— Cody Hanson, Crow River Food Council Member
Minnesota deer hunters have the opportunity to donate their harvest to families in need in our communities. The following is information regarding the wonderful and unique partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture that allows for venison donations.
The main page is here: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/donation/index.html, which lays out the program, how hunters can participate, and where funding for the program is allocated from. It is important to note that deer must be donated whole, after field-dressing; individual cuts of meat cannot be accepted for donation.
The Department of Agriculture page here: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/food-feed/hunter-harvested-venison-donation-minnesota also lays out the process, provides information for interested charities who want to register, and offers cooking instructions for venison.
Second to last, this page: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/food-feed/reg-venison-processors contains a list of registered vendors for the year 2019. Each processing site must adhere to special processing for deer harvested by firearm, to include x-rays for lead fragments.
After the deer have been inspected and passed, they are processed into cuts. An average-sized Whitetail Deer will provide 140 meals to needy families (per the University of Mississippi Deer Lab). The cuts are collected by Second Harvest from these vendors and then distributed throughout the state to registered food shelves, usually in the early spring. One interesting note about the program is that the registered processors and food shelves are required by Minnesota Statutes to provide a disclaimer that lead exposure may occur while ingesting the venison.
The venison donated during this time is important not just as another way for low-income families to access protein, but as a way to share in the celebration of our outdoor and self-sustaining culture that we cherish in Minnesota.