PALMYRA, Mo. — Eating homegrown beef at suppertime is nothing unusual for brother and sister Kye and Tyne Lehenbauer and their cousin Heidi Lehenbauer.
But now beef from Lehenbauer Farms is on the menu this month for lunch for the cousins and their classmates in the Palmyra school district thanks to the MoBeef for MoKids program.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture's Missouri Grown program, the Missouri Beef Industry Council and Opaa Food Service partner with school districts statewide to "beef up school lunch" while building relationships with local beef producers and gaining a better understanding of agriculture.
"We just think it's a really good way to connect our children and what they're eating in the school lunch program with what is going on literally out the back door on the farm," said Amy Lehenbauer, mom of second-grader Kye and kindergartner Tyne and aunt to second-grader Heidi. "We raise a lot of cattle in this area, and rather than buying beef from other places, if we get local producers involved with the school lunch program, everybody is making that connection to where their food is coming from."
The school district formally kicked off the program on Tuesday, but the locally grown beef, this month from Lehenbauer Farms, has been on the menu since classes started on Aug. 15.
"We are using locally grown beef in all of our beef recipes," said Heather Rice, director of nutrition services with Opaa, who works with the school district, "Our goal is to double the beef on the menu."
Rice said locally grown beef is being used in all the beef recipes from tacos and sloppy Joes to Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and pizza.
"I'm very excited for kids and families to learn that our local farmers are providing the beef for our kids," Rice said. "We're truly blessed in our community to have local farmers who want to contribute to our children and our youth."
The response has been positive from district cooks working with the hamburger, chuck roasts and eye of round roasts, Rice said, and from staff and students who ask what they're doing different this year to make "the best tacos ever."
Palmyra beef producer Ken Disselhorst sees the program as a way to provide high-quality product to the school district and its students.
Beef producers in Marion and Lewis counties donate the beef, Country Butcher Shop processes the meat with Opaa covering the cost and the school district picks up the product to use in school lunches.
"We estimate it will take about 10 beef animals to supply the school district for the year, and we want to spread those out a little bit through the school year," said Disselhorst, another donor to the program. "Each month we'll have a featured family that's donating the product, and a picture of the family will hang in the cafeteria."
The MoBeef for MoKids program started as a pilot project in the 2017-18 school year in the Mount Vernon school district in Lawrence County, the state's top beef-producing county. It's now in some 25 school districts across the state and growing every week.
"It's really about making those connections in the community -- recognizing the importance of ag in our communities and a way for farmers to connect to their local schools," said Luella Gregory, program coordinator. "It's such a win-win partnership for all involved."
Tied in with the program are plans for more educational programs targeting agriculture in the classroom.
"We want our kids to know what they're eating, know where it comes from. The majority of kids say it comes from the grocery store," Rice said.
"We still consider ourselves a rural school district, but a lot of families aren't maybe as familiar with ag as we think they are," Disselhorst said. "It all ties together to a larger purpose as far as promoting ag in general."