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From the feedlot to the pantries

Young Solon farmer’s steer fills bellies across Johnson County
Garrett Spevacek kisses Meagan, one of his cows, on the nose on the family farm near Solon. One of Spevacek’s steers was purchased by the Johnson County Farm Bureau and donated to the food pantries in the county. (photo courtesy of Erinn Spevacek)

NORTH LIBERTY– For the second year, the Johnson County Farm Bureau purchased a steer at the 4-H/FFA (Future Farmers of America) auction at the Johnson County Fair. The steer was raised by 11-year-old Garrett Spevacek, son of Travis and Erinn Spevacek of rural Solon as a 4-H project. Spevacek, a member of the Graham Champions 4-H Club in Solon, raised five head of livestock in the “Advanced Feeder Pen” class and showed them at this year’s fair.
“Animals are auctioned live at the sale ring with proceeds going to the exhibitor,” said Jerry Anderson, Regional Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau. “The steer weighed 1,125 pounds and the price paid was $1.52 per pound, above market price by 40 cents, plus or minus.” Anderson explained the Farm Bureau includes such purchases in their annual budget and the board of directors approved enough funds to purchase one steer, to be processed and donated to the needy in Johnson County. “We paid for partial processing at Ruzicka’s (in Solon, who donated half of the cost),” Anderson added. He and Mark Ogden, President of the Johnson County Farm Bureau, delivered boxes containing 50-60 pounds of ground beef to the food pantries in Lone Tree, Solon, Tiffin and North Liberty, as well as to the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City.
Spevacek joined Anderson and Ogden as they delivered a box to the North Liberty Community Pantry on Monday, Aug. 27. “We don’t get meat very often, let alone really well-raised and well-taken care of beef in these perfect packages. This is really awesome,” Kaila Rome, Executive Director for the pantry, told Spevacek. North Liberty received 55 one-pound packages, which will go to 55 families.
“It was home-raised by us,” Erinn Spevacek remarked, “It was from our cow-calf production with our herd, and this particular one was black hided, so it was Simmental-Angus.” Garrett fed his cattle with ground hay and dried distillers grains (DDG), a corn by-product of ethanol production.
“We just want to help those who are less fortunate than we are,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, in the land of plenty, there’s so many people that have to go without. It’s a shame; we shouldn’t have it, so this is a small drop in the bucket to help them solve that issue, and we want to do our part to help reduce hunger,” he added.
“It’s also good awareness,” Ogden cited. “We’ve got a young guy here, a young farmer right here in Johnson County. He’s a producer and he’s able to carry that forward to the families here in Johnson County so they can enjoy a hamburger once in awhile that they wouldn’t otherwise.”
Garrett is proud to be farmer and of his agricultural heritage. He said he joined 4-H because he wanted to show animals. “I wanted to show sheep and chickens,” he recalled, “and then I changed my mind and wanted to do cattle and hogs. It looked like fun, and it is fun to be in 4-H.” The boy hopes to continue in agriculture as an adult, saying he wants to feed out cattle and hogs and drive tractors. He also aspires to follow in his parents’ footsteps, producing corn and soybeans. Garrett is proud the steer he raised was able to help others in need.
While Anderson acknowledged the meat donation was “a drop in the bucket,” to pantry directors like Rome, it came at a crucial time. The North Liberty Community Pantry has seen a significant increase in requests for help. “We’re very busy. We’re up to serving nearly 700 families this year and summertime is usually very, very busy,” Rome insisted. “Especially with back-to-school, a lot of families are gearing up for that and buying things that they need to get kids going for another year, all those extra expenses, (and) it’s still really hot out so utility bills are really high, so we’re seeing a high increase toward the end of summer. We’re giving out tons and tons of food.”
As North Liberty’s population continues to grow, so does the number of people seeking help. “There’s a lot of new people moving into the area, sharing homes with other families that are already in the area,” Rome said. “A lot of people signing up for services.”
As for Spevacek’s donation, “That meat goes a long way,” she remarked. But, it could well have gone entirely out the door in one day, as the pantry serves roughly 50 families per day. “It could all go in one day, and we can space it out with some of the other meat items that we get donated or purchase,” she explained. “So it’ll at least go to 55 families.”
While things aren’t quite as hectic in nearby Tiffin and the CCA Community Food Pantry, they’re busy enough. The pantry, located in a multipurpose building on the CCA campus (“West Campus” or “Family Resource Center”) between the middle school and the high school, is primarily for families of Clear Creek Amana Community School District students; however, Spokeswoman Judy Beckler said, “We will help anybody.” The CCA pantry serves about 30 families– some weekly, some monthly. “We let them take whatever they need,” Beckler noted, which often comes to 20 to 30 pounds of food. The pantry, although located on CCA property, is operated by Grace United Methodist Church in Tiffin. “The school has a small pantry with some clothing (in addition to food), but no manpower to run it, so we took it over,” Beckler explained.
CCA’s pantry is fortunate to receive some regular donations: a local farmer donates eggs; a local dentist provides toothpaste; and The Depot (convenience store) often contributes milk vouchers, while, “A gentleman brings us meat.” The CCA pantry also benefits from Table to Table, a volunteer program started in 1996, which collects food that otherwise would be discarded– but is still very much edible– and distributes it to agencies and organizations serving hungry, homeless and at-risk populations.
Families accessing the CCA pantry typically receive at least one meat, sometimes more, Beckler said, adding Garrett’s steer ensured, “…that at least 30 families have benefitted from it.”
“We’re always happy to receive any donation,” the pantry spokeswoman said. “We get a lot of chicken and hot dogs, so it’s nice to get the high-quality ground beef.”
Rome agreed, saying the beef is, “a nice treat. It’s something we don’t get donated very often, and we have purchased ground beef before and the process of getting it processed, and the extra fees of all of that really add up. So it’s not very economical for the pantry to purchase cows; although, we have in the past.” Spevacek’s donation, therefore, “…is amazing. When it’s pre-packaged like that, and it’s not just the scraps, it’s the good ground beef, so we’re really pleased with that donation.”
The families the pantries serve want the same type of food others purchase at the grocery store, Rome said, “So when we can have top-quality stuff, we really enjoy it, and the families are really grateful for that.”