Hardwick Area Food Pantry

Community Meat/Local Protein Initiative 

2023 Grant Amount: $5,450

The Community Meat/Local Protein Initiative asks; “If our budget cannot sustain the purchase of high-quality meat at the levels needed within the communities we serve, should we raise our own meat?” With the help of the Hardwick community and a Co-op Seedling Grant, the Hardwick Area Food Pantry will try just that.

In their first, trial year, the Community Meat/Local Protein Initiative will acquire meat animals and house them on local dairies, beef cattle operations and farmsteads in the area to be raised alongside existing herds for the purpose of raising these animals to provide meat for the food pantry. This year, they’re focused on beef and beef cattle, recognizing the potential to expand the program to other forms of protein.

Year one of the Community Meat/Local Protein Initiative will encompass both research and implementation of the program on a trial basis. HAFP has already received a donation of five yearling steers to begin this project from the Craftsbury Neighbor to Neighbor committee. The farmers at Wandering Brook Farm and Wild Branch Valley Farm have agreed to raise these steers during this trial year. Needed research will involve an assessment of the agricultural resources currently available, prices for beef cattle at different life stages, slaughter and processing availability, and capacity of farms and processors to offer discounts and in-kind donations to the program. 

Outreach to community members, specifically homesteaders, small farmers, and those raising dairy and beef cattle, will help HAFP assess interest in participating in the raising of cattle for HAFP’s three pantry sites as part of that individual’s or farm’s community service goals. All research, conducted through surveys and interviews, will inform the best strategies for moving forward and will identify roadblocks that may need to be addressed. Our Co-op Seedling Grant will help support the following work: 

  • Working with and supporting the efforts of Wandering Brook Farm and Wild Branch Valley Farm as they raise our first 5 steers to maturity (ongoing till fall 2024) 
  • Survey development (March 2024) 
  • Survey of local dairy and meat producers (April-July 2024) 
  • Survey of area slaughter and meat processors (April-July 2024) 
  • Explore areas of cost savings within the cycle of acquisition, raising, slaughter and processing. We anticipate these savings will come from in-kind donations of cattle, time or services, reduced charges, or monetary contributions. (ongoing throughout grant period) 
  • Outreach to individuals, homesteads, small farms, and dairy and beef operations about participation in raising a beef cow for the pantry. (September-December 2024) 
  • Organizing for the slaughter and processing of the cattle as they become mature (fall-winter 2024) 

This program will require extensive relationship-building and collaboration between area farms, homesteaders, meat processors, community members, and the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. HAFP hopes to partner with Sterling College food system students to help with surveys, interviews, and information gathering. There is a strong tradition of neighbors helping neighbors in the NEK, and it is this resource that will help HAFP create a system to sustainably provide high-quality meat for their three pantry sites. 

Although the Hardwick Area Food Pantry (HAFP) has benefited from prior grants to buy local food, and chooses to support local farms when able, this project aims to produce local meat at the lowest price per pound possible to fill the gap. HAFP sees the importance of buying locally, to both strengthen our local agricultural economy, and to provide the most vibrant, high-quality food for visitors to food pantry sites. They are committed to supporting local farms with our purchasing power and to paying farmers the full market value that they deserve. But a gap exists between what is budgeted, what is received in grants and the cost to sustain the supply of high-quality meat at our three sites. Once our local foods grants are spent, HAFP must fall back on low-cost meat options. Often those products, although considered “safe”, leave both volunteers and recipients feeling uncomfortable. Issues of food quality undermine HAFP’s mission to offer a respectful service to their neighbors. Growing beef specifically for the pantry allows HAFP to move toward a goal of sourcing all meat locally.