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Posts Tagged ‘buying local’

– “Is this new meat any good? Is it worth the extra?”
– “I don’t know. Honestly, I’ve never had the meat here. I don’t really buy meat from the store.”
– “What do you eat then? … Veggies?”
– “No, I just buy from local farmers.”
– “Farmers?” *scoffs* “I’m not going to buy from farmers.”

The above is an actual dialogue I had at a very large grocer and retail store. I think it helps to show the disconnect that some people have from their food. Meat comes from the store, and fruits and veggies come from trucks. Its presence on the shelf is considered a given. Bones and skin and blood are often sanitized out of the picture as ‘yucky’ parts that should not be dealt with. However, having clean hands doesn’t mean your hands are clean. I have been a strong supporter for local farms for a while now. Many things in the dominant ‘system’ seem broken to me, and I also believe that an animal’s sacrifice should be acknowledged and respected.

My parents made use of the land to help feed my sisters and I. My father hunted, and grew corn and many vegetables, and my mother would freeze and cook these. Other times, after our own animals were sold off years ago, they would get a quarter steer from a nearby farm, or split a half steer with someone else. Years later, after eating plenty of garbage through my teen years, I remembered this and decided to do it again. Eventually, after I work toward building this place back into a farm, I will probably have all of my own animals, but until then, this does quite nicely.

I realize that not everyone has space to grow their own food like I do. However, many areas do have farmers’ markets or direct farm sales. Sites like LocalHarvest, Pick Your Own, and EatWild offer good starts to see listings. However, the place I ultimately used most to find my meat was Craigslist. Sometimes you’ll see ads in the Farm + Garden section. I had best results by posting a Wanted ad.

Main benefits of buying local meat (in my experience):

  • – Helps support your local farmer(s), economy, and food system(s)
  • – Meat is of superior quality and stronger, better flavor
  • – Meat is often fresher, and it isn’t shipped across the country
  • – Cost is often lower, per pound, than buying at a store (main exception is with chicken – chicken is just way too cheap and raised in too huge of numbers to undercut, but you’d still be getting the other benefits).
  • – Have the choice to know exactly where your food is coming from
  • – You can choose exactly how the meat is cut. You can request soup bones, offal, or ‘odd bits’ that often get thrown out. You can specify thickness, prioritize steaks or roasts, or even have it all ground up if you want
  • – May offer fewer trips to the store, and may simplify budgeting

Chops and steaks, ready to bake!

There are other possible benefits as well, but not all farmers have/follow/offer them, so you’d have to pick and choose. Absolutely ask questions. Examples include things like the use and preservation of heritage breeds, leaner meat (for the health-concerned), more space/humane treatment for animals, and less of or lack of the use of antibiotics or other drugs and chemicals. If you have questions about these matters, farmers worth dealing with are happy to answer them or address any concerns.

Some drawbacks:

  • – Some people are used to/prefer the flavor of store-bought
  • – You generally order in bulk based on whole animals, halves, or quarters. This means you must drop a lump of cash at once. Many farmers don’t offer single cuts, and those who do might charge significantly more than a store would for them
  • – You might end up with some cuts you’re not sure how to use, or a lot of some things and less of others you might prefer
  • – Big orders take up lots of space. An above-fridge freezer won’t cut it at all for something like a side of beef
  • – You must do ‘work’ for the food and it isn’t as convenient – you have to seek out the farmer, you might need to find someone to split part of an animal with, and many times you must go and pick up your order
  • – You are limited by seasonality. Animals are not available at all times so you have to plan a little to keep a supply (if you’re someone who uses a lot)

You have to weigh your needs and see what works best for you, but I believe that the quality of the local meat I’ve had outweighs any drawbacks.

The extra freezers I use are two manual defrosting uprights. Manual defrost will build up layers of frost/ice inside, needing attention to remove it every few years or so, but they keep frozen products in better condition because they don’t continually raise and lower the temperature on their own. Mine are 25-35 years old and still going strong. I’ve locally bought a whole pig, 2 whole lambs, multiple 25-lb. boxes of pork, a 50-lb. box of beef, and some individual cuts of goat in the past 4 years or so. This is in supplement to the few animals I hunt. The lamb was my ‘gateway’ animal. I developed a love for generic store-bought, especially in chili or in tacos, but such lamb is expensive and often comes shipped from as far away as Australia or New Zealand. Even a ‘cheap’ lamb cut, such as a whole leg or ground lamb, often costs between 6 and 9 dollars a pound. Other cuts can be 2-3 times higher. Now, from the farmer I get my lamb from, I can get a whole animal all done up however I like for what amounts to between 3 and 4 dollars a pound.

My above-fridge freezer, topped off with lots of local pork. It's on the top and bottom there, and shoved to the back, but this is only 1/3 or so of what I got.

Processors also vary a little. Most farmers have a preference and will have one they want to use, but some will bring an animal to a different one if you have a favorite. I’ve had product that’s been done by several different processors. It seems that most of them use a butcher paper wrap for most whole cuts, and then plastic sleeves for loose sausage or ground meat. Some will package ground meat in little deli trays and then butcher wrap. Another uses plastic sleeves for ground meat, but seals all whole cuts in plastic vacuum bags. I like the vacuum sealed the best, because it lets you see right through the packaging and keeps the meat the longest, but it is also prone to damage and loss of the seal if you ever drop it while handling it. Butcher paper wraps are much less subject to this. No matter what processor my things have been done by, though, the product I have had is always great, and everything has been packaged and labeled well.

Example of butcher-paper wrapped local meat, along with stamped labeling.

For those who can afford the outright cost and are willing to seek out a source, local meat certainly offers a flavorful eating experience. I always enjoy picking up the big boxes or bags, stuffed to the brim with my purchase. I also like being able to meet and shake hands with the guy who raised the animal that gave its life for my dinner. The possible side benefits to these points are just extra incentive for me.

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