New leadership for Hunters Sharing the Harvest in Pennsylvania
Since 1991, the Hunters Sharing the Harvest venison donation program has coordinated the processing and distribution of donated deer meat and wild game from hunters to hungry people throughout Pennsylvania.
For much of those 30 years, co-founder John Plowman has been at the helm, serving as executive director and doing everything he could to grow and promote this worthy cause.
During his tenure, Plowman, along with fellow co-founder Ken Brandt, as well as the group’s board of directors and thousands of donors and volunteers have taken the 501c3 non-profit charity from a simple idea for generous Pennsylvania hunters to share their extra deer meat with those in need to a nationally recognized model many other states now replicate.
Overseeing more than 100 participating processors statewide, 70 coordinators in 56 counties and seeing nearly 2 million pounds of venison donated to date, Plowman quietly retired in February, proudly looking back on his accomplishments, but optimistically looking ahead to the future.
“This program has shown time and time again that Pennsylvania hunters are compassionate people, willing to help their fellow man by providing highly desired protein to our state’s 1.6 million food-insecure residents,” Plowman said.
“We have developed a highly regarded operational model with an annual goal of channeling 100,000 pounds of processed venison through the state’s food banks that then re-distribute to more than 5,000 local provider charities such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities and churches.”
Hunters Sharing the Harvest has been extremely successful in meeting that goal, Plowman added, but he felt it was time for him to pass on the leadership role.
His replacement as executive director is longtime Hunters Sharing the Harvest Mercer and Crawford County Coordinator Randy Ferguson, who Plowman said will lead the organization into a new decade.
“He’s one of us, he understands the way we operate, and the board and I really liked the quality we saw in Randy as a candidate,” Plowman explained. “He’s already doing a great job and will bring new ideas that can only improve upon the foundation we’ve already established.”
Ferguson knows he has big shoes to fill and is grateful that Plowman, as well as longtime office director Deb Milliron, who also retired last June, both agreed to stick around as consultants.
“John has made it a tough act to follow,” Ferguson said of Plowman’s service to Hunters Sharing the Harvest. “Under his leadership, it seems organization has had a record-breaking season every year since its inception, including last season when 190,302 pounds were donated from 4,896 deer.”
Ferguson and an active board of directors have plans for the future to match the anticipated challenges that lie ahead. Such challenges include funding to reimburse processors, rising reimbursement costs, contraction of the deer-processing industry to offset generational losses to participating businesses and concerns over CWD and public health.
Ferguson and his board members have already begun strategic planning for the long road ahead, but he is confident the group will continue to thrive and be an impactful social-service program for all of the low-income families that depend on the donations from hunters.
An average-sized deer provides enough high protein, low fat meat for 200 meals, but it is only made possible through the cooperation of dedicated volunteer county coordinators, legislators, state and local agencies, and colleagues from the outdoor news media promoting the program.
Vitally important as well are sponsors and benefactors, hunters and non-hunters alike, whose corporate and individual financial contributions allow Hunters Sharing the Harvest to pay its processors, which package the ground venison into 1-, 2- or 5-pound bags for distribution.
All these components work together with a common mission to maximize the best-utilization of a wildlife resource to help others needing food assistance.
“We are actively seeking new processors to come on board, as well as area coordinators who help facilitate the program within their local communities and to get the venison into willing butcher shops and out to food pantries and other distribution centers so it can end up on the plates of those who really need and appreciate it,” Ferguson said.
He noted that Hunters Sharing the Harvest welcomes any financial support to sustainably fund our model of compensating processors for their time and service in preparing the venison for distribution.
The group offers corporate and foundation sponsorships in addition to accepting individual contributions. Anyone willing to chip in and lend a hand can find more information on its website: www.sharedeer.org.