A pilot program in Whitehorse last year saw wild meat on the shelves at the Whitehorse Food Bank, and it was so successful, it’s ramping up for 2018.
“It was often a surprise (for people accessing the food bank),” said Tristan Newsome, executive director of the food bank. “They see the list of traditional things, potatoes, beets and eggs and then they see the moose steak and go ‘you’re kidding.’”
Last year, said Erin Loxam, communications with the Yukon government, the program (called Yukonshare) began as a collaboration between the department of the Environment at Yukon government and the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
This year, the Yukon Outfitters Association (which was also involved in 2017) has come on with financial support as well as donations of meat.
Yukonshare allows hunters and outfitters to donate portions of meat to participating licensed butchers when they take their game in to be processed. Butchers then grind the donated meat and give it to the food bank. Yukonshare funds cover the cost of butchering.
The same will happen this year, though Gord Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said the program is looking to include even more butchers and increase capacity. Last year, it relied on Off the Hook, located in downtown Whitehorse, and Stacey’s Butcher Block in Porter Creek.
Jim Welsh, a conservation officer with the Yukon government, said the program was funded up to $2,000 in 2017. He said the organizations involved this year are aiming for having $4,000 to $5,000 in funding.
Welsh said the processing rate is $1 a pound, and roughly 2,000 pounds of bone-in meat came through last year. That resulted in approximately 1,500 pounds of moose and bison meat. If funding can double, he said he expects roughly 2,500 pounds of meat could be donated to the food bank.
He said the reason this kind of thing hadn’t happened previously is because of the rules around wild game. The process had to be cleared with the environmental health branch, and there were stipulations put in place. The food bank had to have a separate freezer for the wild meat for example. Also, each package has to be labelled wild and cooked to 170 degrees. It’s also to be given to individuals only, and not donated to group events.
Welsh said this program hasn’t yet been extended to communities, but that none of the organizations involved would be opposed to that if there was demand for it.
“I mean, we saw a pretty fair start last year and we hope that it will continue this year,” said Zealand. “I guess, at the end of the day, if the food bank is happy with what is coming their way, I’m hoping the public in general would be happy too.”
At the moment, Newsome said freezers are empty of game because most hunters donate moose, and moose season isn’t yet in full swing. However, he expects good uptake on the program again once the meat starts rolling in.
Welsh said there’s a hope this year that, because bison hunting runs until the end of March, bison meat can be spread out over the course of the year and offered even further into the spring and summer of 2019.
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