LA GRANDE – When meat prices rose in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ken Olson wanted to help local consumers buy products from local producers.
Olson is the chief executive officer of the Old West Federal Credit Union, which has offices across eastern Oregon including John Day, Baker City, La Grande, Prairie City, Union, Pendleton, Hermiston, and Burns.
“He has a big heart for our communities and rural areas,” said Bob Kavanaugh, vice president of business development and membership experience for Old West, of Olson.
The USDA reports that meat product supplies in 2020 were impacted by the temporary closure of meat packing operations due to COVID-19. The low supply, in turn, drove up prices in the grocery store.
Kavanaugh said Olson called on an Old West team to come up with a solution that would make it easier to access local beef – especially when money is tight.
“Food insecurity is a real thing,” said Kavanaugh. “We have developed a strategy to help our local communities buy meat in bulk.”
The program is called Farm to Table Loan.
Loan amounts are available between $ 500 and $ 4,000.
When someone inquired about the loan, Kavanaugh said they were meeting with an Old West representative to discuss the loan amount and repayment details.
Meat storage can also be a challenge for some families, so a freezer can also be funded for the loan.
The 12 month loans are interest free.
Kavanaugh said Old West launched the program a few months ago and will restart it around June 1st.
To promote the program first, Old West held a raffle for “Get a freezer, put a freezer full of beef”.
When Union County rancher Charlie Rohlf found out about the loan program, he donated half a beef to fill the second freezer. Billy Bob’s butcher shop in Elgin processed the meat at a reduced cost.
Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen pulled the winning ticket for Brett Baxter, the headmaster of La Grande High School.
Baxter chose Union Food Bank to get the beef freezer, and Old West posted a video of the delivery on Facebook.
Kavanaugh said the loan program is also supported with a grant from the Northwest Credit Union Foundation.
How it works
Once a loan is approved, the borrower will indicate where to buy meat (beef, lamb, chicken, pork, etc.).
Kavanaugh said Old West wrote a check to the butcher. The loanee hands over the check and receives a supply of fresh meat.
When the program was due to start, Kavanaugh called meat processors in northeast Oregon.
At Billy Bob’s butcher shop, co-owner Kaleen Smith was quick to praise the idea.
He said, ‘Is there a need? ‘I said,’ You’re already behind the ball, ‘said Smith.
She said the store had its own loan program to help people buy meat. And meat prices keep rising.
“Not everyone had the money upfront,” she said.
She tells clients about the Old West program and helps connect consumers with producers.
“I would advise people to take care of it,” she said of the bank loan.
Rohlf said it cost about $ 1,200 for half a beef, including slicing and packaging.
As the meat supply in the grocery stores dwindled, more locals started looking for meat from his ranch.
The Old West program will help people buy good quality meat and support the local economy.
“They help the producers, the local butchers and the local community,” said Rohlf.
“I said (Kavanaugh) I’m going to raise as much beef as I can to help.”