Schools onboard with local ag program; buying ground beef for use in cafeterias

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When he read the article in the December 29th issue of the Vevay Newspaper about the county jail buying locally-raised pork for use in the jail’s kitchen; Switzerland County School Superintendent Tracy Caddell immediately knew that he wanted the local schools to be a part of the program.

“We’re very excited about buying local products from local farmers,” the superintendent said. “It’s a win-win situation for us and for our farmers, as far as I’m concerned.”

Initially promising to purchase 125-pounds of locally-raised ground beef each week, school food service director Gayla Bullock almost immediately increased her order to 200-pounds per week. The burger is being served to students at the high school.

And the students are noticing.

“Our first day of serving, we sold 40 more hamburgers than the week before,” Tracy Caddell said. “We’re pretty excited about that, and the kids have definitely noticed the difference.”

The program is initially being used at the high school, but the superintendent said that Gayla Bullock is now looking at how the program can be expanded to include all of the schools. Although there is no timeline for getting the ground beef into the other two cafeterias — the middle school and Jeff-Craig share a cafeteria — officials are hoping to do so as quickly as possible.

“We might need some additional equipment in the kitchen areas in order to accommodate handling the fresh beef,” Tracy Caddell said. “We’re going to purchase a new grill for the high school cafeteria to make it easier on the cooks, but that was something that was in our plans anyway because it was needed. I’m looking forward to getting this in all of the schools.”

The Switzerland County School Corporation is the first school corporation in the state to initiate the program county wide. Other counties have specific schools using the program, but here the commitment has already been made to implement it around the county.

“The farmers in our county pay a large percentage of our property taxes, and the schools get a large percentage of those taxes,” Tracy Caddell said. “This is a small way of trying to give back and put some of that money back into the local economy. Along with that, it’s healthier for the kids, because they’re getting fresh meat, and eventually there will be other products available to our students.”

The superintendent said that the school corporation will continue to work with John Keeton, local director of the “Ways to Grow and Beyond” program; and also the Jennings County Growers Cooperative — the group that is coordinating the program in this area of the state — to see how to expand the program to include pork products and also fruits and vegetables.

“There has to be a way of creating a ‘clearing house’ through our Farmers Market to coordinate efforts to sell fruits and vegetables,” John Keeton said. “That’s something that we will be working on, and we’re hoping that someone steps forward to take on that challenge.”

The beef that the school corporation is buying comes from the farm of Julian “Nub” Hartman. John Keeton said that the program is interested in finding any farmer in the county who wants to participate in the program, but said that those raising beef and hogs need to be a finish operation in order to qualify.

But, as the demand for local products grows through this program, more and more county farmers will be needed to meet the demand.

“One local producer has already spoken with Gayla Bullock about purchasing honey,” Tracy Caddell said. “We have to continue to check to make sure that we are following all of the state guidelines, but as we get more and more comfortable with the program, you’re going to see us continue to get more involved.”

Along with being the superintendent of schools here, Tracy Caddell is also a native of this county, and that also gives him a deep appreciation for this program.

“Growing up here in Switzerland County, I have a love for this county and its people,” Tracy Caddell said. “My dad was a farmer, so I definitely have a place in my heart for farmers. Anytime we can give something back, I want to be involved in that process.

“Everybody’s really excited about it.”