About 350 cattle call the Oak Ridge Angus ranch in Calistoga, Calif. home. They roam the pastures that have been in the LaFranchi family since 1912 and through four generations. It is fitting that a place with so much history is also home to history in the making. Among the purebred Angus herd, there are cattle from neighboring ranches with a life-changing purpose: to feed low-income families in Sonoma County.
“The one food type that all food banks across the country are in need of is protein. This program was created in response to that,” Executive Director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB), David Goodman, said of the Range to Table program.
The program, which began in 2012, is simple in nature but the impact is incredible; a single animal can provide up to 1,000 meals. A program like Range to Table is “revolutionary” and “innovative,” according to David. “It’s a small thing that we do but it has tremendous potential. Everybody gets it right away. It doesn’t take a lot of explaining. Local ranchers donate calves, cows and steers; you have a rancher that’s willing to put them in their herd; you process the animal and you feed hungry people,” he said.
Cheryl LaFranchi and Frank Mongini are the masterminds behind the program and the key players that raise the donated cattle until they are ready for processing. “We’re probably like all ranchers where you’re cash poor but actually have some animals. We talked to Stephanie Larson from UC Cooperative Extension and David Goodman, and said we would like to do this. We are in a unique position because we have a fairly decent sized farm where we can feed other ranchers’ cattle if they donate them to the program. It is easy for us to give back, so why not?” Cheryl said.
Cheryl and Frank’s partnership with Bear Republic Brewing Company also allows them to raise the cattle at little cost to the food bank. The Norgrove family, owners of Bear Republic, have been providing brewers grain to Oak Ridge Angus for the past 19 years. Their generosity has allowed the LaFranchis to expand their herd and make Range to Table possible.
“The Norgrove family wanted to be associated with it and thought it was a wonderful way for us to use their end product. We take the spent brewers grain to feed the cattle and the ultimate by-product, beef, goes to people in need in the county,” Cheryl said.
Golden Gate Meat Company, Inc. and Marin Sun Farms are also partnering with Range to Table. Marin Sun Farms processes the beef into hamburger at a discounted rate and Golden Gate Meat provides cut and wrap services. “They are willing to work with us because it is part of their contribution to the community,” Stephanie Larson, Director of University of California Cooperative Extension, Sonoma County, said of the partnerships.
Stephanie works to promote and market Range to Table to local cattlemen and cattlewomen. A benefit to participating ranchers, aside from the contribution to their community, is the tax write-off associated with donating an animal. Stephanie writes a third party letter stating the value of the cattle which the producers can use for tax purposes. The Food Bank determines the pounds of meat donated after processing and she calculates how much each pound was worth, which is factored into the tax write-off. “It is an opportunity to give a tax write-off to cattlemen but it is also a chance to say ‘Look at our local cattle industry and what they are doing for the community,’” Stephanie said.
The program began with just Cheryl and Frank donating cattle but has since grown thanks to local ranchers’ generosity. “When we sent out the first letter and asked different cattlemen that we knew if they would donate into the program, we had about 18 or 19 animals donated. Cattle people as a whole are pretty good about supporting these kinds of programs,” Cheryl said.
In 2014, 13 cattle were processed through the program. That amounts to 5,316 pounds of hamburger donated to families in need. Cheryl, David and Stephanie hope for even more cattle donated and families fed in the coming years.
“After talking with David you realize how many are in need,” Stephanie said. She is motivated by the 82,000 people in Sonoma County the REFB feeds every month, which is 1 in 6 people. Stephanie is also motivated by the ranchers she is seeking support from. “I really want to put a positive light on the local cattle industry in Sonoma County,” she said. “My goal is to promote local agriculture from a different aspect; from a caring aspect. I really want the industry to get positive recognition.”
Range to Table makes it simple for local ranchers to show their support. They can donate anytime during the year as many times as they would like, and the program isn’t looking for your best steer. “From my point of view it’s a worthwhile program. Although the REFB would happily receive your 900 pound, $1,800 steer, they are equally grateful to receive your steer that maybe isn’t quite so premium,” Cheryl said. “Everybody is happy and the rancher gets a nice tax write-off.”
The program’s win-win nature has motivated ranchers to donate each year, which has been a large part of its success. “More producers participate. It’s transitioned from ‘Oh I’ll think about it,’ to ‘When do you need one?’” Stephanie said. She also admits that there are potential supporters who haven’t been exposed to her marketing efforts. “I know there are a lot of other cattle producers out there that are not on my mailing list or the cattlemen’s mailing list. Maybe they are Farm Bureau members; there may be folks out there that I haven’t reached,” Stephanie said.
David, Cheryl and Stephanie are proud of Range to Table’s success thus far and appreciate the generosity from the community and all involved. The goal is to expand the program and have more cattle donated to fulfill the growing need for protein in local food banks.
“Protein is the greatest need; it always has been. People ask what kind of donation we need and I always answer them ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ You wouldn’t say bread. They want to know what’s on the center of the plate. Protein is what people are thinking about,” David said.
If you’d like to donate to Range to Table you can do so by:
- Calling Cheryl or Frank at Oak Ridge Angus, 707-292-1013, if you have a calf to be raised.
- Calling Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Livestock Advisor, 707-565-3442, if you have a cow to donate.
- Going to www.refb.org and clicking on the DONATE tab if you’d like to make a cash donation. Please indicate it is for the Range to Table program.