At risk of sounding repetitive, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on just about everything in the past year. Feeding America, the largest anti-hunger nonprofit organization in the U.S., released their latest projections in October 2020 for food insecurity impacts due to the pandemic; not surprisingly, Wyoming's food insecure population increased at a similar pace as the rest of the country. When Wyoming Hunger Initiative launched in October 2019, 24,000 Wyoming children were food insecure. Today, that number is closer to 30,000.
With these significant impacts in mind, we launched Food From the Field in mid-2020 as one of the Wyoming solutions that would have long-term impact in our state. The program was extremely well-received but not without challenges. One of the biggest issues the program faced in its first year was sheer capacity. Because of early disruptions in the meat processing industry due to a fast-spreading pandemic, the rhythm of large processing plants and small family businesses alike was heavily impacted. This meant fewer processors were available to take on additional donations of game meat that had to undergo Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing in order for game to enter the food pantry system. However, even despite those struggles, Food From the Field saw tremendous success:
This week, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative team met with representatives from all facets of Food From the Field: participating processors, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Wyoming Hunger Initiative Regional Directors/Afton Food Pantry, Admiral Beverage, and a representative from the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association to take a good hard look at what we can do to improve and expand the program for next hunting season. While we firmly believe in doing what we can with what we have to meet the "urgency of now," we also aren't satisfied with "good enough" when planning for the future.
Based on the quality of discussion and discourse, we know that to be a winning formula.
We discussed successes (so many!) and challenges (a bunch of those, too!) in the course of the meeting. Some of the challenges were unavoidable due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some were the inevitable and unexpected growing pains that occur whenever a new program is launched. Productive conversations were had about paperwork, compensation, and the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of hunting and stewardship in general. At the end of the meeting, everyone left feeling heard and re-energized about the next chapter of the program.
The dual cultures of hunting and service are foundational to what makes Wyoming unique. Hearing from people who care about the reach and impact of Food From the Field was a terrific reminder that big goals can be accomplished with honesty, creative partnerships, and a willingness to serve. Despite the occasional stumbling block in its inaugural year, Food From the Field is a Wyoming solution that works. We're so excited to see how it can work even better in 2021.