COVID-19 News: Montana Farm Bureau members stepping up to the plate

Recent news headlines and social media posts swirling around COVID-19 often focus on concerns about the pandemic’s effect on our food supply. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations are working hard to ensure the public that there is plenty of food and they are working on solutions regarding concerns about distribution channels. The American Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are configuring new ways for farmers to get food to the public and to food banks using revisions in the food chain. New developments include large packing plants shutting down. Consumers worry about food shortages, and people who have lost their jobs are concerned about affording food. 

The Producers Partnership in Livingston has to date donated almost 5,000 pounds of beef to local food banks, food pantries and other area community centers. Park County Farm Bureau member Matt Pierson said the idea of giving back to his community spawned out of his idea to donate a cull cow for beef to those in need during the pandemic.

“It started with me calling area ranchers I know to see if they could also donate a cull cow,” said Pierson.

What started as one rancher’s idea snowballed not only for cull cow beef donations, but in raising $12,000 for processing.

“The first two rounds of processing were done with Matt’s Meat in Livingston and Pioneer Meats in Big Timber. We emailed a letter to our local feed store list, and a lot of people responded with donations. We are now looking at round three and round four of donations and processing. To date, we’ve had more than 10 other ranchers join us. Having the meat processed into hamburger works well because it’s quicker to process, it’s more universal, and it’s easier to distribute.”

Pierson’s main concern was that local people were losing jobs and not able to feed their families. He believes Producers Partnership can provide enough meat to get through the pandemic.

“Even after the quarantine is lifted, it will take time getting people back to work. They won’t have money immediately,” the rancher added. “It’s going to take a while to get back to normal.”

The Park County Community Foundation has set up a COVID-19 Fund and offers other resources. The Producers Partnership is complementing that with beef delivered from the processor directly to the food banks.

“With the outpouring of money for the processing, it’s really going to extend our help,” said Pierson, adding, “Livingston has a large percentage of families who qualify for the breakfast and lunch programs, meaning our town needs as much help as it can get. As ag producers, what we do every day is make food so that part of the work has been done. We see this as a way to really help out.”

Garrett Hamm, Park County Farm Bureau president noted, “I think this is a wonderful program that shows the generosity and resilience of our local agricultural community.  During these trying times of rising beef prices in the store and declining prices for the rancher, the fact that these local beef producers have found yet another way to support our community is tremendous."