Cattlemen’s Gala seeks to provide protein for state’s needy

Farm Forum

Tickets for the Prime Time Cattlemen’s Gala are all sold out, but people interested in fighting hunger are invited to attend the June 14 concert and also bid on the high-end auction items.

Ryan Eichler of Lake Preston said that 100% of concert and auction proceeds go directly to Feeding South Dakota to purchase protein for the hungry. SDCF’s goal is to raise $100,000.

Auction items include:

• 1/4-scale bronze statue of a cow with her calf, called “Mother’s Love,” created by sculptor Ben Victor.

• A four-person, four-night, three-day all-inclusive pheasant hunt at Eagle Pass Lodge, donated by Steve Munger. This hunt retails for nearly $14,000.

• Five original pieces of art.

Eichler and Josh Larson from Columbia, whose families have long been involved in the cattle business, encourage people across the state to join in the efforts to benefit Feeding South Dakota.

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.

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.”

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.

Even though tickets are no longer available for the dinner and speaker, Larson said that people are encouraged to participate in the auction.

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, via phone at 800-745-3000, online at and at all Ticketmaster locations. Ticket prices range from $25 to $55 for the concert only.

South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation is concerned about the lack of protein to help balance diets. Beef offers protein plus essential vitamins and minerals. In low-income households and areas defined as “food deserts,” the lack of animal proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables have sparked an obesity epidemic. Consumers are forced to eat cheaper, processed foods that tend to be mostly empty calories.

“Today most consumers are more than two generations removed from production agriculture,” said Eichler. “The SDCF wants to inform consumers about the health benefits of consuming beef as well as the care that producers take when producing food.”

While technology has allowed the industry to efficiently produce more beef per animal than any time in history, producers are operating with the smallest cow herd since 1951. Conventional grain-based beef production systems produce 40% less greenhouse gas emissions and require one third of the land area to produce 1 pound of beef during the finishing phase than it used to 10 years ago.

Eichler said that demands are not going to decrease. By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion, compared to more than 7 billion. In that same time frame, 3 billion people will emerge from poverty to join the middle class. They will demand a higher quality diet including meat, milk and eggs. By 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the demand for those animal proteins will increase 60%. That makes sustainable food production even more important.

“We are at a very critical point in history where food production practices will determine cost and availability,” Eichler said. “We’ve looked to the Father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, for inspiration in feeding the hungry.”

The keynote speaker for the Gala is Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco, who will deliver his address, “Enough.” Simmons was winner of the 2013 Borlaug CAST (Council for Agricultural Science and technology) Communication Award.

“Raising money through the Gala is an incredible opportunity to work with a wonderful group of people,” Matt Gassen of Feeding South Dakota said. “Farmers and ranchers understand the issue of hunger, and play a critical role in feeding the world. As those who grow grain and livestock, they know the importance of providing food.”

Gassen said that money raised through the Gala will provide protein to feed hungry individuals in need. Feeding South Dakota partners with national manufacturers to receive donated protein; however, the organization must pay the cost of transporting that protein to South Dakota. Dollars raised through the fundraiser will help Feeding South Dakota transport more critically needed protein into the state.

Gassen says that the support Feeding South Dakota receives from the farming and ranching community is critical to the organization’s work in feeding the hungry. He states, “Our partnerships with groups such as the cattlemen and the S.D. Corn Growers are really helping us to raise awareness about the issue of hunger. As an organization, we touch 100,000 lives each and every year, not providing all the food, but at least some of the food to help out these individuals and families during a critical time.”

Hungry people in South Dakota

In 2013, 12.5 million pounds of food was provided to hungry individuals in need through Feeding South Dakota. Of the 12.5 million pounds delivered, only 5% was animal proteins. In 2012, more than 295,000 pounds of food were delivered in Brown County alone. The demand continues as numbers show that 1 in 5 children in this state are food insecure.

Getting animal protein to small communities is one goal of the cattlemen. In addition to the Feeding South Dakota warehouses in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pierre, the organization contracts with local trucking companies to deliver cold and frozen items to small towns as well. The receiving agencies have freezer and refrigerator space to handle the items as well as non-perishable goods.

In 2010, the state of South Dakota provided a grant to cover the initial costs of a Mobile Food Pantry. Similar to a beverage truck, the mobile food pantry truck was specifically designed with three bays to ease handling of the food. “That way, the truck can roll into a community, and it’s easy to take the pantry items off the truck,” Gassen said. The truck is based at the Pierre location and travels to smaller communities such as Eagle Butte, Redfield, Herreid and St. Francis, where client access to local food pantries is limited. “We know our programs need to be flexible to meet the needs of those who are in need,” Gassen said.


Feeding South Dakota partners with 350 non-profits to reach every county across South Dakota. For example, in Aberdeen, the organization works through The Salvation Army. “We partner with them to pick up the donations from Walmart,” Gassen said. “It’s part of the national retail donation program agreement with Walmart and our affiliate, Feeding America, to pick up the products that are close to the end of their shelf life. It’s a long haul from Sioux Falls to Aberdeen. If we can pick up products from the Aberdeen store and distribute them locally, that makes a lot of sense.”

“Most people in the state have no idea that we’re moving 12.5 million pounds of food,” Gassen said. “Many think of us as a big food pantry, but only 10 percent of our product donations come from local food drives. The other 80 percent is from outside manufacturing groups and national corporations because of the connection with Feeding America. In addition to food drives, Feeding South Dakota receives in-kind donations in the form of transportation, discounted storage and volunteer help.”


“It takes a lot of work and coordination to give away food,” Gassen said. “The volunteers make these distributions happen. Those who work and volunteer for Feeding South Dakota have passion and compassion for the work that the organization does. We are very blessed to find those types of people. Feeding South Dakota programs operate with a combination of 32 paid employees and 30,000 hours of volunteer time annually.”

Each week 60 volunteers pack 5,400 backpacks that are distributed out of the warehouses in Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The packages of food are sent home with children who may not have enough food to eat over the weekend. In addition, 30 volunteers in Sioux Falls and Pierre pack boxes of food to be distributed to low income seniors in the central and eastern part of the state. “If we used paid staff, the cost would be prohibitive,” Gassen said. “Volunteers play a vital component to continue our efforts to feed those in need.”

This week, Feeding South Dakota was named as the top charitable organization in South Dakota, according to Charity Navigator, an organization that rates charities across the nation. Feeding South Dakota was scored 67.86 out of 70, receiving high marks for transparency, accountability and the amount of donations going directly to support programs. In Feeding South Dakota’s case, 97 percent of donations are directly applied.

The executive director of the group takes his job seriously. As a young man, Gassen was a first sergeant in the Air Force with his duties to take care of the enlisted personnel. He saw the frustrations experienced by those young families struggling to get enough food to eat. That led to partnering with the Black Hills Regional Food Bank in Rapid City. After retiring from the Air Force, Gassen realized he had a passion for working with the food bank. In 1999, Gassen was named Executive Director of the Black Hills Regional Food Bank. After a merger with the food bank in Sioux Falls in 2004, Gassen moved to Sioux Falls and has remained Executive Director of the statewide organization.

Gassen said that the state of South Dakota is blessed to have so many caring people.

“I need to compliment the state’s farmers and ranchers,” Gassen said. “It’s exciting for our organization to develop these partnerships and relationships. It’s an absolute natural fit for those who are feeding the cattle to feed the world.”