Oregon ranchers donate beef to local food bank
JOSEPH – Surrounded by the windswept vistas of northeast Oregon’s Zumwalt Prairie, one can almost forget about the COVID-19 State of Emergency, and the profound impact the pandemic is having on families and businesses, from border to border.
But cattle ranchers who make up the Country Natural Beef agricultural cooperative are keenly aware of the hardships – and are stepping up to help.
Tons of surplus beef that isn’t being bought by restaurants – which have cut back or shuttered due to the successful “Stay Home Stay Safe” efforts to stem the spread of the Coronavirus – is now being donated instead to feed the hungry in Eastern Oregon, thanks to a collaboration between ranchers and local nonprofits, and nudged by the encouragement of state officials.
“It worked out wonderfully,” said third-generation rancher Dan Probert, who the marketing director of the Country Natural Beef co-op and whose family raises cattle in Wallowa, Morrow and Umatilla counties, and in Washington state in Klickitat county. “We had the product and they had the need, and we could put the food into needy places.”
The cattle and calf industry is Oregon’s second-highest value agricultural producer, behind only nursery products, and was responsible for an estimated $652 million in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Department director Alexis Taylor said the state sees the Country Natural Beef generous donation as a potential template if the virus-triggered shutdown persists through the summer growing season.
“This is a beautiful example of how Oregon’s agricultural community is meeting the growing needs of our neighbors as many of them are out of work due to COVID-19 closures,” Taylor said. “ODA is working to replicate this kind of collaboration statewide by connecting agricultural producers to organizations that can use the products and help feed those in most need.”
With an office in Redmond, Country Natural Beef operates in 10 states and is made up of 90 ranchers, whose herds range in size from 80 to more than 4,000 head. The Oregon donation was orchestrated by Oregon ranchers, Probert said.
The co-op’s guiding philosophy calls for shared principles of sustainability, progressive ranching and building connections that eliminate the state’s urban-rural divide.
On April 13, ranchers finalized a deal with Fulton Provision Company, a meat processor and distributor, to buy back approximately 11,000 pounds of beef, to then donate.
The donation came at an opportune time for the local food bank, known as Community Connection of Wallowa County, which is experiencing shortages – as are food pantries statewide as they try to help reduce food insecurity that’s been worsened by pandemic-related unemployment.
Probert said the co-op was able to align a delivery with Sysco, a restaurant food supplier that is the parent company of Fulton Provision Company, to Baker City on April 17. From there, it went to nonprofits like Wallowa County Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army in Baker City, and Divide Camp, an outdoor recreation and hunting retreat for disabled veterans, located in the Wallowa Mountains on the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, he said.
Ranchers also are discussing the potential of donations and other community assistance through local businesses, Probert said. One example: The co-op supplies Burgerville restaurants, and is working to help donate meals to healthcare workers through the chain’s “Burger Break” campaign, he said.
Thanks to our generous ranchers for helping keep Oregon fed.