AKRON — “Mystery meat” is a derisive term used to describe processed meat products such as burger patties, chicken nuggets or hot dogs that do not have an identifiable source. Often times this term is used in reference to food served in school cafeterias.
Students in the Tippecanoe Valley School District won’t need to wonder about their ground beef thanks to the Farm to Fork program. The program, which started as an idea in a political economic studies class about how to put a better quality meal in school cafeterias, eventually turned into a plan to raise calves, process the meat and then use the meat in school lunches.
The burgers served in the Tippecanoe Valley High School cafeteria Monday, May 15, were made from the first round of cattle. This was the first opportunity for students at the high school to sample the ‘fruits’ of their labor.
According to Tippecanoe Valley sophomore Rolanda Reichard, the Farm to Fork burgers served in the school cafeteria were, “Very good.” Reichard said she could definitely tell a difference in the taste and texture.
Mike Jones, agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at the high school, said the steers were purchased from Dale Miller, who raises cattle on his farm near Claypool. Miller, a Tippecanoe Valley graduate, sold the steers to the school at a discounted price.
Students were involved with the construction of the three-sided cattle shelter, which was completed last fall. Dan Peters, a local farmer and owner of Scrap Wood Sawmill in Rochester, brought some of his own equipment and assisted with the project. Peters worked with students three days a week over a two-week period to build the structure.
Jones said the school purchased a used 2-ton self-feeder from a local farmer. The students worked on the feeder to get it in good working condition. Four steers, a mix of Angus and Hereford breeds, were delivered to the school in early December.
Once the cattle reached a certain weight they were processed at This Old Farm, a USDA- approved processing facility in Colfax. On Good Friday, 14 students went to the facility to observe the meat being processed. All meat was processed into quarter pound patties.
In addition to providing a healthier, less expensive school lunch option, Farm to Fork has other benefits. Future Farmers of America members who may not have the space to raise their own animals will be able to use the Farm to Fork program as part of their summer Supervised Agriculture Experience project, a requirement for any FFA member.