Fresh from the ranch

Beef from Flying T Ranch in Sprague River served in Klamath County School District lunches

“Thank you for the delicious beef,” the first-grader told cattle rancher Bruce Topham as she finished lunch on Wednesday.

“You’re welcome,” Topham told her, smiling and returning her quick hug.

Topham and his wife, Virginia, who have raised cattle on the Flying T Ranch in Sprague River since 1972, provided free-range, grass-fed beef for lunch in nearly all Klamath County School District schools this week, and joined Shasta Elementary School students for lunch. School cooks used the Flying T ground beef in gravy served over mashed potatoes.

Serving local beef – the district purchased 1,400 pounds of ground beef from the Flying T last month – is among efforts districtwide to incorporate locally grown foods into school meals. The district partners with OSU Klamath Basin Extension Center, using state and federal grant funds to purchase local and Oregon-grown foods, provide education, and offer Feed A Farmer and tasting events throughout the district.

Plans are in the works to serve Flying T Ranch beef from January through June 2021. Under a proposed agreement, Topham would sell about 6,000 pounds of ground beef to the school district, enough for schools to serve on their menus through the rest of the school year. The Flying T Ranch raises the Saler breed of cattle. The beef is certified free-range, grass-fed, and contains no additives, antibiotics or added hormones.

Jordan Rainwater, the district’s Farm to School coordinator, said other plans include pending agreements with “Poe”tential Farm in Poe Valley, for fresh eggs, and Cal-Ore Produce and Wong Potatoes.

“The district has been working hard to create a system for purchasing local foods, and I really appreciate the patience and enthusiasm local producers have demonstrated throughout this process.” Rainwater said.

Anna Barlowe, a Food Corps service member who provides ongoing nutrition education at Shasta and Henley elementary schools, was at Shasta with Topham Wednesday, visiting with students about the hamburger in their lunches.

“This is where our beef came from today,” Barlowe said pointing to a map, “and guess who raised the beef?” Topham – dressed in every day rancher wear and a cowboy hat – smiled as the students’ eyes landed on him.

He answered their questions as they crowded around, easily fitting into the noisy crowded cafeteria. “My wife and I, we were 4-H leaders for 25 years,” Topham said smiling. “We kind of have a history with kids.”

“It’s always good to have the rancher here,” Barlowe said. “It gives kids a better understanding of where their food comes from, and helps them make those connections a little stronger.”

Other farmers who visited schools this week as part of Feed A Farmer events to celebrate the serving of local beef included Bryce Balin of Balin Farm Trust, who ate with students Wednesday at Keno Elementary; and Kelsie and Nick Randall of Box R Beef, who planned to join Henley Elementary School students for lunch on Friday.

Patty Case, associate professor of family and community health at OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, helps manages Farm to School programs for the school district. She ate lunch with Balin at Keno Elementary School Wednesday.

“Today we served Klamath food for Klamath kids and heard about the life of a rancher,” she said. “I was struck by the commitment these ranchers have to their cows, their land and to the people they feed.”

The only school not serving Flying T Ranch beef this week was Lost River Junior-Senior High School. Ag science students raise their own beef, and students on Wednesday ate ground beef from steers that two local ranchers – Dennis Dunlea and Cameron King – donated to the school.