There’s a new bank in Harney County, and its currency is cattle.
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Goal is to collect 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of beef each year.
by Randy Parks
After mulling over ways to help supply the Harney County Food Bank with a steady supply of protein, Harney County rancher Ron Schirm came up with the “Bank on Beef” program and started the wheels turning.
Schirm set up a website and visited with Angie Iturbide, executive director of the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center (where the food bank is located), to explain what he had in mind.
In June 2012, Schirm sent out letters to other ranchers in the county asking for donations of cows, which he would then transport to Nampa, Idaho, to be USDA inspected, processed and wrapped.
Schirm explained that the food bank received beef donations in the past that were processed locally, but the meat now has to be federally inspected.
The initial response to the letters was a little slow, so Schirm picked up the phone and called ranchers to outline the program and ask for donations. By the end of December, the locals had shown their generosity, and there was about 7,500 pounds of meat for the food bank.
Schirm said ranchers drop off their donations at his ranch on Island Ranch Lane, and receive a food bank donation receipt equal to the actual market value of the animals.
Once he gets eight or nine head, he loads them up for transport to the USDA inspecting plant. Once they’re processed, Schirm picks up the meat and brings it back to the food bank.
Schirm said his goal is to reach 20,000 to 25,000 pounds for the food bank each year. “If ranchers get into the habit of donating a cow every year, we’d reach the goal,” he said. “I know every rancher can’t participate, but there are a lot in a position to donate one cow.”
Schirm stated that he was more or less spurred to action after talking with people and realizing the amount of food the food bank gives out each month.
Iturbide reported that the food bank serves, on average, more than 360 people each month. Because protein, or meat, is more expensive than other commodities, there is often a shortage in the system. That shortage is alleviated with the Bank on Beef program.
As for the processing costs, the food bank receives a grant from the Emergency Food and Shelter program through United Way, as well as relying on local donations. “It is a strain on the budget, but we have had support locally,” Iturbide said. She added that Pioneer Presbyterian Church held a fundraiser to pay for the processing of one animal, and challenged other local churches to the same.
Having enough storage space for the additional meat was another hurdle to overcome. An 8’x8’ used walk-in freezer was purchased, and a new structure will be built to house the freezer. Iturbide said the new freezer will double their storage area. “I want to thank Buermann’s Ranch Meats, because they’ve been letting us store our meat in their lockers. We’ve got about 70 boxes of meat over there right now,” she said.
Iturbide also thanked the ranchers for their donations and others involved, especially Schirm. “Ron saw a need in the community and is addressing it,” she stated. “And he’s donating his time, feed and other costs.”
As the program continues to grow, there are some that would like to see it go statewide. Their reasoning is that other counties share their produce around the state, and Harney County could share its protein. “It’s a balancing act,” Schirm said. “We do get produce from the valley, and I don’t want to sound selfish, but I’m doing this for Harney County, to be able to satisfy the needs of people out here.”
After a little bit of a lull, Schirm is looking for the donations to start up again. As his initial letter stated, “The food bank needs beef, we ranchers have it to give, and the Bank on Beef program makes it easy for you to do so.”
To donate or for more information, contact Ron Schirm at 541-420-0771 or BankonBeef@gmail.com