UT Launches Farm-to-Table Beef Program
High-quality, locally sourced ‘UT Beef’ is now being served on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus.
Produced at UT’s Northeast Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Greeneville, and being prepared and served through an agreement with UT Dining Services managed by Aramark, the farm-to-table effort supports sustainable agricultural production by utilizing locally grown beef as a reliable food source while maximizing supply chain resiliency.
“This partnership is another way we bring to life the mission of a land-grant university,” says UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Beef production is a huge part of our agriculture industry in this state and across the nation, and this new program is providing sustainable solutions that will benefit our students as well as people and communities across Tennessee.”
“I hope that this UT Institute of Agriculture pilot program will be a model across the state and for other institutions to adopt and provide alternatives for locally sourced, high-quality, humanely produced protein products,” says Justin McKinney, director of the UT Northeast Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center.
The beef cattle in this program are raised primarily on a pasture-based system utilizing forage consisting of cool-season perennials—tall fescue and orchardgrass—interseeded with red and white clover. The sustainable, intense grazing system can support a variety of livestock operations across the state while minimizing environmental impact.
“This model should serve producers and consumers across Appalachia as well as those in other regions with the same ability to grow their own forages capable of supporting a complete livestock enterprise,” says McKinney. The Northeast Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center sits in Greene County, which is among the state’s top beef-producing counties. Approximately 70,000 cattle roam its hills and valleys.
Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch, asked McKinney to join UT AgResearch two years ago after a national search and charged him with developing a robust beef backgrounding operation to handle a small finishing number of steers to maximize the center’s direct marketing capability. The program also had to support UTIA’s ongoing and future research projects in plant and animal sciences and veterinary medicine. David White, a food scientist and associate dean of UT AgResearch, challenged McKinney to go a step further and design a system as a model for sustainable protein production focused on local sales. After months of working out the business details in partnership with Aramark and with the support of UT Knoxville administrators, UT Beef hamburgers, casseroles and other tasty dishes are now being prepared and served across campus.
Linda C. Martin, interim senior vice chancellor and senior vice president of the UT Institute of Agriculture says, “It is exciting to see the meaningful and impactful work at our AgResearch centers practically applied in the form of sustainably produced nutrition for our students and others.”
McKinney, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Sciences, is pleased to help UT lead the charge for locally sustainable beef. “I desire to develop programs that support long-term solutions to complex challenges facing agriculture throughout the southeastern U.S. As a UT student and employee, I have a vested interest in the success of current and future programs that address sustainability for Tennessee agriculture.”
Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.