By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
Wide open spaces, blue skies and an abundance of natural resources help to give Wyoming its unique character, but our state’s greatest resource is its people. As we enter into the gift-giving season, please consider a gift to support the good work of our non-profit volunteer organizations.
One of the best gifts to both give and receive is the experience of breaking bread. Sharing a meal with others is an act of sharing while providing comfort and nourishment. Whether its a family gathered around the breakfast table, an intimate dinner for two, or a holiday event with friends and colleagues, sharing our food traditions nourishes both our bodies and our souls.
That’s why the work of the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is so important. Launched by Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon three years ago, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative (WHI) team has led the effort to craft uniquely Wyoming solutions to local food insecurity. Wyoming is known for its ranching heritage and its world-class status for big game hunting, and WHI has capitalized on both in boosting the food supply in Wyoming’s communities.
WHI’s Food from the Field program enables hunters to donate all or part of their harvested big game to be processed and donated to local food pantries. Everything that hunters or wild game processors need to know to get involved can be found here, and hunters are encouraged to make a financial contribution to cover the cost of processing if they are able. This program makes wild-harvested deer, elk, moose and antelope meat available to local food pantries.
In response to supply chain issues during the coronavirus pandemic, WHI launched its Food from the Farm + Ranch program. From modest beginnings, the program has now expanded statewide. WHI worked to develop a network of meat processors that will take livestock donated by farms and ranches to provide high-quality protein for local food pantries in all of Wyoming’s 23 counties. The program now supports donations of beef, hog and lamb from farms, ranches and county fairs, and processing costs are covered by financial donations.
Expanding on the locally grown theme, WHI teamed up with the University of Wyoming Extension Service to encourage Wyoming gardeners to Grow a Little Extra for local food pantries and social service agencies. UW Extension offices throughout the state provide expertise, free seeds selected for our climate zone, and serve as the hub for collection and delivery of this fresh produce from local gardens.
WHI’s strategy of boosting the food supply in Wyoming through Wyoming-raised livestock, locally grown produce, and wild game meat, is what makes the program so unique, but it does so much more. Its Wyoming Angel Accounts helps to reduce or eliminate school lunch debts, and WHI provides support to relief funds, mobile food pantries, holiday meals, and other program support at the local level.
The WHI team has reached into communities throughout the state to build an intertwined network with local organizations, launching partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, building a donor base for both food and financial support to strengthen community food pantries and support organizations. Its Hunger Champions Circle contribute financial resources for WHI to provides grants to community organizations to expand local infrastructure such as freezer capacity at food pantries.
It’s important to recognize that food insecurity doesn’t just happen during the holidays, or in emergencies, and that WHI is working to bridge the food gap whenever it occurs. With food insecurity a struggle for an estimated 86,000 Wyoming residents, including about 23,500 children, WHI recognizes that where there’s a hungry child, a hungry family, senior, or veteran isn’t far away, and their strategy is to provide the structure to end hunger in Wyoming. In the process, WHI is promoting a statewide culture of neighbors helping neighbors – in essence, the tradition of breaking bread, but on a statewide scale. Please have a seat at the Wyoming Hunger Initiative table this holiday season, for the pleasure of both giving and receiving.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.