Growing up in the Garden State did not provide any automatic skill set (I still do not have green thumbs) nor an ongoing strong dedication to getting my hands into the dirt. Like most of you, I was trained to obtain my food at the supermarket with periodic fun excursions to pick-your-own farms and farm stands.
When I became involved with the farm-to-table movement and the group establishing The Wild Ramp in Huntington, West Virginia, I was often the butt of my own joke. Yes, I bought some muck boots after I ended up mid-calf in mud and “stuff”. My first farm visit to a cattle ranch was filled with questions: please explain the issue of grass-fed versus corn fed and why are Angus preferred? Many questions.
One thing I learned is that our market, being at the corner of three states, required the ranchers located in the adjacent states of Ohio and Kentucky to take their meat animals to a USDA approved slaughterhouse for processing before the meat would be permitted to cross state lines. The West Virginia farmers could bring their meat animals to a state-approved slaughterhouse. This resulted in more time spent traveling for the out-of-state farmers, since there are fewer USDA approved firms, and they typically have higher fees. So, a shopper at our market could compare West Virginia beef and Kentucky beef and the same cut would be less expensive from the West Virginia farmer.
So, now we have this novel coronavirus and we have learned that some of the USDA meatpacking plants are locations of high infection. Changes to the set up in those plants have resulted in lower processing rates and now, there is a problem that the ranchers may not be able to get an appointment time for their animals, and some are being forced to destroy those animals.
That loss is horrible and puts stress on the workers, ends up with the unnecessary loss of life, and the loss of income to farmers who already are among the lowest-paid workers in this country.
There is a third butchering option available. It is called custom butchering and is the way used when a customer pre-purchases a share of the animal, either half or whole and we have even seen cattle offered by fourths to help reduce personal budget and space requirements. In those situations, the custom butcher processes and packages the meat with “not for sale” labels. They are not to be sold as individual pieces, which is the way most people purchase meat at the supermarket. The farmer basically pre-sells the meat while it is on the hoof, knows that there are customers and no food will go to waste.
There are many farmers nearby who offer meat to the market. You can build a relationship with your farmer at a local farmers market and you can check out the resource of the Local Harvest website. By entering your location, the database will provide you with all kinds of local food opportunities including markets, farm stands, pick-you-owns, and yes, the list also provides what farmers grow what so you can contact them directly.
For example, there are several farmers in the McMinnville area who sell meat by the piece in their farm store. Eola Crest Cattle’s 71x farm store is located at 7140 Booth Bend Road, McMinnville. Kookoolan Farms is located at 15713 Highway 47 just south of Yamhill. Please use the links to read what they offer.
Meat prices are expected to rise as a result. So, your choices include:
- Modify your diet so that you can still provide the protein your body needs but reduce the AMOUNT you eat. We tend to eat larger portions of meat than our body actually requires. Here is a link to a site that helps you calculate your protein requirement. Once you know how you can safely reduce you can start making some meatless meals as well as recipes that use smaller pieces of meat but provides lots of flavor, perhaps a stir fry.
- Protein is available from plants, also. Here is an article that explains the benefits of these sources.
- If your meat and potato lover will not bend, then perhaps you should consider that third option, buying a share of an animal that is raised on a local farm. If you can’t afford the layout of the money (usually 3 payments: 1-reserve the animal with usually at least $100 which goes to any care it needs, 2-hanging weight to the farmer, and 3-butchering fee to the processor.) All in all, we get meat for a lot less money this way than paying retail, BUT you must pay it in those larger amounts, so it takes budgeting and planning that is different from your typical meat buying.
- Support the effort to permit custom butchered meats to be sold by the piece. That will bring the price down to the supermarket level (or lower) and the ability to purchase individual cuts will also increase marketability for the farmers.
By the way, one other advantage of buying your meat locally direct from the farmer: it tastes amazing. You can learn what it was fed and it is surprising how that affects flavor as much as it does. And, also important, if you spend money buying food from a local farm, your money stays in the local economy. We need to be thinking and acting that way now even more than ever before.