- Put up posters in the cafeteria or hallways; tape index cards to lunch-line sneeze guards.
- Engage students in trivia-type games about a food item during their cafeteria time. Use the "Fun Facts" sections to develop trivia questions.
- Use the Newsletter sample to communicate with parents about upcoming local food on the menu.
- Send home a Home Recipe so families can try a home version of food that will be served in the school cafeteria.
- Use the "Fun Facts" and photos of food items to build your own newsletter articles.
- Give teachers an announcement to read to their class about a local food item that will be served at the school.
- Supply teachers with a poster that they can put up in their classroom.
- Invite teachers to check out the classroom enrichment materials for more in-depth activities around each local food item.
Cool Stuff About Bison!
Did you know bison are the largest wild land mammals in North America? Bulls (males) can stand up to 6 feet tall at the shoulders and can weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Bison have heavy horns and a large hump of muscle, which supports their enormous head and thick skull. They have a thick mass of fur on their heads and a heavy cape of fur even in summer. This enhances their size and protects them when fighting. Bison generally produce one 40-50 pound calf (baby) at a rate of one per year. Bison calves are reddish brown when they are born. A mature cow (female) weighs 1,000-1,200 pounds. Bison once thrived on Minnesota prairies. Estimates on the number of bison that once roamed the North American continent range from 30 million to over 60 million. Sadly, when European civilization began to move west, bison slaughter followed. Bison were killed for hides and food; many were killed just for the sport in an attempt to starve Indian tribes that depended on the bison. By 1890 there were only 500-900 bison left alive. Today there are an estimated 225,000 bison in managed herds in the United States. There are over 12,000 in Minnesota. Minnesota is second nationally for the number of bison producers and seventh in number of animals. Bison are plant eaters and feed primarily on grasses. They prefer to move, travel in herds, and commonly travel six miles a day. Bison meat is similar to beef and is cooked in much the same way. Bison tastes very similar to beef (some people can’t even tell the difference), although bison tends to have a fuller, richer, sweeter flavor. It is not "gamy" or wild tasting. Bison is low in fat and cholesterol, and is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. You can pick some up with your family at the local farmer’s market or FARM NAME. Try using the recipe in this month’s newsletter. Today at lunch, you will have the opportunity to sample bison in FOOD ITEM from FARM NAME/CITY.
In [MONTH] your child tried [FOOD ITEM] with locally grown bison from [FARM NAME] in [CITY]. Prepare this delicious recipe with your family and ask your child(ren) if they can answer the following trivia questions.
- Bison are the largest wild land mammals in North America. How large are the average bulls (males) and cows (females)?
- Today there are an estimated 250,000 bison in managed herds, but how many were in North America before European civilization moved west?
- Bison is not gamy or wild tasting, and tastes much like what other meat?
- Bulls (males) can stand up to 6 feet tall at the shoulders and weight more than 2,000 pounds. They also have heavy horns and a large hump of muscle, which supports their enormous head and thick skull. A mature cow (female) weighs 1,000-1,200 pounds.
- Bison freely roamed the Minnesota prairie, estimates on the number of bison that once roamed the North American continent ranged from 30 million to over 60 million. There are over 12,000 in Minnesota today. Minnesota is second nationally for the number of bison producers and seventh in number of animals.
- Bison meat is similar to beef and is cooked in much the same way. The taste is often indistinguishable from beef, although bison tends to have a fuller, richer (sweeter) flavor.
History and Origin
- The bison originally inhabited the Great Plains of the United States and Canada in massive herds. Subspecies of the bison ranged from the Great Slave Lake in Canada's far north to Mexico in the south, and from eastern Oregon almost to the Atlantic Ocean.
- Two subspecies are the plains bison (Bison bison bison), distinguished by its smaller size and more rounded hump; and the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), distinguished by its larger size and taller square hump. Wood bison are one of the largest species of cattle in the world, surpassed in size only by the massive Asian gaur and wild Asian water buffalo, both of which are found mainly in India and Southeast Asia.
- Bison were nearly wiped out in the late 1800s. As white settlers streamed westward onto the Great Plains, bison were killed in increasing numbers. Bison hides and bison tongues, considered a delicacy, were shipped back East. Bison were killed for meat to feed railroad workers. Railroad companies supported the slaughter of bison because bison herds could interrupt train movement. Killing of bison was also a U.S. government strategy to drive Native American tribes off their land by eliminating their food supply.
- By 1890, fewer than 1000 bison remained out of the 60 million to 65 million bison that roamed the plains in 1800. Conservation of bison began in 1905 under President Theodore Roosevelt. Today there are around 225,000 bison in the United States, on public lands and on private ranches.
- A rich, beef-like taste with low fat and cholesterol makes bison a perfect beef substitute for people who should restrict red meat in their diet. In fact, bison meat has less cholesterol than chicken with the skin removed.
- Bison meat is darker than beef and has a sweeter, richer flavor. It can be prepared in much the same way as beef, but because of its low fat content it cooks faster than beef. Take care to not overcook bison meat.
- Nutritionally, bison meat provides protein, minerals, vitamin B12 and other nutrients but contains less fat and less calories than the same quantity of beef.
- Bison meat contains some of the essential fatty acids necessary for human health.
Did you know…?
- Female bison are called Cows. Males are Bulls. Babies are Calves.
- Native Americans called the bison “Tatanka" (sometimes spelled "Tatonka"). They revered the bison as a source of strength and sustenance. Ceremonies honored the spirit of the bison every time a bison hunt was successful.
- Bison bulls reach their prime at about 6 years old. The normal life expectancy for a bison is 20 years, with some living up to 40 years.
- Bison can move very fast. They can run at speeds in excess of 45 mph and can turn very quickly. When bison run, it is called a “stampede.”
- Bison fur is usually curly and brownish black.
- Some bison today are handled as little as possible and spend their lives on grass, much as they always have. Other bison producers "finish" the calves by keeping them in a feedlot and feeding them grain. This practice is opposed by Native American tribes, which view feedlots as unnatural systems that upset the balance between the animal and the rest of nature.
- The symbol of Minnesota's Independence political party is the bison.
How to Eat Bison
You can eat bison in every way you eat beef:
- Bison burger
- On pizza
The above information was compiled from:
Tasting Poster (649 K PDF)
Table Top Trifold 819 K PDF)
Index Card (413 K PDF)
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Pair of Bison Photo by Brett Olson Renewing the Countryside
Close-up of a Bison Photo by Brett Olson Renewing the Countryside
Bison on Pasture Photo by Brett Olson Renewing the Countryside
Bison Herd in Fall Photo by Gail Griffin Minnesota Buffalo Association
Bison Herd in Winter Photo by Gail Griffin Minnesota Buffalo Association
Bison Calf Photo by Gail Griffin Minnesota Buffalo Association
Mature Bison Cow Photo by Gail Griffin Minnesota Buffalo Association
- Minnesota Buffalo Association — An overview of bison in the state of Minnesota.
- Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Project — The primary focus of the Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Project is to replenish buffalo herds and to develop culturally-based formal and non-formal education opportunities which support the concurrent development of Tribal land and human resources in rural communities of North Dakota and South Dakota. Through curriculum collaborations among Indian colleges and universities, education programs integrating information about agriculture, rural economic development, natural resources, and sustainable ecosystems can be shared through technology resources and electronic networks emerging on federal Indian reservations in the northern Great Plains. The project's overall goal is to strengthen the capacities of Indian Tribes and native communities in revitalizing reservation economies by developing land resources and preserving ecosystems for long-term productivity.
- Take a field trip with your students to a bison farm. Look in the Finding Farmers section for more farm information.