Farm to School program pilot project. Local beef
makes 4,200 hamburgers for Klamath County students
by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/29/18.
Topham, clad in cowboy hat and suspenders, waved to children
in the Stearns Elementary cafeteria. When asked if they
liked their lunches, kids gave a thumbs-up. Their lunch that
day included a special ingredient.
April 11, the Klamath County School District sent 4,200
hamburgers to all its schools. The 700 pounds of meat to
make those burgers came from Flying T Ranch in Sprague
River, where Topham has been raising specialized Salers
cattle for more than 40 years.
is a cow you could go visit if you want,” is what Rose
Underwood, head cook at Stearns, told students to explain
the connection between what was on their plate and what is
on Topham’s ranch.
smiled, laughed and answered students’ questions about his
ranch and his cattle. He even ate one of the hamburgers for
“They’ll find out hamburger comes from a cow instead of a
store,” Topham said.
Bringing Flying T beef to school lunches was a pilot project
for the Farm to School program. Klamath County School
District, Flying T and Oregon State University’s Klamath
Basin Research and Extension Center worked together to make
can show the kids where the food comes from, or meet the
person who produces that food, it closes the loop,” said
Stacy Todd, KBREC nutrition education program assistant. “To
meet the person who made it, that’s cool.”
just creates that connectedness,” said Patty Case, KBREC
family and community health program manager. “We’re serving
our kids healthy food that was grown here, and we’re
supporting the people who grow that food. It creates a
greater appreciation for how we can serve our own needs here
in this community.”
Connecting students with their food and where their food
comes from is the goal of the Farm to School program.
Another goal: get children tasting and enjoying the local
kids are connected to their food, they are more enthusiastic
about it and are more empowered to make healthier choices,”
said Katie Swanson, a local farmer and Blue Zones Project
Klamath Falls organization lead. “Plus, it tastes better.”
“Hopefully the kids will appreciate the taste,” said Chris
Dalla, Klamath County School District food service
supervisor. “Hopefully they’ll appreciate it comes from
Topham has been raising cattle on his ranch in Sprague River
since 1972. Since 1981, his family has specialized in Salers
cattle, a breed derived from the original wild cattle that
roamed Europe in the caveman days. The combination of those
cattle with the Klamath climate makes a very unique type of
Klamath and the Sprague River Valley have the best protein
grass in the world,” Topham said. “There’s no other place
where the cattle gain like they gain in this country. The
dirt, or the rain, or the sunshine, it’s right.”
fact, the grass is so good Topham’s herd thrives, growing
quickly into robust cattle.
contain no additives, are not fed antibiotics and use zero
hormones. The Salers have been a closed herd since 1986,
meaning no outside cattle have mingled with flying T Cattle
since that time. This prevents the introduction of new
Conversations about getting local food in school lunches
have been going on for years, Case said.
has to do with the national movement of buying local,” Dalla
said. “It’s closer to all of each individual’s community.
And you’re helping support the local economy.”
those conversations happened at the Find Your Farmer event
put on by Blue Zones Project and the Klamath Farmer’s Online
Marketplace. Topham and Dalla started a conversation to see
if details could be worked out to bring local beef to
students’ plates. Eventually they worked through the process
that became the April 11 test run brining the beef to
applaud them for trying something like this,” Topham said.
“It’s been quite a project.”
appreciate all of the details Bruce had to work through in
order to make this happen,” Dalla said, “especially in the
middle of a busy calving season.”
took about 1 ½ cows to produce the 700 pounds of beef for
the 4,200 hamburgers. Topham drove the cattle up to
Springfield, where his cattle are processed at a USDA
approved facility. That facility had to get a specialized
hamburger patty stamper to meet the school lunch standards.
Most of Topham’s hamburgers are 4 ounces, while school lunch
patties are smaller, about 2.8 ounces. The burgers were
packaged with paper sheets in between each patty for ease in
preparation, flash-frozen and put in 15-pound cases.
the beef back to Klamath, Topham arranged and paid for
shipping and handling through a current distributor who made
a special pickup at the Springfield plant, and then
delivered to Klamath on their normal Eugene/Klamath route.
The beef arrived at the KCSD warehouse on March 29, the
Thursday of spring break. The first week of April, Dalla
sent the hamburgers to each school so they could be cooked
and served on April 11.
so happy Flying T Ranch was willing to step up and partner
with us, because it did take so much understanding,
flexibility and patience,” Todd said. “It was awesome they
were willing to do it.”
don’t think many of us appreciate the effort that goes into
it,” Case said. “Those people making those decisions want
the best for our kids.”
April 11, food service staff cooked the hamburgers. This was
a slight change from the standard beef patties, which are
pre-cooked. Underwood said it was a simple change. In past
years the district has cooked raw patties, so it was the
same process to cook the Flying T beef.
kids learn about where the food comes from, it’s amazing,”
Case said. “We live in an agriculture community. Even though
we’re surrounded by potato fields, surrounded by beef, it’s
amazing kids don’t know where that comes from.”
prepare the children, KBREC sent posters and information to
the schools, including a map of where the cattle grew up in
Sprague River. When Topham came to meet the students at
Stearns, it further emphasized that connection.
didn’t come from the supermarket, it came from right next to
you,” Case said. “You’re benefitting from something grown
here and raised in the same place you were grown and
they have a relationship with the rancher that raised the
cow that provided the beef on their lunch plate,” Swanson
said, “they have a much more profound appreciation for their
meal and a broader understanding of all the work it took to
make that hamburger.”
a win-win for the kids and for the farmer,” Case said.
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