HOMINY, Okla. — It’s something rural communities right here in Oklahoma never want to live through again.
”A year ago, we were caught in a contradiction," said Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear with Osage Nation. "We have 43,000 acres just west. We have 100 bison and 2,000 cattle. We could not get that food to our people. So, now we’ve remedied that, and we’re going to go improve on what we’ve done."
The COVID-19 pandemic attacked more than just communities, it also targeted food supplies.
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”What ended up happening is you had this huge backlog, but they couldn’t get to the people to consume it,” said Joe Thompson with Butcher House Meats.
2 News reported last September how the Osage Nation used federal relief funds to build its own meat processing facility in Hominy and an agricultural grow house in Pawhuska.
”But if you get out into smaller, rural areas like Hominy, Pawhuska through here, they were kind of at the end of the supply chain. So, they didn’t see any meat," Thompson said.
A year into the pandemic and both sites are coming online.
"I'm actually training people in this industry," Thompson said. "This is just the beginning. This thing can go as high as the people can carry it, which I think they’re going to carry it pretty far."
Right now, the team is butchering the tribe’s bison and cattle along with cattle from nearby ranches. The processed meat is going right to the tribe’s senior and child development programs. Once the retail side opens up, tribal members will access discounted local beef, bison, and pork.
”Osage Nation has kind of continually seen a food desert situation and COVID just really exacerbated that problem,” said Jann Hayman, director for the Osage Nation's Department of Natural Resources.
In Pawhuska, officials expect to grow and sell 35,000 pounds of produce and farm-raised fish.
”We’ll have all our vegetables basically in isles and rows, but they’ll be growing, and you as a consumer can walkthrough," said Craig Walker, Osage Nation's environmental projects manager. "You can pick it right off the vine if you’re wanting tomatoes, and we just weigh you by the pound and send you out the door."
Hayman said these facilities close the gap between major shortages and rural communities.
"Even though we’re really coming out of COVID, COVID has shown us where the breakdowns are,” Hayman said.
Without the CARES Act funding, Standing Bear said it taught them to ”rely on yourself and your neighbors."
"That means people reaching out and taking care of each other like we’ve never done before if you want to survive,” he said.
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