Matt Coyle, Buy Fresh Buy Local Coordinator
The Piedmont Environmental Council
WARRENTON, VA. (June 26, 2020) – Next week, The Piedmont Environmental Council, in partnership with Fauquier Community Food Bank and Lakota Ranch, which lies on the border of Culpeper and Fauquier counties, will pilot a new initiative connecting high-quality, locally-raised beef with local food pantries experiencing shortages of ground beef during the Covid-19 pandemic. At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, Lakota Ranch Farm Manager Jeremy Engh will deliver the first 50 pounds of ground beef to the Fauquier Community Food bank at 249 East Shirley Avenue in Warrenton.
The effort follows the recent success of the organization’s dairy initiative, in which PEC raised philanthropic support to provide locally produced milk to area food pantries, helping both local dairy farmers, who’d lost a significant market, and food insecure populations, whose need for dairy increased significantly, after schools closed as a result of Covid-19.
“As the dairy initiative grew to 19 food banks in eight counties, we learned that food pantries also have a big need for ground beef, which families can use to make so many different meals,” said PEC Buy Fresh Buy Local Coordinator Matt Coyle. “Meanwhile, Lakota Ranch, which had previously subsidized beef for a Madison County food pantry, heard about the dairy initiative and approached us to see if there might be a similar need for beef. The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’”
Taking what PEC has learned from its dairy initiative, the community-supported nonprofit is now testing a similar approach in July, raising philanthropic support to provide 200 pounds of ground beef, subsidized by Lakota Ranch, to the Fauquier Community Food Bank. Coyle said the pilot is intended to work out details, such as price variation from producer to producer, processor availability, and other logistics, to determine the program’s overall feasibility. “If all goes well, with more than 60 beef farmers in our nine-county region, our goal is to match as many farmers as are interested with their nearest local food pantry, to provide about 400-450 pounds of meat per month to each pantry,” Coyle said.
“Due to the Covid-19 virus, the need for food has increased significantly, and families are finding more time to cook healthy meals at home. Everyone enjoys ground beef, from children to senior citizens, and our clients are going to be so happy to be able to get quality ground beef they can use to stretch their meals further. We are grateful to both Lakota Ranch and the Piedmont Environmental Council for making this happen for our clients,” said Sharon Ames, director of Fauquier Community Food Bank.
Once fully implemented, not only will the initiative help meet needs of food-insecure populations throughout Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties, it will also help cattle farmers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. As national meat processing plants have been shut down by Covid-19 outbreaks among employees, heavy demand has fallen to smaller, local processors. As a result, farmers are finding it difficult to secure a spot within the local processing schedule. In addition, while beef farmers can easily sell prime cut steaks, they need a viable outlet for the rest of the meat, and this initiative will provide that.
PEC President Chris Miller says he’s thrilled with the success of the dairy initiative and is hopeful the beef initiative will be equally effective in supporting local farmers and food-insecure people, but is mindful that these initiatives treat symptoms of a larger problem.
“Covid-19 has exposed severe vulnerabilities and flaws in our local food supply systems. We can no longer rely on a few globally scaled producers to meet the needs of our local communities. We see a strange phenomenon where the beef that is produced in this region is not directly available to meet local needs because of a shortage of local manufacturing and distribution. We produce tens of thousands of live animals, but are struggling to provide the equivalent of one animal a week to help those most in need in our communities. We need to solve that breakdown going forward,” Miller said.
To that end, a few weeks ago, PEC, along with lead partner American Farmland Trust, applied for a USDA Local Food Promotion Grant to study the feasibility of a centrally-located animal processing facility, here in the PIedmont, that could act as a processing, dry-aging, storing and packaging facility. “A local plant would reduce costs for farmers who now have to ship animals across the state and even across state lines for processing, create an efficient mechanism for a multitude of local farmers to dry age and store processed meat, and it would make our local communities less depending on a national food supply chain that can’t easily and quickly adapt to changing demands and conditions, like a pandemic,” Miller said.
Since 1972, The Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. PEC empowers residents to protect what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place, and works with citizens to conserve land, improve air and water quality and build thriving communities. PEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and accredited land trust. Learn more at www.pecva.org.