Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hunters for the Hungry (Tennessee Wildlife Federation)

“Local Hunters Harvesting Local Deer to Feed Local People.”
That’s a motto of Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s program called Hunters for the Hungry.

Basically, Hunters for the Hungry provides a means for hunters to safely donate venison to charitable organizations that feed food insecure Americans.

According to National Rifle Association figures, there are Hunters for the Hungry, or similar organizations, in at least 44 states, with a total national yield for the 2009-2010 season of 2,603,263 pounds of Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose, Pheasants and Waterfowl meat.

Matt Simcox and Chad Whittenburg

For an inside look at how a Hunters for the Hungry organization operates and what makes it successful, we visited the Tennessee Wildlife Federation offices in Nashville, TN. We met Director of Outreach Chad Whittenburg and Outreach Coordinator Matt Simcox.

Hunters for the Hungry was started in 1995 as a program of the state Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  In 1998, it moved to the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which is a state-wide nonprofit conservation organization. Chad coordinated the program from 2005 to 2008, when Matt was hired to coordinate it. Under their leadership, Hunters for the Hungry has grown steadily. In the 2009-2010 season, Tennessee hunters donated over 100,000 pounds of venison, enough for over 400,000 servings! 

How does it work? Local chapters of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and generous deer processors are key.
  • Hunters for the Hungry recruits certified deer processors to participate in the program. Each processor agrees to process a donated deer for $40 (much less than the usual rate). This year, 71 processors signed up, one or more in 55 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
  • Hunters abide by all state regulations, property permits, season dates, and bag limits.
  • Local chapters of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation raise funds for Hunters for the Hungry. Those funds are used by their local processor to pay the processing fees for deer donated to Hunters for the Hungry. Once those funds run out, hunters may still donate a deer, but pay the $40 themselves.
  • Hunters may also donate a portion of the meat from a deer they’re having processed for their own use. This method accounts for about 1/3 of the venison donated to Hunters for the Hungry.
  • Each processor has a freezer dedicated to Hunters for the Hungry. Once the freezer is full, or when the locally-designated soup kitchen or pantry needs meat, a volunteer comes and transfers the frozen venison to the kitchen or pantry where it will be used to feed hungry people.
We visited Flowers’ Deer Processing, one of the first to join Hunters for the Hungry. We spoke with Jim Flowers, shown here with a chub of ground venison, the preferred packaging because it’s the easiest and most versatile for cooks to prepare.

Enough funds have been raised in this county to cover the processing of 119 deer. As this board shows, even though the hunting season was only open to bow hunters so far, 13 deer had already been donated. Flowers contributes even more to Hunters for the Hungry because they request that everyone who has a deer processed here donate at least one chub to the program.

We think that Hunters for the Hungry is a good program on many levels.

First, everyone has a role to play in alleviating hunger. This program encourages hunters, deer processors, and local wildlife federation members to directly help hunger relief organizations in their communities. Meat is expensive, and without venison, these pantries and feeding programs would need to find other ways to purchase it for their clients.

Second, harvesting deer beyond what individual hunters need to feed their own families helps to manage the burgeoning deer population.  There is general agreement among conservationists, foresters, and wildlife management professionals that in the United States, deer herds have become dangerously large, damaging our forests and negatively impacting cultivated areas and crops because there are more deer than the land can healthily sustain.

Deer also are increasingly causing damage to vehicles and themselves on roads. According to State Farm Insurance, car collisions with deer have increased 21% in the last 5 years.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, hungry folks receive high-quality, lean meat, better than can be purchased in a store. Wild venison is delicious and nutritious.  It is natural, free of artificial hormones, and lower in fat and calories than beef and pork.  Nothing second-rate here! Hunters for the Hungry provides meat for food-insecure people that is higher quality than what most Americans eat.

Hunters for the Hungry is a win-win-win program.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Red Bird Farmers Project – Improving Nutrition and Food Security

Nutritious food is often difficult to obtain by poor residents of remote communities in Appalachia. In Bell, Clay, and Leslie counties, KY, the result is high reliance on government assistance, as well as very high prevalence (top quartile nationally) of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

To help people of this area improve their nutrition and their ability to meet their own food needs, Red Bird Mission hosts the Red Bird Farmers Project.  This project includes a farmer's market, jointly owned farm and food preparation equipment, and training classes.  It also includes two major grants helping expand local food production. 

The first is Heifer International.  Red Bird Mission received a grant from Heifer to increase local livestock production.  A group of about 25 farmers attended the required training to obtain animals. The training included such topics as space and fencing requirements for each type of animal, amending the fields to make them safe and healthy for the animals, caring for the animals, and budgeting to make sure you’ll make money raising the animals.  Some of the farmers have even attended regional and national training. There they’ve networked with experienced farmers who are eager to answer questions for newer farmers.

The group decided to concentrate on chickens, goats, and cows. At the beginning, almost everyone wanted cows.  But as the participants learned that not all land in the area can sustain cows without having to buy large amounts of supplemental feed, they came to realize that goats or chickens might be more appropriate.

Through Heifer, money was available for farm improvements like chicken houses and fencing, as well as to buy the animals. When one of the members of the group thought they were ready to purchase animals, more experienced people from the group inspected the farm to make sure the requirements for their desired animals were met. Only then could they get the money to buy their animals.

A Heifer project participant’s commitment doesn’t end when the animals arrive. Each farmer’s contract specifies that they must “pass on” equivalent animals to someone else in the group as soon as their animals have reproduced and they have them to provide.

Farming is a family business

The 3 ½ year Heifer grant is expiring at the end of this year, but the Farmer’s Project will continue the program. What won’t be provided, though, are funds to get the farms ready to house the animals. Now farmers will need to come up with this funding themselves.

We visited Rodney (pictured here with his father), who had obtained goats for his farm through the Heifer International grant. He also received funding for a hen house that he’d designed himself, and says works just the way he wanted it to. Rodney was definitely an animal lover, and his animals appeared to be healthy and well fed. He said his female goats were all pregnant.

Rodney has become quite an entrepreneur, not only raising goats and chickens, but also growing seedlings in the spring for local gardeners and running a feed and veterinary supply store for other local farmers so they all don’t have to drive the long distance to town. He raises hay for his animals, and sells about 4 dozen eggs per day from his chickens.

Stacia Carwell with
gardener Dwayne
The second major grant in the Farmers Program is Grow Appalachia, a program that encourages local production of vegetables. Grow Appalachia is funded by John Paul DeJoria, CEO and founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems, Inc. In partnership with Berea College, Grow Appalachia was managed at Red Bird Mission by Garden Project Coordinator Nancy Seaberg.

This was the first year of Grow Appalachia. About 29 people, families, or groups participated, many of them gardening for the first time. About 2/3 of the participants live on less than $700/mo. Others, like Dwayne (shown here with Stacia Carwell, Familiy Ministries Outreach Manager), were experienced gardeners who wanted to be a part of the program and served as resources for the less experienced members.

Grow Appalachia participants attended classes, and received locally grown seeds and plants. They received tools if they needed them, canners and jars at the preserving class, and fruit plants for a low price at the class on fruits.

All told, the participants in this first year of Grow Appalachia produced about 600 bushels of produce, and all of the participants want to continue next year!

Nancy Seaberg, gardener Sue, and rototiller Carolyn
Nancy put us to work rototilling to put one of the gardens to bed for the winter. This garden was at the senior apartments and had been divided into 5 plots. A few green pepper plants were still bearing in one corner, so we left that area untilled.
We also got a chance to talk to one of the gardeners. Sue was very happy with her garden. She had harvested lots of green beans, many of which were now in her freezer, and she had also shared a good portion of her produce. She is eager to garden next year, but wants her plot to be next to a friend’s plot. It turns out she likes hoeing, but not planting, and her friend likes planting but not hoeing.

We feel that Red Bird Farmers Project is a great example of the leverage Red Bird Mission achieves by partnering with other programs such as Grow Appalachia and Heifer International, bringing new opportunities for nutritious food and self-sufficiency to residents of the Red Bird area.

Red Bird Mission, serving the needs of Eastern Kentucky

The Red Bird area of Kentucky is deep in the Appalachian Mountains, in Bell, Clay, and Leslie counties. The rugged mountains make for beautiful scenery, but also difficult transportation, little employment, and extreme poverty. While on average, about 17% of Kentuckians live below the federal poverty level, in these 3 counties, the poverty levels are far worse: 35%, 37%, and 29%.  These 3 counties are all ranked in the top 20 poorest counties in the entire country.

How should we work to help ensure that residents here have food to eat, can meet their basic needs, and share in the opportunities afforded the rest of the country?

We can’t imagine a better solution than Red Bird Mission.

Red Bird Mission is located near the tiny post office of Beverly, KY.  Founded with just a school in 1921, today it has grown to a full-service mission of the United Methodist Church, the only one of its kind in the U.S. It serves approximately 14,000 people each year.

The large main campus includes the mission school, clinics, offices for community outreach, a large work camp with dining hall and cabins, volunteer quarters, several residences for mission directors, a volunteer fire department, storage for building materials, and maintenance facilities for the buildings and the Mission’s 50 vehicles. A second campus houses a church and senior center.

We met with Director of Community Outreach Tracy Nolan (left), Development Manager Tonya Asher, Family Ministries Outreach Manager Stacia Carwell, and Garden Project Coordinator Nancy Seaberg.

Red Bird Mission programs and services cover all the areas you might think would be important to this community:
  • Education through the Red Bird Mission School for 160 students in grades K-12.
  • Health and Wellness including medical and dental clinics, a pharmacy, home care, and health education programs.
  • Economic Opportunity through a craft store for local artisans and the Community Store, which offers high-quality used clothing.
  • On the left you see Tonya next to donated clothing in the arrival area.  Donations are then sorted, washed, and sold extremely inexpensively in the bright, clean store shown on the right.  The Community Store is often a person's first introduction to the services of Red Bird Mission.
  • Work Camp for improvements to homes in the area. Each year, about 3000 volunteers (up to 120/week) repair over 200 homes and help improve living conditions for residents of the Red Bird area.
  • Community Outreach.  We spent most of our visit learning about Community Outreach. We were particularly interested in programs helping Red Bird area residents become food secure through farming and gardening. We’ll describe those programs in the next blog posting.
But the full list of social services and community development programs is vast -- way too long to describe in detail here. The small staff (5 full-time, 8 part-time or occasional, and numerous volunteers) handle
Two volunteers filling Christmas boxes
with all new, donated  toys, books,
clothing, linens, and personal care items
for about 500 children who otherwise
would have little or nothing at Christmas.

  • Community aid (e.g., food pantry and government commodities)
  • Services for seniors (e.g., transportation, senior center, and senior housing)
  • Services for pregnant women and children (e.g., home visits, preschool, and summer youth programs)
  • Services for families (e.g., adult education, transitional housing, and Christmas boxes).
Community Outreach staff work one-on-one with people who come to Red Bird Mission. They form close relationships. As a person is ready, they build a set of services to meet their individual needs, and encourage them to move away from crisis and hunger insecurity to self-sufficiency.

One thing that enables outreach services to reach more people is that many of the programs are not unique or invented by Red Bird Mission. Rather, Community Outreach seems masterful in partnering with helpful existing programs, tailoring them to meet local needs, and making them available at the mission through grants, providing the space, or just setting up the meetings. The Mission is the catalyst. Examples of programs in this category include USDA Commodities, GED adult education, Heifer International, and Family-to-Family.

Overall, our experiences at Red Bird Mission left us awed and inspired by the important work and Christian service we saw everywhere.

Mission staff members hold deep respect for the local culture. Many grew up here, graduated from Red Bird Mission School, and are currently raising families here. We heard over and over about strengths such as these: People here are very family oriented; they own their land; relatives and several generations are likely to reside near each other. People here take care of their own; even though there’s a very high homeless rate, you don’t see it because multiple generations and multiple families may live in one house. People here are very proud and resilient; they have a history of hunting, gardening, and canning, so they can survive tough circumstances.

Red Bird Mission also inspires dedicated volunteers. We met several folks who were living in the volunteer quarters with us or who were participating in the work camp while we were there. Person after person told us they had been coming for a week or more every year for 10 or 20 years or more. We met a volunteer who was currently serving as an aide at Red Bird Mission School for the entire year. We met another family who came for a year and are still there 38 years later.

Who knows, maybe we’ll meet you there one day, too.