Cattle producers fight hunger with Gala in Sioux Falls

Farm Forum

Raising funds for the hungry in South Dakota has become a passion for Ryan Eichler and Josh Larson, two men from Columbia whose families have long been involved in the cattle business.

That desire propelled efforts to raise funds for the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation (SDCF) Prime Time Gala by commissioning a sculpture created by Aberdeen artist Ben Victor.

A 1/4 scale bronze statue of a cow with her calf, called “Mother’s Love,” is being created as one of the unique items auctioned at the gala in Sioux Falls June 14.

“We’re excited to be part of raising funds for the hungry for Feeding South Dakota,” Eichler said. The event hopes to raise $100,000 with all of the proceeds going to the hunger relief organization that is fighting daily to eliminate hunger across the state.

Larson and Eichler approached Victor to see if he could create an appropriate piece that could be auctioned at the gala to raise funds. With strong connections to the cattle industry, the pair want to raise awareness of the need for protein among those who struggle with food insecurity. They didn’t realize how appropriate it was to choose this artist.

With unintended synergy, the pair went to see Victor as he completed the statue of Norman Borlaug, the man often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation with his wheat research. Victor thought it would fit well with what he’d learned about Borlaug’s efforts as a hunger fighter. “What a great tie-in,” Victor said. Larson said that Victor opened their eyes to the work of the Nobel Prize winner in their mutual quest.

Eichler said as part of forming the SDCF, “one of the things we decided to focus on was understanding the need for those less fortunate.” He said, “It’s become my passion and interest in telling the story of the production of food, specifically the story of beef production.”

There are four and a half times as many cattle as there are people in South Dakota. When SDCF board members, cattle producers themselves, learned that securing protein is one of the most critical needs for Feeding South Dakota, they wanted to find a way to help.

Gala is sold out

Support for the event has been overwhelming. The 950 tickets for the gala that includes an upscale dinner and guest speaker have been sold. The Borlaug connection further intertwined with the effort as the keynote speaker for the gala is Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco, who won the prestigious 2013 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

Even though tickets are no longer available for the dinner and speaker, Larson said that people are encouraged to participate in the auction of the “Mother’s Love” statue and five original pieces of art along with the concert.

After the dinner and speech, country music artist Gary Allan will headline the Prime Time concert at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Tickets for the Gary Allan concert are on sale at the Sioux Falls Arena Box Office, phone 800-745-3000, online at and all Ticketmaster locations. Ticket prices range from $25 to $55 for the concert only.

Crafting the cow-calf statue

To create a real-life image, Larson helped out by taking measurements of cows and calves to give Victor the proper perspective.

“It goes hand in hand with the work that I did earlier on the Norman Borlaug statue,” Victor said. “Norman was a hunger fighter and this group is fighting hunger by raising funds for Feeding South Dakota.”

Tuesday, the clay piece was crated and shipped to the foundry in Wyoming where the mold will be made and then the piece will be bronzed. “It has a good steel armature inside so shipping should be fine. We’ll pack it in a wood crate, add a lot of packing material and then pray,” Victor said.

Working on the texture of the hide was the most challenging for Victor. Great photos and Larson’s measurements helped to create the chacteristic cowlicks and swirls in the coats of the animals. A bronze patina in a dark shade will be used to finish the piece. Victor tried to shape the animal so all ranchers could relate to it rather than producers of one particular breed.

Definite need

There is a need to help those less fortunate in South Dakota, Eichler said. Feeding South Dakota delivered 12.5 million pounds of food in 2013. Of the 12.5 million pounds delivered, only 5% was animal proteins. In 2012, more than 295,000 pounds were delivered in Brown County.

The SDCF is concerned because of the lack of protein to help balance diets. Beef offers protein plus essential vitamins and minerals. In low-income households and defined “food deserts,” the lack of animal proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables have sparked an obesity epidemic. Consumers are forced into cheaper, processed foods that tend to be mostly empty calories.

“We want this to be the premier event for raising funds for Feeding South Dakota,” Larson said. “We’re confident that people in South Dakota will help us meet our goal.”