More than just burger: Producers Partnership gives ranchers a way to support local communities
Matt Pierson had been struggling to come up with a way to help people who had been affected by the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders when he realized the solution was standing in his pens.
Pierson, of Livingston, Montana was driving the tractor on April 9, 2020, thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected his community, wishing there was something he could do to help his neighbors who had lost their jobs and were struggling to feed their families. He is a varsity girls soccer coach, and was seeing first-hand how the pandemic and “stay at home” orders were negatively impacting his players and community.
“Realizing that we raise beef for a living, I came to the quick realization that I’m an idiot,” Pierson says. “I already did all the work, I just needed to figure out how to get it to them, so I started calling some neighbors.”
In less than a week, Pierson had organized the first delivery of 1,000 pounds of hamburger to local food banks and collected over $10,000 in donations and through a COVID-19 grant, all being used for the processing of the hamburger for the Producers Partnership, the co-op he formed.
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Before the pandemic, The Livingston Food Resource Center, Loaves and Fishes, and the Big Timber Community Food Bank were putting out around 600 pounds of animal protein each month. After the “shelter in place” order, the food banks were scrambling to distribute more than 700 pounds per week.
“There are a lot of people in our community who are struggling, a lot not working or getting paychecks,” Pierson says.
To get the attention of as many people as possible, Pierson put out a letter through the local feed store’s mailing list:
I am helping coordinate an effort from local families, that we will be calling the Producers Partnership, to provide hamburger during the Shelter in Place time. I feel strongly that this will be the time for area producers to make a difference. As of right now we have three cows going to Matt’s Meat and three cows to Pioneer Meats in the next few days. This will be enough hamburger to gain our area food banks about 3-4 weeks. I am calling out to everyone to try and triple that number so we can help our families. Even if you do not have a cow/bull or animal to offer, feel free to help by paying for the processing or portion of. On average a 1200-pound animal will produce about 375 pounds of hamburger at a cost of roughly $660.
The volume of responses overwhelmed Pierson, who shakes off credit, saying he is just helping organize the co-op and get things from point A to point B, and knowing people on both ends, from the producers to the processors, helped get the ball rolling even faster.
“These area ranchers, Felton Angus, Sundling Livestock, Lane Ranches, Highland Livestock, WW Mac Ranch, Alan Redfield, O’Hair Ranch and Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, they are people who donate a lot of things in a lot of ways,” Pierson says. “Pioneer Meats in Big Timber, they’ve done all of our work for us forever. Matt’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop in Livingston, I coached his kids in soccer and have known them forever. It was really, honestly easy to pull together that quickly. Everybody wanted to help.”
Using hamburger was a strategic tactic. Not only are old cows in a surplus this time of year, turning everything into hamburger instead of worrying about various cuts of beef not only sped up the process and eliminated hanging time for the carcass, but helped the food banks by relieving stress of who would get what cut of meat.
“We took our cows in Thursday and delivered the first 900 pounds by Friday,” Pierson says. “We were able to accelerate everything and get this out there as quickly as we could.”
One week later, Pierson, his wife and son delivered the next load of packaged hamburger to the food banks with more momentum on the horizon as more people are eager to jump in and help where they can.
“Talking to them, you could see there was a need there to try to help them stretch their dollar,” Pierson says of the food banks. “It was really the only way I could see for us to help.”
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