GREENVILLE – A meat processor is simplifying its process for donating deer to food banks as the 2013 hunting season begins.
Acre Station Meat Farm in Pinetown is working with Hunters for the Hungry for a third year to process deer meat for a local food pantry.
The Beaufort County butcher is making the process easier by agreeing to skin and debone field-dressed deer instead of requiring hunters to complete all three steps.
The company also purchased an outdoor storage freezer where hunters can drop off field-dressed, properly recorded deer when the business is not open.
“We see the deer population is growing and there is a growing need for the food pantry, especially with the holidays coming,” Richard Huettmann, co-owner of the Acre Station Meat Farm, about 35 miles east of Greenville, said.
“If we give hunters an incentive to kill more deer and drop it off to process we hope there will be a domino effect and a win-win situation for everyone. The food pantry, the farmers and the hunters.”
Hunters for the Hungry, which is marking its 20th anniversary in North Carolina, encourages hunters to donate their deer harvest to food distribution organizations. Using donations, the organization pays certified meat processors to produce ground meat for donation, Kevin Keyzer, the organization’s eastern coordinator and member of the state board of directors said.
“Richard, this year, is very motivated to the extent he’s investing profits from his company into the program to make it successful,” Keyzer said.
The organization’s goal is to harvest 300 deer from the eastern North Carolina region, Keyzer said.
Gun season for deer hunting starts today and runs through Jan. 1.
North Carolina has an estimated white-tail deer population of 1.35 million, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. More than 167,000 deer were harvested during fiscal year 2012-13, according to commission data. In Pitt County alone, 2,295 deer were harvested.
Huettmann said farmers in the area have been complaining in recent years about growing deer populations eating their crops. Huettmann said he decided if he could make it easier for hunters to donate, it might encourage them to take more deer, easing crop damage and generating more food for food banks.
“For someone who’s not set up for skinning a deer, it’s kind of tedious because you have to find a place to hang it up and then have a sharp enough knife,” Huettmann said. “We have the set up where it is a lot easier, a lot cleaner environment.”
Hunters for the Hungry is launching a pilot program with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation this year to take a refrigerated storage trailer to hunting events sponsored by clubs or land management groups to collect deer for processing and donation to Hunters for the Hungry, Keyzer said.
A club Keyzer is a member of plans to use the trailer during a deer drive it has scheduled for Nov. 9.
Robert Norton of Macclesfield is a self-described “avid hunter” who has donated six deer to Hunters for the Hungry in the last three years.
“I have an abundance of deer meat so I was giving deer meat to others anyway. Hunters for the Hungry makes it easier to donate deer meat to others,” Norton said. “I am not a wasteful person so I always try to put my deer meat on my table or on someone’s table who will appreciate it.”
Kyle Blackmon of Greenville said he also does not like to hunt if he cannot use the meat or find someone who wants it.
“Anything that we harvest should be fully utilized,” Blackmon said. “It gives you an opportunity to get an extra harvest in.
“If your freezer’s full of meat anything extra is nice to donate.”
Since Huettmann partnered with Hunters for the Hungry his business has processed about 25 deer donations. He is looking forward to the challenge of processing several hundred deer.
Huettmann produces ground deer meat with some added beef fat for flavoring and moisture.
“That is the most usable (form) and it’s what people use the most,” he said. “It can be used in a lot of different ways; in soups, in chilis, meat loafs, casseroles.”
The average deer generates 20-25 pounds of meat.
Eagle’s Wings Food Pantry in Washington, N.C., has received 200 pounds of meat from Hunters for the Hungry.
“It’s tremendously helpful. Our federal meat allotment has gone down and our regular source of meat, a local grocery store, has gone down. Our demand has also gone up,” Sally Love, the pantry’s executive director, said.
Between 2011 and 2012 the number of families visiting the pantry increased 40 percent. The visits have increased about 10 percent since the start of the year.
Eagle’s Wings is a client choice pantry where people can select the food they want.
“The people who love venison will take it and are very happy to get it,” Love said.
The pantry offers monthly classes and Love is thinking about featuring ground deer meat in an upcoming session.
“One of our goals is to get people to try new things,” she said.
“Deer meat is a lean meat and is healthier to eat than beef. We just add a little fat to give it more flavoring,” Huettmann said.
Processing the meat costs the organization about $50 per deer, Keyzer said. Donations cover the cost.
Individuals interested in donating to the group can do so by visiting www.nchuntersforthehungry.org or by sending a check to North Carolina Hunters for the Hungry, P.O. Box 99108, Raleigh, NC 27624.