Portage County Farm Bureau volunteers unload pork for distribution to local food banks.

For a while in late spring, there was a significant slowdown in meat production.

Food chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in meat processing bottlenecks. Grocery and food pantry refrigerators and freezers were running low or on empty, despite an increased need for healthy proteins.

Farm Bureaus in central and northeast Ohio — among others —burst into action. Using long-established and trusted relationships with community partners, they helped provide thousands of pounds of pork and other meat products to those in need.

Pickaway County Farm Bureau, Pickaway County Community Foundation and Delaware County Foundation worked with local farmers to supply local food banks with Ohio-raised pork.

“We are always looking to generate win-win opportunities,” said Chris Baker, president and CEO of Delaware County Foundation. “As the number of residents out of work and seeking assistance from food banks increases, some farmers have struggled due to disruptions at processing facilities. With a modest grant from the Foundation’s Community Crisis Fund, we are pleased to be able to feed hundreds of people while supporting local businesses.”

When partners learned the meat processing plant in Orient was reopening after temporary closure, they sprung into action and purchased 30 hogs from Ohio farmers to process for local food banks in Delaware and Pickaway counties.

“This is a great opportunity for our county to work with the Pickaway County Farm Bureau and our local food banks to bring fresh pork to our county at a time when food insecurities are so high,” said Jan Shannon, executive director of the Pickaway County Community Foundation.

Trumbull County Farm Bureau’s Farmers Care-Feeding Communities program donated pork to families in need in northeast Ohio.

“The coordination efforts through working with the Delaware County Foundation have been a great opportunity to show how local foundations can partner with each other as well as other organizations such as the local Farm Bureau to make an important impact on our service areas.”

The one issue that was paramount in solving when this opportunity arose was storage. However, through partnerships, the organizations were able to reach out to two local schools and used their walk-in freezers to store the pork until distribution.

“In addition to the generosity of our community foundation partners, the Ohio Pork Council provided financial support through their Pork Power program,” said Ivory Harlow, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director for Fairfield, Hocking, Pickaway and Ross counties. “Farm to Food banks’ local impact aligns with the Farm Bureau’s mission to work together with Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen communities.”

Late June, the Pickaway County Farm Bureau repeated the project, partnering with the Pickaway County Community Foundation, Ohio Beef Council and Well Being Foundation to purchase 17 steers from junior fair exhibitors. The locally raised beef was processed and distributed to area food banks.

Building and sustaining relationships with the community is a key component to the success of such initiatives, according to Rob Leeds, president of Delaware County Farm Bureau.

“When you think of Delaware County, you think of a suburban-type county,” he said. “But always when you look at events around the county, farmers are highly involved and rural residents and Farm Bureau are highly involved. Farm Bureau does a great job of keeping those connections (between farmers and suburban residents).”

Helping food banks in northeast Ohio

Those connections were also on display in northeast Ohio where county Farm Bureaus donated meat to food banks.

Thousands of pounds of pork were delivered to the Pickaway County Community Action Organization, donated by local farmers and processed at the Orient meat processing facility.

The Trumbull County Farm Bureau worked with community partners to buy pork from local farmers and have it processed and then delivered to food banks in northeast Ohio through its Farmers Care-Feeding Communities program. They worked with a local livestock auction and three butchers to complete the donation.

“This unprecedented time has definitely made an impact on our local community, as well as our state and nation,” said Mandy Orahood, organization director for Trumbull as well as Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga County Farm Bureaus. “Times like these remind us all of the importance of ensuring our nation’s food security and the importance of food to our local communities. The intent of the Farmers Care-Feeding Communities project is to support local farmers while supplying food to our local food banks. Nobody should ever have to go hungry.”

Portage County Farm Bureau donated 2,400 pounds of ground beef and beef roast to the Center for Hope in Ravenna, according to Nick Kennedy, organization director for Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties. Mahoning and Columbiana County Farm Bureaus, along with the Daprile Agency and Nationwide Insurance, are slated to donate three cows, five hogs and 50 40-pound boxes of chicken breast to the Second Harvest Food Bank, while another 20 hogs are to be donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank through the work of the Carroll, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne County Farm Bureaus.

Members interested in participating in these types of programs should contact their county Farm Bureau office.

Featured Image: Volunteers from the Delaware County Foundation unload donations of pork for local food pantries in a joint effort with Pickaway Farm Bureau and the Pickaway County Community Foundation.

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