Local Beef Served at Campus Eateries
Mike Baker (left), beef specialist in the Department of Animal Science, and Matt LeRoux, agricultural marketing specialist from Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension, sample the locally sourced beef burgers now served by Cornell Dining at Trillium in Kennedy Hall.
When it comes to burgers, the question is no longer, “Where’s the beef?” but rather, “Where’s the beef come from?”
Cornell Dining staff can now give a clear answer.
Since March, they have been purchasing three steers a week from farms within a 250-mile radius of Ithaca and taking them to the Cornell Teaching and Research Center in Dryden, where the animals spend three months munching on natural feed. Most come from even closer—within 75 miles of campus—and travel only 60 miles to a small, family-owned plant, Leona Meats, in Troy, Pa, for final processing.
That means fewer food miles and a safe, healthy product, according to Cornell Dining director Gail Finan ’69. The cattle are raised without hormone growth implants or daily antibiotics, and each can be traced to their farm of origin. Cornell also inspects the plant where the meat is processed and applies its own tests beyond what is required by the USDA.
Knowing that farmer-owned beef was being finished in Dryden, Matt LeRoux, MPS ’08, agricultural marketing specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and a member of the Cornell Dining Local Foods Advisory Council, saw an opportunity. He contacted Mike Baker, PhD ’03, beef extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science, and the two made the proposal to Cornell Dining administrators in December 2009.
The initiative has proven popular with students, who have been devouring beef burgers made from the meat in several campus dining halls, including Trillium, which serves an average of 500 burgers a week.
It has also proven challenging.
The main issue is inventory, as most of the demand is for ground beef, so staff have to get creative when designing menus and plan well in advance to make use of other cuts like sirloin and ribs, which are served by Cornell Catering.
The other has been sourcing. It has sometimes been a struggle finding enough beef animals. The average beef herd in New York State is just 15 cattle, and Cornell has high standards.
Before the program can grow, Cornell has to convince more farmers to participate. But it shouldn’t be a hard sell. Farmers are paid a premium price for the natural beef, and the Cornell connection instills many with a sense of pride.
“There’s an excitement in knowing it’s going to Cornell and not just some mystery supply,” LeRoux says.