Where's the beef (from)? Public school lunches go local

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's effort to grow its own food is taking a step forward as public school students are being served locally-grown beef for the first time in decades.

It's part of "Farm to School" initiative in which local, grass-fed ground beef will be served during the month of December. Elementary and middle school students are being served teri hamburger steak, while high school students will get teri loco moco lunches.

The state Department of Education prepares 100,000 lunches statewide every school day.

"We're actually doing 18,000 pounds of ground beef, local ground beef this month of December alone," said Albert Scales, administrator of the DOE's food program.

Scales said frozen beef patties from the mainland can be as much as two months old by the time they hit the plate. Locally grown ground beef may be chilled for just a week or two before being served. And it's not that much more expensive per pound.

"We're actually amazed," said Scales. "When we got with the Hawaii Beef Cattlemen's Association, the price that we would get from other beef compared to local beef was only a few cents more."

Dale Sandlin with the Hawaii Beef Industry Council said local ranches have enough cattle to meet the rising demand for local beef. But he said there's a backlog when it comes to getting product to the table.

"Our biggest hurdle right now is our processing capacity," said Sandlin. "Even though we've seen the new mobile plant come on line and we're very supportive of that, that's not going to be enough to move the needle for our industry."

Meanwhile, Kalani High School students who had the chance to try out the locally grown beef gave it a thumbs up.

"I guess the difference is that it's just more fresh," said senior Priscilla Hsu. "You could tell it was like homemade, almost."

"This will make me eat school lunch a lot more now," said sophomore Tyler Martinez, who usually brings lunch from home. "I'd probably eat it tomorrow, too," he added, laughing.

Beef is just one local agriculture product that's headed for local public school cafeterias.

"The DOE is committing to a whole year of these purchase, very similar," said Jayson Watts of the Lieutenant Governor's office. "They're going to try a whole lot of different things," including bananas and mangoes. Locally-grown bananas are next for the farm to school tryout next month.

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