Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Meat the need


Have you ever heard how many people New Zealand farmers feed with what we grow here each year? It’s in the tens of millions.

So it doesn’t seem right that we have any hungry people in New Zealand.

At the heart of it, farmers produce food. It’s what we do. We take great pride in growing high quality, nutritious food. But there are growing numbers of Kiwis who suffer from food insecurity in their daily lives. They may not reach out for help at a food bank every week, but up to 500,000 New Zealanders will access a food bank’s help at some point during the year.

Following the lockdown and the effects of Covid-19, economic instability has already led to a rise in the number of people accessing help from food banks and numbers are predicted to increase even more over the coming months.

We saw this situation as an opportunity for farmers to have a genuine and heartfelt impact on the people in this country who need it the most.

It all started back when Wayne Langford, found on social media as @YOLOFarmerNZ, took some extra home kill meat to his local food bank in Golden Bay as part of one of his YOLO (You Only Live Once) daily challenges. This is something many farmers have done over the years, when they can, but on this day, Wayne asked the food bank, “How long will this meat last to be given out in your food parcels?” He expected them to say a few days, but they said it would last them a few months, showing a little goes a long way.

The next morning, during milking, Wayne started thinking about how to organise a group of farmers in the area to supply the food bank with regular meat. If every farmer did it every now and then the burden would never fall too much on one farmer and the food bank would have a steady supply of meat.

"We saw this situation as an opportunity for farmers to have a genuine and heartfelt impact on the people in this country who need it the most."

Not too long after he had this idea, Wayne and I met for a coffee. I had just finished the Kellogg Rural Leadership course and had moved to Tasman. I knew Wayne from some industry groups I was involved in. We both shared ideas of projects and quickly agreed that Meat the Need was a concept we couldn’t ignore.

My own background, as a teacher and the daughter of a social worker mother meant I was conscious of the effects of food insecurity, particularly on the children from families where this struggle is real. I had taught kids who needed the breakfast club, fruit in schools and milk for schools as primary sources of food each day.

Wayne and I decided to pitch the idea to some processors and potential partners to get a supply chain working that could cover farms and food banks from all over New Zealand. Silver Fern Farms were very quick to say yes when we presented the concept to them, and we started building the concept out.

Once Covid-19 hit Silver Fern rang us and suggested the need was going to be bigger than ever and we had better get going! They worked tirelessly and with a huge team to bring it to life, largely during the Level 4 lockdown when their business was already under strain. We could not be more grateful to have them as founding partners.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Beef+LambNZ also got behind the idea and helped us to set it up for success from the outset.

One of the things that really excites me about this charity, is that we really might do it – meet the need.

How it works

Our concept is a charitable supply chain. We ask farmers to donate some of what they grow when they can. This might mean seasonally when it suits them, but also financially when they are able. Our job is to work with the processors, packagers and distributors to all give up a little along the chain, to ultimately provide a finished product, delivered to food banks. We smooth out the seasonality, so that farmers can donate when they are able, but food banks receive no more quantity than they are able to store safely at any one time.

A huge tenet of our charity is providing regular, predictable, nutritious food to the food banks and other community organisations, which allows them to plan. If they know they have regular supply of food coming from farmers, they can spend their limited resources to fill other gaps.

Our first launch has been for red meat; farmers can donate any sheep, deer or cattle through our partners Silver Fern Farms, or they can donate the value virtually through our website if they prefer to use another processor. 100% of farmer donations go to our food fund. Our running costs are covered by sponsors and public donations.

We started supplying 500g packets of beef mince to food banks, as when we spoke to them at the set-up stage, that was the product they said they wanted to be able to provide. It is versatile, easy to handle, store and cook, and it’s been going out in food parcels since the end of April.

Next, we want to tackle some other food products, such as dairy and fruit and vege. We’ve started talking with other processors and farmer groups on how we can make that happen.

We have the ability to “meet the need” if enough farmers donate an animal each year, allowing us to supply enough mince for one packet to go out in every food parcel, across New Zealand.

I love the idea that this is an achievable target, even though it’s a big one!

In 2019 there were 6.35 million dairy cows, 3.6 million beef cows, 27 million sheep and 1.7 million deer all farmed here in New Zealand. Surely there’s enough amongst these numbers to feed the hundreds of Kiwi families going without each week?

Can your farming business afford to spare an animal to support feeding our Kiwi families?

Making an impact

During the Covid-19 lock down the Christchurch City Mission experienced a significant increase in engagement of their services, where the demand for food more than trebled (310%). Not only that, they had to provide that food with a loss of their volunteers.

“Meat the Need has truly met our need,” says Matthew Mark, Christchurch City Mission CEO. “We’d been talking to the team at Meat the Need for about 12 months before Covid-19 because we struggle to get unprocessed produce for our food parcels.”

Mark says the first delivery from Meat the Need was a god send. “It was just so gratefully received. We had numerous messages

from our community saying ‘oh my goodness this is incredible’ because we were able to deliver them what most of us would take for granted in our weekly shop. For people who just haven’t had that opportunity for quite some time and have missed that staple in their diet, Meat the Need has helped us with that, and it’s been fantastic,” Matthew says.

“We operate at the privilege of our community. The advantage of Meat the Need is the incredible collective across the country. It means we know that there’s a consistency of volume that’s going to come through to help support us and other food banks across the country. It frees up a significant amount of resource of what was

$20,000 a week over Covid-19, that we can invest in other parts of our service such as our alcohol and drug work, work readiness programmes or medical clinic.”

He says the impacts go beyond the immediate need to feed families.

“It’s so much more than putting mince on the table.

“The consistent nutrition it provides these families is improving their health, which helps reduce the need from a healthcare perspective, but it also improves people's general wellbeing so they can grow and develop to get better outcomes.”