Pheasants from the West are donated to food banks to help feed families
Pheasant is a nutritious and delicious meat that doesn't deserve to be labelled posh nosh. And now a Devon field sports enthusiast has come up with the idea that some of the pheasants downed at local shoots could be donated to a food bank, which would then hand out the meat to people who cannot afford to feed their families.
Country people will think this an eminently good and sensible idea. Some, though, might be more disparaging. After all, the type of people who go shooting for fun are not the sort who have to queue at the region's increasing number of food-banks.
But let's hear from the man who came up with what is, in anyone's books, a generous idea. Chris Forrest is a keen shooter who has helped set up a scheme in which he has arranged the collection of surplus birds from some shoots in south west Devon.
"As a trustee of a local charity I came across the work of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association (DCFA), and learned about what they were doing," he said. "I thought: 'Well, there's plenty of pheasants and sometimes shoots have peaks and troughs' I want to emphasise that all the pheasants get used at these shoots – there is no waste – but I spoke to a couple of shoots and they said they'd be very happy to donate some birds.
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"We started in a small way last year," says Mr Forrest. "But now we've moved on and shoots are giving 40 brace a week."
The DCFA, which is helping distribute the birds, began life in May of 2010. Secretary Geoffrey Read told the Western Morning News: "The Exeter Diocese gathered together a group of people to discuss ways in good, fresh, in-date food could be prevented from going to landfill and anaerobic digesters, whilst also tackling the growing problem of food poverty in the South West.
"In February 2011, DCFA operated from a corridor at the Salvation Army Congress Hall in Plymouth City Centre and took delivery of our first donation of short-date milk and dairy products from Robert Wiseman Dairy at the Pensilva Depot in Cornwall. DCFA continued distributing dairy produce from these premises with assistance from students of Plymouth City College until January 2012.
"DCFA (Plymouth) then moved into The Ship in Stonehouse and began to accept weekly donations of bakery produce from local bakery outlets."
Plymouth-based administrator Charlie Taylor takes up the story: "A firm in Ivybridge began donating jars of pickles, jams and sauces and since then other food producers have come forward. DCFA (Plymouth) is now able to provide over 20 local charities with frozen foods, rice, cooking ingredients, family pies and some locally grown fruit and vegetables on a twice-weekly basis. And last winter, we also distributed over a hundred 20lb organic turkeys."
She added that during the last pheasant shooting season the association was in receipt of some birds from local farms and estates.
"This winter season has just started – so once again, more donations are being pledged by our donors. Pheasant meat is very nutritious and easily frozen.
"We've now had our first 'pheasant breasting session' where we taught about 20 volunteers to de-breast a bird and take the legs off. That's most of the meat. It was organised by Chris Forrest and it was a really fun afternoon – one of the volunteers even organised a buffet. The meat is frozen down and put into food bags so that when our service user groups come it's easy to take away. We don't get any feedback as an organisation," says Charlie, "but the fact they keep coming back for more must mean they like it. It is delicious meat. We are expecting about 40 brace a week from now on.
"To date, DCFA (Plymouth) has saved over £50,000 worth of food produce, which means the organisations supported have been able to better spend this money on their own core aims," says Charlie.
But the organisation does need help: "Apart from volunteers, our most pressing need right now is transport," Charlie told the WMN. "A second-hand van would be great – a second-hand chiller-van would be perfect – it would be wonderful if anyone out there could help us with this…"
Mr Forrest was explaining how and why he was able to persuade people to give away game birds which sell in many local butchers for over £7 a brace… "The shoots could sell every bird they have to a game dealer," he said. "But they are happy to do this.
"I thought this could be sensitive – not everyone agrees with shooting. But it is part of everyday life in the country. It's a social thing which employs huge numbers of people here – if there are other benefits like this, so much the better."