to the school), but she didn't know about beef through the program either."
Tramel attended meetings in Little Rock and spoke with the state's child nutrition department to gather information on what it would take to serve FFA owned and raised beef to the school. The result included numerous testing and for the calf to be processed at a plant with a full-time USDA inspector present.
Along with testing, every package had a USDA-inspected label, and further testing was conducted on samples.
"The calf has to be fed-up and in the right condition," Gray said. "The meat has to meet a certain fat percentage, the processing has to be monitored and tested, and the packaging has to be labeled."
The Courier News reports that the processing plant chosen was Cypress Valley in Hot Springs, which now has a closer location in Pottsville that can be utilized. One calf that was a product of artificial insemination by the FFA members was used to supply the beef.
"All of the meat came from one calf," Gray explained. "It never had a single shot of antibiotics. The calf started out as grass fed, but to get him up to weight, we fed him some grain. He did have free choice of grass, though."
The minimum weight required to butcher the calf is 1,300 pounds. The calf used came in at 1,305 pounds. To meet requirements to serve the meat at a school, the meat has to be no more than 80/20, or 20 percent fat.
"We were almost at 10 percent fat," Gray said. "We came up at 90/10, because we didn't give him a lot of corn."
Gray also attributed the success in low fat content to the fact they used a single animal and used all cuts of meat for the ground beef.
"We used all cuts," he said. "All of the good stuff was used, so we got to 90/10 pretty easy. What would have normally been turned into steak is now burgers."
The district purchased the beef from the FFA Club at market price. From the one calf, the district was able to get 712 pounds of ground beef and 40 pounds of roast. For burger day Thursday, approximately 120 pounds were used to serve over 600 students Pre-K through 12th grade.
"We served 102 students more than we did last Thursday for burger day," Tramel said.
The remaining ground beef is enough to serve roughly another six "burger days" depending on meal participation. The 40 pounds of roast isn't enough to serve any one group, so they plan to use it in vegetable beef soup one day.
According to Tramel, they didn't receive one negative comment from the students about the Little John Burgers. The only comments Tramel said they received were positive and included things such as "we liked it" and "it was the best burger we've ever had."
Jarrett May, senior and four-year FFA member, said he felt the ability to sell a calf to the district to use for meals was beneficial.
"I think it's very beneficial," May said. "We have kind of branched out and are different from other schools. In the long run, I think change is good and to not be like other schools."
Tramel said she felt it was a great experience for more than one reason.
"I think it went great," Tramel expressed. "It was a little bit of a hassle because we had to patty out the meat. But if we continue doing this, Cypress Valley agreed to get a patty machine to do the work.
"I'm just thankful we were able to do it. It's so much better. The meat came unseasoned so it allowed us to season it ourselves and control how much goes in it. It had almost no sodium. The calf was born and raised here, so we know exactly what has and has not been put into it. The meat was put through every state-required test and more. Cypress Valley went above and beyond the testing, so we know it was 100 percent safe to feed our students."
To make the burgers last longer, Tramel said they plan to serve them every other week, though she looks forward to being able to serve FFA-raised beef every week in the future.
The Danville FFA has approximately 60 members. Other than raising animals, Gray said they also do palpitations for pregnancy, artificial insemination which students have been successful at, perform ultrasounds for back fat thickness and intramuscular fat and sex calves. Students who want to raise animals but are unable to at home are also allowed to house their FFA animals on the FFA land. Currently, FFA members are preparing for the fair as well as teaching one sophomore how lead and sheer sheep.
"Mr. Gray is very good if there is someone who wants to learn," May said. "Not just about animals but mechanical wise, too."
Gray is also certified in embryo transfers and has the equipment for the procedure, though the students haven't used it yet.