Field to Food Pantry is win-win for farmers and neighbors in need
Blog post by Jacob Gilley, American Farmland Trust
Photos courtesy AFT
If there’s one thing Americans have learned in 2020, it’s that our food system is not as secure and robust as many of us have long believed. When the pandemic struck, the nation was shocked to see grocery store shelves empty for the first time in many people’s lives.
A Locust Dale Cattle Co. employee helps load animals in Rapidan, Virginia to transport to Seven Hills Food Co. in Lynchburg, which processed them into ground beef delivered in recent days to Culpeper-area food banks.
As millions of Americans lost their jobs, farmers and ranchers across the nation were suddenly faced with closed schools, farmers markets, and restaurants, leaving goods ready to harvest but with no buyers.
As the project manager for American Farmland Trust’s Sustainable Grazing Project in Virginia and a farmer, these are issues I care about deeply. In the past few months, I’ve heard from other farmers involved in our Grazing project who also feel that it is important for the local community to have access to a safe, healthy, and delicious product raised locally using sustainable practices.
And that’s where the idea for a project to get local beef into the hands of the local community was born. But it wasn’t until I heard from Billy Salmon of Banks Mountain Farm, one of the pilot producers in the Grazing project, that this effort started to gain traction. Billy called me and asked if I could haul four beef cattle to Seven Hills Food, a regional beef harvesting facility in Lynchburg, Virginia, for him since his processing slots—which are hard to come by for many farmers, especially during the pandemic—fell during the week he had planned a vacation. He said that he could get two additional slots if I could use them.
Though our personal farm didn’t need the slots, I knew of an effort led by Matt Coyle of Piedmont Environmental Council to bring more locally produced beef to area food pantries. Then, it clicked. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to help both farmers and the community. I called Matt to see if they could use an additional 800 pounds of ground beef for the local food banks and he was excited and appreciative of the opportunity.
I then called John Paul Visosky of Locust Dale Cattle Company to see if he had any cull cows he wanted to market. He said he had two in field that were needing to be sold, so I picked up Billy’s four steers from Banks Mountain Farm, grabbed the two cull cows from Locust Dale, and delivered them to Seven Hills Foods for harvesting. The cattle dry aged to increase tenderness for two weeks, and then Seven Hills graciously delivered them to another partner, Local Food Hub / 4P Foods in Ivy, Virginia. 4P Foods was instrumental in delivering the beef to food banks in Madison, Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier counties.
Through this team effort, we helped feed those in need in our community, added value to undervalued products for local producers, and highlighted the great partners and partnerships in this region.
To learn more about our Sustainable Grazing Initiative, please visit: https://farmland.org/project/sustainable-grazing-project/.