New program puts Wyoming beef on the menu
for The Fence Post
Wyoming ranchers and others are stepping up to get ground beef to the state’s food banks at a time when high numbers of families need help to feed their families.
“It’s Wyoming ranchers helping Wyoming people,” said Tony Woodell, director of Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, which serves the state of Wyoming.
The first three cattle have been processed and distributed, with more on the schedule, thanks to a new program called Food from the Farm + Ranch, part of Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon’s Hunger Initiative. The program came about as a partnership between the first lady, the state food bank, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. The first donations were processed at Wyoming Custom Meats Inc., paid for by donations from the employees of the state’s department of agriculture and Jeff and Susan Sussman and Reg and Aline Phillips, WSGA members.
Jessica Sullivan said the program is a good opportunity for Wyoming ranchers like her family to help Wyoming residents in need. Sullivan ranches with her husband and parents, Rich and Kay Pingetzer, and the family was among the first to donate a beef cow to the program. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said.
Donations from L-T Livestock and Hellyer Limited Partnership were also received and processed, according to a press release. Additional processing dates have been scheduled at other processing facilities for cattle donated from multiple other ranches across the state.
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Jared Hamilton, president of Wyoming Custom Meats called the program a win, win. The company, which operates a 5,000 square foot processing facility in Hudson, Wyo., was able to find time in it’s schedule to process the beef despite it being an unusually busy time due to COVID-19. People are filling their freezers with more locally processed meat than usual, either because they are concerned about shortages or because they aren’t finding what they typically buy in grocery stores, Hamilton said.
The new program comes at a good time, Woodell said, as demand has increased for food from the state’s food banks. “It’s gone up exponentially,” he said. “We are seeing the normal business we do has increased two or three fold.”
Typically, about 800,000 pounds of food is distributed a month by the Wyoming food banks’ regular programs. However, in April, the number went up to almost 1.3 million pounds of food. And, with additional programs put into place due to COVID-19, the total amount of food distributed in April was actually 1.8 million pounds.
On a federal level, food banks are also getting help from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. “This program is designed to help producers facing the challenges of distribution for their product by matching that produce with food banks throughout the country and in turn assisting those in need,” he said. “Through this program, Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies will be receiving over 1,200 boxes of fresh produce three times per week and we are now in discussions to receive additional milk, dairy and meat through this same program.”
But the Food from the Farm + Ranch program is unique, Woodell said, because it’s a collaboration of local partners to get food grown in Wyoming to people in Wyoming that need it, without having to ship it in from out of state. Plus, meat donations are especially valued, he said. Although the food bank does receive meat donations there are times when it has to be purchased to supplement their supply. “Meat is an expensive commodity,” he said.
Olivia Sanchez, communications director for WSGA, said the program is still seeking additional donations of livestock as well as financial support. Cattle donations are being coordinated through WSGA and the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is collecting money to cover processing costs.
Wyoming’s First Lady has long had the problem of hunger on her mind, thanks to her parents, who were raised in abject poverty. Her mother, in particular, never forgot what it was like to be hungry. “Never wasting anything, that was No. 1,” Gordon said, adding that being grateful and helping others were important to her mother as well.
But it wasn’t until she became first lady that she started to understand how much of a problem hunger is in her state. That’s when she and her husband started traveling around, visiting food pantries and locations where volunteers packed Friday food bags for children who needed food on the weekends, when school was out. Before COVID-19, food insecurity affected 72,000 Wyoming residents, including 23,000 children, she said. Now that number is even higher.
Gordon said the Food from the Farm + Ranch program got its start because she was working on another project that will launch this fall, called Food from the Field. Hunters will have the opportunity to donate all or part of their harvest to Wyoming’s food banks. The partners for that project are the Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Then she had a conversation with someone with WSGA who told her Wyoming ranchers were ready to step up and help too. So work began on the Food from the Farm + Ranch program to get domestically grown meat to the state food banks, using most all the same partners as the Food from the Field program.
Food from the Farm + Ranch won’t go away when the COVID-19 crisis is over, Gorgon said. Ultimately, the hope is that the program will get to the point where producers are getting paid for their product, rather than asking them to donate livestock. “Ranchers are stepping up now and we would love to be able to support them in the future,” she said. ❖
— Jessen is a freelance writer living in Minnesota with her nurse husband and daughter. They recently settled down after more than three years living a travel lifestyle, thanks to her husband’s travel nurse job. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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