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Cattlemen care: Idaho’s beef industry unites against hunger

Kim Holt Published on 28 February 2011

It’s no secret that cattle producers have generous hearts, and one program that is clearly showcasing this is Beef Counts, the first-known program of its kind that provides a means for Idaho’s beef producers to assist less-fortunate consumers right in their own backyards.

Described by the Idaho beef industry as a multi-faceted public relations and community-help campaign, Beef Counts brings together all of Idaho’s beef industry in partnership with the Idaho Foodbank, to provide nutrient-rich beef to help end hunger in Idaho.

Partners who established and endorsed this innovative program include Boise-based Agri Beef Co., the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Cattle Women’s Association and the Idaho Beef Council.

“We were all compelled when we first heard about this,” says Traci O’Donnell, Idaho Beef Council executive director.

“We are one of the leading agricultural states in the U.S., and we have people going hungry here. We can do something about this.”

Idaho’s beef industry joined with the Idaho Foodbank to launch Beef Counts last April. The program is ongoing, with the goal of providing a consistent supply of high-quality beef protein year-round, not just during the holidays.

“The idea is to make the Beef Counts program long-term,” shares Jay Theiler, Agri Beef’s executive director of marketing. “We want to continue to grow the program in order to maximize its impact.” He assures, “The need is year-round.”

A great need for protein
The Idaho Foodbank is the state’s largest distributor of free emergency food. It partners with more than 225 non-profit agencies, among them churches, food pantries, shelters and emergency kitchens.

The Foodbank annually sorts and distributes more than eight million pounds of food, but struggles to provide a consistent supply of protein. The Foodbank’s Jessyca Tyler points out the importance of complete protein sources like beef.

“Complete sources of protein are essential for the normal, healthy functioning of every cell in the body,” she says. “Without enough complete protein, the growth and maintenance of every tissue and organ would fail. 0311pd_holt_2

Also, protein helps regulate carbohydrate metabolism, which leaves you feeling satisfied longer after a meal than does consuming food low in protein.”

Tyler says, “High-quality beef is one of the best sources of complete proteins, and the Idaho Foodbank is committed to providing healthy, nutritious food to those in need.

But it is difficult to provide a consistent supply of protein for the more than 125,000 Idahoans we serve each month.”

USDA guidelines recommend consuming an average of 6 ounces of protein per person per day to maintain a healthy diet. But for families and seniors in need, protein is often a luxury they go without.

O’Donnell points out the Beef Counts campaign is helping meet a critical shortfall for the Foodbank.

She says, “It’s easy to donate canned goods or a bag of crackers or chips, but it’s a whole different thing when you’re dealing with a perishable product such as beef.”

Donations start with generosity, recognize industry
Donations to Beef Counts start with the generosity of cattle producers, who contribute cash or turn animals into cash through one of the qualified Beef Counts feedlots or auction markets.

Agri Beef then matches contributions 50 percent up to $50,000. A single donated beef animal or the cash equivalent supplies about 1,600 servings of high-quality beef.

This past December, Idaho’s Beef Counts presented the Idaho Foodbank with nearly $76,000, which included the $50,000 match from Agri Beef, which will buy beef for hungry Idahoans.

To maximize its dollars, the Foodbank purchases beef at wholesale prices from Agri Beef’s AB Foods. This processor cuts the beef into family-sized packages for distribution by the Foodbank, with the Idaho beef industry clearly recognized on each package.

The right thing to do
The response from the state’s cattle industry to Beef Counts has been extremely positive.

“There are a couple of things that really hit home to me on this whole program, ”says Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association.

“One is the true compassion the industry has exhibited. It’s amazing here at the ICA office, the calls we get from cattlemen asking how they can contribute to this program, how they can participate in it.

“When you think of cowboys and cattlemen, you think of them as rough-tough folks,” Prescott says. “It really speaks volumes for how compassionate our industry is, how society-responsible cattlemen are and how much they care about their fellow man.

“I hear a lot of cattle producers simply say, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ when they’re asked in interviews why they want to contribute.

That’s all it takes for those guys.” Prescott says producers don’t contribute for publicity or because they want to be a little more accepted within popular society.

“They just care about doing the right thing to help somebody else out.”  end_mark

Kim Holt can be reached at

TOP RIGHT: The Beef Counts program provides an opportunity for cattlemen and women to help fight hunger within their local communities, while helping project a positive message for the industry as a whole. Here, Carl Ellsworth of Leadore, Idaho, shares the Beef Counts message with media. Ellsworth is the immediate past-president of the Idaho Cattle Association.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Idaho’s beef industry is clearly recognized on every package of beef made available through the Beef Counts campaign to the Idaho Foodbank. A Checkoff-funded brochure, developed by the Idaho Beef Council and the Idaho Cattle Women, offers basic recipe suggestions, along with storage and handling guidelines, and accompanies each beef package. Photo: Producer Interview (photo credit: Beef Counts)