Share the Harvest

Sharing the harvest

Hunters across Missouri donate deer meat to the program to help feed the hungry

By Brett Auten

It was a bountiful harvest in more ways than one.

Once again, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri joined forces with the state’s deer hunters for the state’s Share the Harvest program that donates deer meat to help feed hungry Missourians all around the state.

In all 4,280 hunters donated 198,277 pounds of venison to Share the Harvest program this past deer season. 

The process was simple. Deer hunters donated their extra venison to more than 100 participating meat processors throughout the state who would grind the deer meat into one-pound packages. The packaged venison was given to food banks and food pantries for distribution to Missourians in need of food assistance.

Mike Ohlms of Old Monroe has participated in the program for upwards of 16 years.

“As far as hunters giving back to the community, there is no better way to do it,” Ohlms said. “For hunters to go out there and do what they enjoy doing so much then turn around and make a donation and knowing that he or she is feeding quite a few families is absolutely fantastic.”

Ohlms has had the unique perspective of not only donating but also delivering the processed venison to the food pantries.

“The first time I saw the look on the faces of the food pantry volunteers, it was unbelievable,” Ohlms said. “One time, due to a rush at the processor, I made a delivery early in the morning and there were people waiting in line. They all jumped in and helped unload and it was constant ‘thank yous.’”

Ohlms said, over the years, some of the recipients have had to be nudged into trying the venison.

“A lot of the pantries have recipes there for them to try,” he said. “As far as a high quality red meat, (the food pantries) just don’t get that type of thing. Once they try it, they usually want to come back for more.”

In both archery and firearm deer hunting seasons, hunters are limited to two antlered deer during the seasons combined. An archer’s hunting permit allows for two deer of either sex. Only one antlered deer may be taken before November 12.  Only one antlered deer may be taken during the entire firearms season 

Dan Zarlenga is the Media Specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Zarlenga said the program was started to ensure that harvested meat was put to good use. 

“Hunting is the main tool to manage the deer herd,” Zarlenga said. “A number of hunters already got their deer and don’t really need a second or don’t have a freezer big enough or a place to put the second one. This is an opportunity to put the meat to good use.”

Donations to food pantries are oftentimes boxed items so protein is a lot harder to come by. Venison has been championed for its lean, low-fat source of protein.

“It is also very versatile,” Zarlenga said. “It can be used in a lot of different ways whether it’s in a chili, spaghetti sauce or a casserole. People are receptive to it and the ones who are really like it.” 

Jim is a client of the Saints Joachim & Ann Care Service Food Pantry in St. Peters (his last name is not included for privacy reasons).  He used the venison he received to make stew and chili. Saints Joachim & Ann Care Service Food Pantry has been distributing food each week to low-income families and others in need since 1981.

“In the winter time, we always went hunting and got our own deer.  So it was just something I was raised on,” he said. “I think this is a very good resource for people who need food, and for the hunters to help out that’s a good deal.  It means a lot to everyone.” 

The program began in 1992 and since has provided about 3.7 million pounds venison.

“Hunters started Share the Harvest because they saw a need in their communities,” Sara Pauley, Missouri Department of Conservation Director, said. “Hunters remain the driving force behind this popular program that helps feed our fellow Missourians who are in need. We sincerely thank the thousands of deer hunters who support Share the Harvest, along with the many participating meat processors and sponsors.”

Processing fees are covered entirely or in part by numerous local sponsors, along with statewide sponsors that include: MDC, CFM, Shelter Insurance, Bass Pro Shops, Missouri Chapter Safari Club International, Missouri Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation, Midway USA Inc., Missouri Food Banks Association, United Bowhunters of Missouri, Missouri Trappers Association, the Missouri Hunter Education Instructors Association, and the Walmart Foundation.

A client of the Saints Joachim & Ann Care Service Food Pantry in St. Peters holds up venison donated through MDC’s Share the Harvest Program. She plans on using it to make deer meat chili for her family.

Cover-Harvest An employee at Josephville Meat Processing in Wentzville wraps freshly-ground venison for the Share the Harvest Program. Josephville is one of the program’s participating processors.