After successfully incorporating Island-grown produce into the salad bars and prepared meals in Vineyard schools, high school cafeteria director Bernadette Ms. Cormie turned her attention to local meat.
“I wanted to get meat, somehow, but I wasn’t sure how to do it,” she said.
Last fall Ms. Cormie began her job working for Chartwells, the food service provider at the high school, and bringing local meat into the school “was one of the top ten things I wanted to have happen.”
Caterers and food advocates Jan Buhrman and Jamie Hamlin serve on an advisory chef-to-school committee and asked Ms. Cormie how they could help.
“I said, find me some meat,” Ms. Cormie recalled.
Enter Clarissa the cow.
Ms. Buhrman put Ms. Cormie in touch with Fred Fischer, Jr. of Nip’n’Tuck Farm in West Tisbury, whose cow Clarissa was being milked at Mermaid Farm and Dairy in Chilmark but due to an injured teat was no longer able to milk.
“[Mr. Fischer] was going to sell her to another farm to have taken off to get slaughtered and they agreed to sell it to us,” Ms. Cormie said. But there was still the issue of cost.
Vineyard schools business administrator Amy Tierney approved the purchase of the animal with the caveat that the school system couldn’t spend any more money on the cow than what they would normally pay through a vendor. That’s when farm-to-school network Island Grown Schools stepped in and agreed to pick up the difference.
“Island Grown Schools gave us the go-ahead . . . if the cost was going to be greater than what we would normally pay, they would pick up the bill,” Ms. Cormie said. This was the first time a Vineyard school has purchased a four-legged animal for school meals, Ms. Cormie said. Clarissa was then sent to Adams Farm slaughterhouse in Athol and last Friday returned in the form of 400 pounds of ground beef.
Grey Barn Farm and Dairy in Chilmark helped with transportation, picking up the meat for the school and delivering it to the cafeteria. On Monday, meatloaf with Island beef was the hot dish of the day and on Wednesday local beef burritos were available.
“The response was really great,” Ms. Cormie she said. “[On Monday] I tried to pull myself away from the main line and say to the kids, hey did you know this is local? It was nice to engage the kids in the story.”
And from a cook’s perspective, working with the local beef was a dream.
“It’s a beautiful product, it’s so lean with very little fat,” Ms. Cormie said. “We’ll be using it once a week until it’s gone”
The bones were also returned to the school cafeteria and Ms. Cormie said she’s looking forward to making minestrone soup with the stock.
“It’s nice to have that here,” she said. “It definitely tastes different — it’s a richer and much cleaner taste.”
Most of the beef the school uses comes from the government, Ms. Cormie explained, with the school system only paying for the cost of transportation. The high school also purchases meat from their primary vendor, Cisco. But in the end, Ms. Cormie said, having an Island-raised cow processed was only slightly more expensive than purchasing through vendors.
“This is an experiment and we came very close to what we would have paid,” she said. “We had a great deal from the farmer, who I’m sure could have sold it for much more money.”
“In my perfect world, I would love if we could buy six cows...have them raised on a farm, grow them, process them all at once freeze the meat and have it all year,” she said. “That would be a perfect world, whether we can go from this experimental one step, I’m not sure. But it was definitely an experiment I think was worthwhile.”