Wessel said, "There are several deer processing places (in the area) but no one goes the extra mile to be a part of the donation program." Wessel and his family are new to Oregon County and want to take an active part in the community. "In Maryland, we worked in deer processing, and they had a program called Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. It did a lot of good out there, and we just wanted to see Share the Harvest in this area take off," said Wessel.
Missouri's Share the Harvest program provides a way for deer hunters to donate venison to the needy. The program is administered by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Donating is easy. Hunters who want to participate simply take their deer to an approved meat processor, and let the processor know how much venison they wish to donate. Four Winds will package the meat, which will be given to food pantries in Oregon County.
"There are a lot of farmers that want mature does cleared on their property, to control the population of deer. It is just a good way to give," Wessel said. In order to make things easier for those wanting to donate, Four Winds will waive the processing fee, most of the time. "As long as the hunter brings in a checked in deer that is field dressed, we will waive the fee. If isn't, we'll charge $10.00 for the disposal fee," said Wessel.
"We have two food pantries that are our sponsors, Alton and Thayer Food Pantries. If we find that the pantries can't handle all of it, we'll go ahead and expand beyond our sponsors. We would like to get the community involved in this. We didn't move out here just to live, we want to be active in the community and make a difference," Wessel said.
Wessel said that a lot of processors have been turned off from Share the Harvest because of the paperwork. It took a lot of hours and paperwork to get approved for the program. There are pretty strict requirements, but they are done for good reasons. One of the reasons is the protection of wildlife. Wessel said, "They [state] need to know where the food is going or whether the program is being abused."
"Food banks can provide canned goods and they do the best they can with funding. At Thanksgiving, they give turkeys and, at Christmas, a ham. If we can extend past those months and help get our deer meat year round, it would be a great help to people," Wessel said.
"We are required to grind the meat, and it is packed in Share the Harvest packaging that is provided by the Department of Conservation and reimbursed by the Missouri Federation of Conservation," said Wessel. The Department of Agriculture is also active in the operation by performing inspections. "We have to keep logs and lots of records. It is a lot of extra time but for what the program does, it's worth it," Wessel said.
Nearly 175 families in Oregon County use the two food banks. With Wessel's involvement, the meat donated stays in the county. The state has said they would love to have other processors in every county, but many processors can't cover all the costs.
"We are always looking for sponsors. We have a 48 foot trailer sitting here and, if they want to help with processing costs so we can process more deer, they can put their business sign on the trailer. We aren't a charitable donation, but we can take money in terms of advertising," said Wessel. It would help extend the harvest program, if the state runs out of funds. "If that ever happens, we still want to be able to take these deer in. It is a good program that will do a lot of good. There have been times in our lives that if we hadn't received help, we wouldn't be where we are today. We just hope we can help," said Wessel.
All meat processors that take part in Share the Harvest must pass health, meat and facility inspections. Donated venison is processed only in an approved facility, and will only be processed if legally taken in Missouri. All donated venison must be distributed by May 1 of each year. Approval for processors is an annual requirement.
Four Winds Outfitters and Farms is located in Rover approximately one mile down County Road 340. In addition to deer processing, it is a cattle farm and provides affordable whitetail bow hunts. Hours of operation are, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m, seven days a week. To learn more about Four Winds, visit its website at www.fourwindsoutfittersmo.com or call Wessel at (417) 764-3085.