The mission statement reads: “Inspired by a passion for the outdoors and compassion for the needy, Farmers and Hunters Feeding The Hungry (FHFH) is committed to addressing America’s hunger problem in a unique and relevant way.
Established in 1997, FHFH enables hunters and farmers in states nationwide to provide nutritious meat to feed the hungry of their communities.”
I had heard of FHFH before and mentally filed it under the heading of “Sounds like a good idea.”
Then at the Blog/Blast Weekend in Washington County in mid-July, Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association president, Joe Byers, introduced his personal friend, Rick Wilson, the founder of FHFH to address us after our picnic at Fort Washington State Park. There was something about his humble mien, quiet voice and spiritual values that conveyed a passion for feeding the hungry that went far beyond the FHFH mission statement.
Rick began his talk with the story of the origin of FHFH, and I can do no better than use his own words:
I was driving down a Virginia highway in late September 1997 to meet with some friends. We were planning to clear a little brush at the farm where we hunt and celebrate the landowner's birthday with a barbecue. About five miles before turning down the gravel farm lane I spotted a woman standing by her car with the trunk open. I was a little late and tempted not to stop. I'm glad I did.
From her dress and the appearance of her car it seemed she was not doing well. When I asked if her car was broken she said, “No, could you please help me over here beside these bushes?”
What was waiting for me over beside those bushes? Hesitantly, I followed until I spotted a fat but slightly battered 6-point buck beside those bushes.
She slowly asked, “Could you please help me put it in my trunk?”
When I asked if she had hit it with her car she said, “No.”
Next I explained that unless she reported the deer to the State Police or a Wildlife Officer she could be issued a citation for transporting an untagged deer. She looked into my eyes and slowly answered, “I don't care … my kids and me are hungry.”
Too much talk and too little action … we loaded the deer into her trunk.
As she closed the lid of her trunk I asked one last question: “Would you like me to field dress it for you?”
Her reply answered all.
“No, since my husband left, me and my kids are gettin' good at it … and they don't bleed all over my trunk anymore.’
Standing there as she drove away I knew I had just looked into the eyes of Jesus.
Rick Wilson never saw the woman again. But he was haunted by the incident and mentioned it to his friends. Three days later, he met with two Washington County butchers and got their agreement to process deer donated by hunters, with the meat to be distributed to food banks, shelters, and other organizations feeding the poor.
His group got 76 deer that year; the rest of the state, under a program sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources got only 82. FHFH was born and formally founded in 1999.
Wilson made it clear from the beginning that this work is a ministry and depends on hunters; some have problems with these facets. Yet over the years donations have come in from people uncomfortable with the faith and hunting aspects but seeing the value of feeding the hungry.
FHFH raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to pay for butchering and delivery of the meat (according to FDA and USDA guidelines). Most butchers provide discounts of at least 20% off their usual rate. Hunters supply 90% of the deer. Two-thirds of the total meat donated comes from wild game and one-third from livestock. Somehow FHFH has thrived despite its limited funding stream and several fiscal crises and today is active in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
Farmers, hunters and FHFH combine perfectly in situations where deer herds need to be thinned due to crop devastation. In 2009 $9.9 million in agricultural loss was estimated with 74% caused by deer. Farmers granted state deer management permits may take “liberal numbers of deer” on their properties and may invite “families and friends as shooters.”
Most people are unaware of the need or value of a food program like FHFH. According to the USDA, 42.2 million people faced hunger in the U.S in 2015. Advocacy groups, charities and institutions nationally list meat as the major food item needed to provide healthy meals to those they serve.
Wilson tells the story of visiting a Baltimore soup kitchen where those being fed were delighted with the quality of the meat being served, typically as part of a spaghetti sauce, even though wild game was not a familiar item. When one young girl commented, “This is better than the food we ate at the restaurant last night” Wilson questioned the cook. “I know that family,” she said. “They eat from trash dumpsters behind local restaurants.”
Deer are not scarce in many parts of the country, and certainly they’re abundant in Maryland. Three cooperating meat processors are located in Carroll County: C & L Deer Processing (410-374-6424) in Hampstead, JB Farms (816-289-4557) in Taneytown and M&G Wild Game Processing (443-375-7138) in Westminster. Two more are in Frederick. Likewise local resources using the meat from FHFH are many. But Carroll is one of several Maryland counties in need of a coordinator. There are two in Frederick County.
The major limitation to FHFH is funding; it seems there is never enough to meet the needs and the opportunities.
To get more information about FHFH or to donate, see www.fhfh.org or call 301-739-3000.