Field to Fork: The Ultimate Sustainable Meat

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If you want the ultimate in free-range, antibiotic/additive-free meat then sometimes you just have to do it yourself. Through hunting, every American has the opportunity to obtain venison which encompasses all of the above attributes, and comes from an animal that lived life free of animal welfare concerns. So just start hunting, right? Well, hunting can be a very intimidating activity when starting out. 

Hank Forester, Quality Deer Management Association, and I put our heads together last year to figure out how to teach people to be ethical hunters and take ownership of where their food comes from. We formed partnerships between several nonprofits and included the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The result was Field to Fork, a program teaching people from the Athens Farmers Market how to deer hunt with crossbows. 

The program guided eight participants through the entire process and all equipment was provided. We held the training sessions on two weekday evenings beginning with venison tacos, including locally sourced ingredients and learned a little more about why everyone was there. In the classroom, we covered how hunting has played a vital role in conservation historically and present day, an overview of deer biology, and crossbow safety. For the field component of training we discussed hunting strategies and provided ample shooting opportunity both on the range and from simulated hunting situations. 

Hunting commenced a couple weekends later. We paired participants with experienced hunters as guides and everyone set off to their respective hunting locations. There were quite a few deer sightings the first weekend and we offered follow-up opportunities resulting in three harvests! 

To cap off the Field to Fork program, we hosted a culinary social with the participants, guides, and representatives from the partnering organizations. We had a variety of venison dishes and even grilled a loin from one participant’s first harvest. There were some excellent hunting stories told and everyone gave their input on their experience in the program. A common response from participants when asked what they enjoyed about hunting was “the meditative component stemming from spending time in the woods.” 

Building off of the success and participant feedback from last year’s program Hank and I are once again headed to the Athens Farmers Market to hand out venison samples and recruit participants that want to try their hand at sourcing their own meat. This should be a good year for the program, as we have new equipment, improved curriculum, and expanded the class to twelve participants. If you are interested in getting out in the woods with us this September, please come on down to the Athens Farmers Market this Wednesday (8/16) or send me an email (charles@gwf.org) to sign up.

---Charles Evans earned his bachelor’s and master’s in wildlife biology from the University of Georgia and now works for the Georgia Wildlife Federation as the Georgia R3 Coordinator. His position—which is also supported by Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International and Georgia Department of Natural Resources—was created to increase hunting participation and societal acceptance of hunting in Georgia.

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