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Team meeting a specific need

Steve Olds of Eketahuna Country Meats [left] and Geoff Roberts of Waiwaste. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

A Wairarapa food rescue service and a seasoned team of butchers have joined forces to help reduce food poverty and waste throughout the country – providing no less than five tonnes of venison to whānau in need.

Over the past six weeks, Eketahuna Country Meats, supported by Waiwaste, worked alongside non-profit organisation the New Zealand Food Network [NZFN] on a pilot project to supply meat products to support organisations around Aotearoa.

NZFN, which supplies bulk surplus and donated food to charities nationwide, supported Eketahuna Country Meats to transport, certify and process about 200 wild deer carcasses, many of which were sourced from around Wairarapa.

The butchery was then able to produce 2.5 tonnes of venison sausages, and another 2.5 tonnes of mince, which were then shipped to NZFN and distributed to food rescue organisations, iwi and food banks across the motu [country].

Waiwaste co-ordinator Geoff Roberts said the project came about after he met Eketahuna Country Meats founder and owner Steve Olds, who was aware of hunters leaving deer carcasses in rural areas, allowing the meat to go to waste.

Olds said he had hoped to process the surplus venison at cost, and donate it to community organisations, but was unable to cover the cost of having the meat inspected and certified, as per government regulations.

Roberts connected Olds with his contacts at NZFN, which requested Eketahuna Country Meats provide its hub with five tonnes of venison and pledged funding to cover all the associated costs.

Olds said the project was “hard work” for his team, but it was “very satisfying to lend a hand in the community”.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t afford until now,” he said.

“Working in the meat industry, you’re more aware of how privileged you are to eat a lot of protein. We know how expensive meat is, and a lot of people are struggling to afford their groceries these days.

“So, this was an opportunity for us to spread the love around, and lend to people who need it.”

Olds, who set up his business on his Eketahuna farm 11 years ago, said abandoned deer carcasses in Wairarapa were becoming “more of a problem”, with many recreational hunters unable to transport them to a butcher for processing.

Compounding the issue, he said, are legal specifications that wild game cannot be sold or distributed to third parties until it has been inspected for disease, dressed by an approved processor, and received official certification from the Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI], all of which comes at a cost.

Processing and donating the excess meat to those in need was the logical next step for Olds, but he found himself “up against a brick wall” trying to access funding.

“To me, it’s stupid to let good quality meat go to waste – it was just lying there, left to rot or get eaten by pigs,” he said.

“But, even if you want to donate meat to a large organisation, like a food bank, it has to be stamped by MPI.

“You can see there’s food being wasted, and that people are struggling with food insecurity. But there’s all this bureaucracy and red tape in the middle.”

Once NZFN had confirmed its support, Olds was able to get to work: Teaming with helicopter pilot and aerial hunter Gary Moore, who was able to shoot and retrieve game throughout Wairarapa and the central North Island.

The carcasses were then transported to meat processing company Venison Packers in Feilding, which took care of the boning, skinning, inspection and certification process.

The Eketahuna Country Meats team then took over the reins, working “to a tight timeframe” to produce the five tonnes of smallgoods and mince.

Olds said he was proud of the final result, and hoped to work closely with NZFN in the future, potentially distributing more meat products to organisations in Wairarapa.

Waiwaste co-ordinator Roberts said he was pleased he could use his network of contacts in the food rescue space to help Olds and Eketāhuna Country Meats realise their vision.

“We were very happy to make a few phone calls, and help broker the deal!” Roberts said.

“It feels good to know we can help play a role in tackling food poverty on a national level. And, locally, help with pest control.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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