Ontario Pork Program
By Lisa McLean
Pork donation pilot program a success for food banks and farmers
More than 400,000 Ontarians visit their local food bank each month, and 160,000 of them are children. But protein – essential to muscles, organs and the immune system – is in short supply at Ontario food banks, particularly during the critical summer months when school programs that address hunger are not operating.
In June 2013, a new pilot program supported by Ontario Pork saw a donation of 10,000- 500g packs of ground pork made directly to Ontario food banks in Southwestern Ontario including Sarnia, London and Hamilton.
The Ontario Pork Program was made possible by a $10,000 donation from Ontario Pork, and matching donations from industry partners. “More people use food banks than I ever thought,” says Stephen Thomas, who helped to spearhead the program. “Hunger is not just a third world problem anymore. It’s a first world problem too.”
Thomas works for Elanco Animal Health, an agricultural company with a global position to try to address hunger issues around the world. Thomas has volunteered with his local food bank long enough to know there is never enough protein to go around. In spring of 2013 he began working with Ontario hog farmers Lyle and Mary-Ann Hendrikx to find a way Ontario pork farmers could help.
In 1998, Ontario Pork had begun a “Donate a Hog” program to support the local food banks. “We thought it was a great idea, and we kicked around different concepts for how the program could be redesigned and expanded,” says Lyle Hendrikx, who farms near Strathroy, Ontario. “We wanted to make sure the program was substantial and meaningful, and that it brought a benefit to producers.”
The group explored a number of ideas, and they looked at current models for food bank donations from other agricultural farm organizations, such as those that donate dairy products, or items such as turkeys for the holidays. They approached Conestoga Meat Packers in Kitchener to negotiate a price for specialty packages of ground pork products.
“We’re delivering Ontario Pork for Ontario families,” says Thomas. “We chose to donate lean ground pork because it is versatile protein that can be used in a variety of meals. We also made a point of including handling instructions for fresh pork, and recipe ideas for how they might use it.”
During the course of the pilot project, the donated pork represented the equivalent of 20,000 meals for adults. All of the product was dispatched within three to five days of delivery.
Next, the program’s organizers hope to build on the success of the Ontario Pork Program by securing enough funding to run the program year-round for two years. The hope, Thomas says, is to purchase enough pork to make it available to food banks on a regular basis. Industry partners have expressed an interest in helping to match funds Ontario Pork makes available.
“The program is something industry can get excited about. We have an opportunity to make a real difference here, to show consumers that Ontario hog farmers care about Ontario families,” Hendrikx says.
Program organizers hope to secure funding for an expanded program for the next two years, and then develop a way to make the program self-sustaining. The pilot program was made possible through financial contributions from Ontario Pork, Elanco, Zoetis, Shur Gain and Mabel Honor Farm – The Fraser family.
This article is one in a series of profiles on Ontario farmers produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.