We'd like to share a story today that highlights the very best of Wyoming; it's a story of passion, innovative thinking, communication, and partnership. It's a story about devising Wyoming solutions to Wyoming challenges. It's a story of how Wyoming works.
First, you must meet Jay Butler. Jay is a soft-spoken rancher from Converse County whose superpower might well be making things happen. A retired teacher, he is a past Converse County School District #1 School Board member as well as current Board Chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Douglas. He is a tireless advocate for children. He is also a tireless advocate for locally-raised, high-quality protein. Because of Jay's vision and partnerships created in Converse County, schoolchildren enjoy the highest-quality protein in lunchrooms and cafeterias throughout the county.
During the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wyoming farmers and ranchers reached out to find out how they could help their struggling neighbors. Wyoming Hunger Initiative saw an opportunity to develop a program that could both meet immediate need and create sustainable, long-term solutions to food insecurity; Food from the Farm + Ranch was launched to help ensure Wyoming products would take care of Wyoming people. Jay Butler knew he would be a tireless advocate for that, too.
One problem: it's very difficult to find a processor this year that isn't facing a severe backlog in available processing dates. Because the pandemic disrupted the supply chain and changed consumer demand—suddenly many folks were discovering the benefits of purchasing locally-raised and processed meat straight from the source—it wreaked havoc on the normal ebb and flow of the meat processing world. The will of ranchers to donate cows was strong, but the actual channels for getting those donations to processors who would be able to turn the donations around to food pantries were tenuous at best.
No worries, Jay said. He would host any donated beef cattle on his own ranch, feeding and caring for them until a processor could fit them in. Whenever that might be. Wherever that might be.
Next, it's important to meet the Christensen family: Kelcey, founder and president of Laramie's 307 Meat Company, his wife Margaux, and their two adorable sons. Kelcey found his passion for meat processing while he was a student at University of Wyoming; many years later (and with 11 years of managing the UW Meat Lab under his belt) he broke ground on what would become 307 Meat Company. Kelcey's vision of bringing "the Wyoming ranch to the Wyoming table" made him the perfect candidate to partner with. After a visit to 307 Meat Company in September, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative team worked out a deal: if Kelcey could squeeze in some donated beef for processing due to a last-minute cancellation, we would move mountains to make it work.
The handful of free minutes on the calendar ended up falling on November 25. No worries, Jay said—he would get those cows from his ranch to Laramie the day before.
Ranching is a family affair in the Butler family, and on delivery day, Jay's daughter Beth (a grad student at UW) came over to help her dad unload the trailer.
Jay and his wife Linda were joined by other generous ranchers who donated to Food from the Farm + Ranch:
Joe and Karen Rankin
Brace and Linda Rharmy
Andy and Kay Moore
Lee and Moriah Moore
Shawn and Lisa Daly
Shirley and Brad Churchill
Representative Aaron Clausen
Because of their spirit to serve, all Wyoming Boys & Girls Clubs will soon have a local supply of high-quality protein to serve children. Wyoming Hunger Initiative was able to cover the cost of processing the animals with generous donations from corporate and private donors. None of this can erase the damaging effects of the pandemic, but it sure is reassuring to know that when the going gets tough, Wyoming gets to work.