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Land trust links beef farmers, food pantries during pandemic shortage
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Land trust links beef farmers, food pantries during pandemic shortage

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As the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout stresses Americans’ pocketbooks, the Piedmont Environmental Council has delivered some good news to Culpeper-area families.

Working with its allies, the regional conservation group gave 750 pounds of beef to four food banks in Culpeper, Orange, Madison and Fauquier counties.

Culpeper County’s Locust Dale Cattle Co., a pilot producer in the American Farmland Trust‘s Sustainable Grazing Project, provided the beef cattle, which were slaughtered and processed by Seven Hills Food Co. in Lynchburg.

For more tenderness, the resulting ground beef dry-aged for two weeks. Then, Seven Hills kindly delivered it to Local Food Hub/4P Foods in Ivy, near Charlottesville.

4P Foods in Ivy transported the neatly packaged beef to the Culpeper Food Closet and Fauquier Community Food Bank on Tuesday, as well as Love Outreach Food Pantry in Orange and the Madison Emergency Services Agency on Friday.

“We just got a big donation of a whole lot of beef,” Sharon Guenther, the Culpeper Food Closet volunteer director, said in an interview Tuesday morning shortly after the delivery arrived. “We were so glad to get it! We are always in need of meat, and to get this from a farm nearby, it’s just extra neat.”

Owned and operated by John Paul Visosky, Locust Dale Cattle Co. near Rapidan is a 1,500-acre progressive cow-calf operation with about 330 spring and fall calving cows where calves are weaned, backgrounded and sold through value-added sales. Visosky focuses on balancing optimal cattle production with environmental and wildlife stewardship.

The recent shipment was the second beef delivery in PEC’s Farm to Food Bank Initiative, which began in May, when the Warrenton-based nonprofit worked with local dairy farmers and the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association to get milk to local food pantries at the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the region’s food network.

“When the pandemic began to reveal some of the vulnerabilities in the national food supply chain, we saw an opportunity and the means of helping local farmers and our growing, food-insecure populations,” Matt Coyle, PEC’s local food systems coordinator, said Tuesday.

“The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in our supply chain by increasing demand for local farmers and food, animal processors and food pantries that people rely on for their family’s nutritional needs,” Coyle added. “PEC is proud to fight hunger while amplifying the value of local agriculture by connecting farmers within the Virginia Piedmont with the many food banks on which so many people rely for their family’s nutritional needs.”

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In July, PEC expanded its initiative to include beef, partnering with Brandy Station’s Lakota Ranch to provide about 500 pounds of ground beef to the Fauquier Community Food Bank.

For the second round of deliveries, PEC sought and obtained philanthropic support, including a $2,500 gift from the American Farmland Trust, to help source the beef from Locust Dale Cattle Co. in Rapidan.

“Through our team effort, we helped feed people in need in our community, added value to undervalued products for local producers, and highlighted the great partners and partnerships in this region,” Jacob Gilley, the trust’s mid-Atlantic sustainable grazing coordinator, said Tuesday. “Sourcing beef from local producers who are adopting sustainable and regenerative practices is critical. It incentivizes a holistic approach to giving consumers a safe, healthy and quality eating experience while helping local producers improve conservation and profitability.”

Many private donors and groups, including Fauquier County’s PATH Foundation, which supported launching the dairy initiative, have supported the Farm to Food Bank program, PEC said.

In the short haul, PEC hopes joining with the American Farmland Trust on the Farm to Food Bank Initiative will help local farmers and alleviate residents’ needs for animal protein, said Coyle of the tax-deductible land trust.

Looking ahead, the group said it sees the need for a central processing facility in the Piedmont that could process, dry age, store and package products for local animal farmers, and market and distribute their meat under a regional brand.

Earlier this summer, PEC, along with lead partner American Farmland Trust, applied for a Local Food Promotion Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of such a facility in the region.

A local plant would cut costs for farmers who have to ship animals across the state or even across state lines to process their beef, Coyle said.

“It would make our communities less dependent on a national food supply chain that can’t easily and quickly adapt to changing demands and conditions, like a pandemic,” he said.

Since 1972, the Piedmont Environmental Council has protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. Learn more at www.pecva.org.

Star-Exponent Editor Emily Jennings contributed to this report.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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