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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Meat Issues Coming Our Way

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.

USDA  recently approved faster speeds on meat processing lines.

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.

 

 

 


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Farm to Table Pork

For those of you who started reading recently when I have been writing about my reaction to the political hoohah of the past year, you might not know that I have been involved in the farm to table movement for the past six years or so. 

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My business, Can-Do Real Food, works with small local farms capturing their surplus produce and preserving it either by canning or dehydrating. This helps reduce food waste, offers the farmers another income stream, and provides local consumers shelf-safe local food that can be eaten any time of the year. I work with produce only; vegetables, fruits and nuts.eat-local

Most of the farmers, however, have animals for eggs or meat production. One of my farm partners, Wooden Mallet Farm, is located northwest of the small town of Yamhill in the foothills of the Coastal Range.  They offered the opportunity to buy a whole or half hog and we plunked down $50 about 6 months ago to help with feed and reserve our half. pigs

This morning I went to the farm to observe the processing. Why? Because I am curious. I get the meat all wrapped up in white butcher paper, so if I lived in a fantasy land I could imagine there is some “immaculate conversion” from hoof to plate, but instead I wanted to honor the animal by being there.

Several years ago I naively went to a farm in West Virginia to observe chicken processing and ended up being involved literally up to my elbows.  So I understood the general process.

One amazing aspect of farming in Oregon is that mobile slaughter is allowed to occur on the farm. The processor butcher explained that the regulations are not as strict as the indoor facilities and we discussed the differences between this winter time processing with the low temps (we are having unseasonable cold weather…it was maybe 30 degrees this morning) and the need to work fast while there is light. Summer time processing has the issues of flies and other insects as well as concerns about higher temperatures affecting potential spoilage.

So from the time the 22-caliber bullet was fired into the brain and the carotid artery was severed, until the time the carcass was hanging in the truck was perhaps 15 minutes. Hoofs were saved for a friend of the farmer to make dog treats. The processor collected the hides and offal for someone else who processes the skin and renders the rest. The livers were inspected and several rejected; winter hogs apparently often have some liver damage. The ears and hearts were saved by the farmer.

The carcasses will be weighed and I will receive an email tomorrow about the hanging weight. That check goes to the farmer.

The email will also give me contact info for the butcher and I will call to give him the cutting instructions. We like our pork chops one inch thick for example. We will get a small ham and the rest cut into ham steaks. We want the baby back ribs and country style ribs. And the bacon. There is never enough bacon. There will be some roasts and a few other steaks and then the rest will be ground. We will request Italian sausage.  There will be a fee for that butchering, the curing for the hams and bacon, and the wrapping for all.

All in all we will purchase a whole lot of pork that will feed us for about a year for about one-third the cost of purchasing the same amount at the store. In addition, we know our farmer so we know how the hogs were raised, the food they ate, and the way they were treated.  And, as much as you love bacon you get at the supermarket, I want to tell you that this bacon is better….way better.

I could take a few hours to honor the animal that will be feeding me. hogs