From Field to Table

March 22, 2017

Esther Jordan, Communications Specialist

University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) students, faculty, and staff recently enjoyed locally-raised, organic grass-fed beef as part of the menu selection in the campus cafeteria.  But this is not your ordinary beef...and it doesn’t get any more local than this. 

Just down the road from the Morris campus, organic and conventional cattle graze in their respective pastures at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC).  Nearly all of the cattle are part of research projects that may include precision technology, crossbreeding, organic health, and/or grazing.  Since approximately half of the WCROC herd is certified organic, the herd must have access to grazing for 120 consecutive days annually.  Animals are rotated through different pasture paddocks in order to provide them with an abundance of grazing time.  Dr. Brad Heins, Associate Professor in Dairy Science at the WCROC, may look at how feeding various mixes of grasses and grains can impact animal health as well as meat quality. 

For a particular multi-state grazing study, a group of steers born at the WCROC were organically raised and set out to pasture.  They spent their first year in Morris, within a mile of the UMM campus.  After that, they were sent to graze on pastureland in Iowa during the summer months.  The animals then returned to Morris.  With the grazing study now complete, the steers have fulfilled yet another purpose; organic grass-fed beef for UMM students, faculty, and staff. 

“We are excited to offer WCROC's healthy, tasty beef on our University tables, and to exposing more students to WCROC's diverse research portfolio, including Dr. Heins' cutting edge research in beef quality, nutrition and food safety.  In doing so, we deepen food systems inquiry and knowledge, as well as encourage the next generation of food systems leaders,” reports Mary Jo Forbord, Coordinator of Morris Healthy Eating at UMM. 

This is not the first time that locally grown foods from the WCROC have made an appearance in the UMM cafeteria; organic strawberries and peppers have also been supplied over the last few growing seasons to Sodexo Dining Services, the campus dining service provider.  In 2016, nearly 900 pounds of strawberries and 1,300 pounds of peppers were supplied to Sodexo for use in the cafeteria.   

“It’s exciting to continue working with the WCROC in a new food avenue with beef,” says Tony Nemmers, General Manager of Dining Services at UMM.  “We look forward to telling the UMM community that some of the beef we serve is raised locally at the WCROC.”  

 “UMM is committed to sustainability, and we are very pleased that (in addition to strawberries and peppers) we can serve WCROC's hyper-local, organically raised beef on campus,” says Forbord. “Increasingly, college students are digging deep into the ecological, social and economic implications of food choices. Opportunities to learn about the food system from pasture to plate are all too rare, but thanks to this collaboration, we are proud to say that it's happening right here in Morris.”