Do you ever wonder if the return merits the time and expense spent doing farm tours and education sessions for non-agriculture friends in the foodservice? We drive thru our operations and talk about how and why we do what we do, but do the participants give thought about us the next time they make a decision about menu planning and purchasing?

I’m here to tell you that they do. Last October, BCI faculty and staff hosted 11 non-commercial foodservice professionals in Kansas as part of our education efforts. The tour jointly sponsored with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association focused on modern production methods and how they relate to questions their customers in healthcare and college and universities have about sustainability including environmental concerns, animal health practices and who is producing their beef.

One of those participants was Ryan Conklin, an executive chef with REX Healthcare, in Raleigh, North Carolina. I recently had a conversation with Ryan about how he and his business are managing the restrictions placed on them by the COVID-19 crisis. He shared that life is tough right now. He and his culinary and nutrition team are feeding the patients and workers. They even converted an unused public dining space to allow busy hospital workers to take home things they need for their families.  Staple items such as ground beef, milk, and yes, toilet paper, are able to be purchased.  At the end of the conversation, Ryan said, “Take care of those cattle for me.”

Another participant, Bill Marks with Hennepin County Healthcare in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota has also been coping with the virus. He also shared that his recent days at a large community hospital in inner-city Minneapolis are the most challenging he has ever experienced.   “People are scared to come to work.  Free meals are the norm, so the kitchen workers have more people to feed than ever.  You never know for sure what will, or will not be, on the delivery truck but we are figuring it out as we go,” said Bill.    

As he reflected on his time attending the workshop, Bill shared, “It was one of the best education events I’ve attended in my 35 years in foodservice.”

We can put names with faces as we see people in the trenches on national news finding ways to serve their hospitals and universities during these challenging times.  Agriculture benefits from these exchanges as we learn how to best support our customers and provide confidence in their food supply.

And don’t worry Ryan, you can rest assured in knowing our beef producers and veterinarians are taking care of those cattle for you.

KSU Beef Cattle Sustainability Fall Tour 2019 foodservice operators enjoying the Fink Genetics herd.