Yellowstone Valley Food Hub takes bull by the horns |

Yellowstone Valley Food Hub takes bull by the horns

The participating ranches, farms and their products:

ABC Produce- a variety of chemical-free produce

Bullseye Ranch Meats--grass-fed beef with a corn supplement all grown and raised on the ranch

Charter Beef--grass-fed beef supplemented in the winter with a sugar beet byproduct

Crazy Bear Farm -outdoor raised, grass-fed pork with a non-gmo ration without corn, soybeans or meds.

Gano Beef -grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free beef that are not butchered until two years old, and fed apple cider vinegar for tenderness;

High Five Meats -beef, sheep and pork also available in mixed packages

Manic Organics- Native American Organics

Nash Farms- beef, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, peacocks, wool and apples

Silvertip Pork- pork

Swanky Roots -hydroponically grown lettuce and leafy green vegetables

Ten Montana farmers and ranchers are testing out the old adage, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Tired of waiting for the commodity markets to turn around, producers representing all regions of the state took matters into their own hands, er, feedlots and fields. Together, this group of producers created the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub.

Each member of YVFH had a product, or products, and some customers, but they were scattered like ten small islands from southern Montana almost to Wyoming to near the Canadian border.

While some ranchers sell their livestock individually to consumers, getting the word out can be a challenge for those living in the fourth largest state in the nation. And if the producers wish to sell retail cuts of beef, the animal must be slaughtered at a USDA – inspected plant. Otherwise, the meat can be sold in wholes, halves or quarters while still on the hoof

Annika Charter-Williams, of Charter Beef, one of the founding members of YVFH, said she decided to help form the food hub because she and others wanted to make access to local food easy in their communities. “We also saw the importance to our economy to keep those food dollars within our system.” During the COVID-19 pandemic local food has become a source of food security, she said.

Irene Strobel, of Crazy Bear Farm, said she joined the co-op to reach a larger consumer base with their pork products as well as to assist with marketing and distribution. She also saw the project as a way “to support and be involved in providing high quality local food to people in our area.”

Red tape can slow down the most sincere attempts. Getting a USDA approved label was quite a process, as was becoming incorporated as a Co-op, insurance, meat depot licensing, etc., said Laurie Gano, of Gano Beef, Melville, Montana.

Several, if not all, of the members have seen an appreciable increase in their sales.

One of the main stumbling blocks to their growth is access to federally-inspected meat processing facilities.

The Ganos haul steers to Butte for slaughter. “We haul our steers to Butte, Montana (188 miles west),” said Laurie Gano. “The distance and steep roads are the issue…from there, we have the meat trucked to Billings, Montana (a distance of 224 miles East of Butte.) That was another learning experience!” The cost of butchering pretty much determines that our prices will not be cheap, she said.

Irene Strobel said they have to schedule butchering dates months in advance, as do many of the others.

Charter-Williams echoes the others’ frustration with the processing bottleneck. “I think for the beef industry to be less reliant on the four main packers, we need a much larger infrastructure of regional processing plants. I also think we need federally inspected processing plants that can do a larger capacity than the ones we have now,” she said. She said her ranch currently ships multiple trailer loads of fat cattle to three different plants to be butchered. She thinks a plant that could handle around 75-100 per day would help producers market more beef.

In a recent announcement from the Montana Department of Agriculture two million dollars from the CARES Act is being made available to small and mid-sized processing plants in the state for them to expand their infrastructure and space. This maybe help make access to these plants more readily available. F

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