by Mayzie Purviance
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to wreak havoc across the globe. With illness plaguing the masses, businesses closing up shop, and citizens scrounging to find a mask to wear to Costco, it’s hard to be positive. However, if there is one good thing that came out of the Coronavirus, it’s the way communities have come together. This is evident with Producer Partnership, a project which donates meat to those in need.
“It started by trying to figure out how we could help people,” Park County, Montana rancher Matt Pierson said. “With Coronavirus happening during calving season, it doesn’t change what we do. Producers go out every day, no matter what. But on top of raising cattle, I am also the girls’ varsity soccer coach for Park High in Livingston as well as a board member for the local youth soccer club — so I know a lot of families in our area who are struggling.”
Pierson said he thought to himself, ‘well, we have cows, we can get them made into hamburger and push it out to people who need it.’ So, Pierson called the Livingston Community Food Bank Network and discovered that meat was in high demand.
“They were putting out their average monthly meals prior to COVID in just one week,” Pierson said. “They got a 300 percent increase in need of food just from COVID.”
Pierson said he then called the Big Timber Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes in Livingston which were also “pretty much out of hamburger.” He also called the Gardiner Food Bank which only had two turkeys leftover from Christmas for meat options. There was an obvious need for meat donations within Pierson’s own community and neighboring communities, so he called Brian Engle at Pioneer Meats in Big Timber, Montana.
“Brian’s response to me was ‘well, I have you down for three animals on Thursday,’ and this call happened on a Monday. So, I thought, geez, I better get going,” Pierson said.
Pierson called around to his neighbors and managed to find the animals very easily, he said. The following morning, Gavin Clark from the Park County Community Foundation reached out and offered to help with finances and thus, Producer Partnership was born.
“The Spur Line, a feed store in Livingston, was nice enough to give me their email list, so I sent out an email telling producers what we were doing,” Pierson said. “Word got out and by day two of this project, we had raised $10,000 and had about three [harvest] days’ worth of donated animals. Once that email got kicked out, it got big in a hurry.”
Pierson said as of Thursday, May 14, Producer Partnership donated a total of 5,000 pounds of hamburger and have about 1,300 pounds in freezers, and 3,000 pounds of animals waiting to be harvested.
“It’s not hard for me to take care of my own county, it’s pretty easy actually,” Pierson said. “But, we’re currently working on making this program statewide, that will be our next big hurdle. We’ve got enough phone calls, we’ve got enough help — but more people need help. That’s when we realized more needs to be done, and I can’t think of a better state to start this project than ours.”
Pierson said they are working on getting the support of organizations across the state such as Montana Stockgrowers, Montana Cattlewomen, and Montana Food Bank Network. He said the goal is to create a funded program to make sure there is zero out-of-pocket costs. Pierson said producers can use their donation as a tax write off and they are trying to develop the program in a way that doesn’t cost processors money either.
“We want them [the processors] to get paid, we want them to be part of the program, and we want to prove to everybody that it can be done,” Pierson said.
Another hurdle, Pierson added, is developing a process to make this project statewide.
“If we end up with 50 or 100 cows standing around because we don’t have enough space, it will be positive proof to our governor and others to say, ‘look, we need help and we’re trying to help our own. We’re trying to do what’s right, and we need help.’ At this point, I think not taking that giant leap forward, if we don’t try it… that would be our biggest downfall. We’ve got to try and help out our own.”
Pierson said to get the ball rolling, he’s talked to members of the Montana State University extension offices and has talked to just about everyone short of the governor at this point.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has just been amazingly positive and supportive and willing to help,” Pierson said. “The conversation usually starts with me explaining the project then it ends with them saying, ‘We want to offer support, what can we do?’ The blueprint is hard to develop, but I want Montana to be the first state to figure it out.”
Currently, the Montana Beef Council is working to develop a website with more information for producers and consumers. Once the website is live, The Western Ag Reporter will publish it online and post links on our social media pages.
“I envision when we kick this out live that it goes across the desk of every Montanan in one day,” Pierson concluded. “I want it to reach such a huge network that it will be big enough to make this whole thing work.”
For more information or to donate, visit the Producer Partnership Facebook page or call Matt Pierson at (406) 220-7223.