The Local Economy Project: Meat

We are well into our third month of the Local Economy Project over here at Sea Change, but I’ve fallen behind in my promised blog posts about it! I’m taking us back to month 1, when my partner and I committed to buying locally the thing we felt was most important to start with: meat.

By our definition, “meat” includes mammals that walk on four legs. In this article, we will focus on beef and pork, but our promise to buy local meat also included things we cook less frequently.

To Vegetarianism and Back Again

My partner and I are both former vegetarians. I turned vegetarian in high school after writing a research paper about factory farming. Vegetarianism was not a popular decision in my family; we have roots in a meat distribution business that my great-grandfather built up from nothing after immigrating from Europe. I was a vegetarian for ten years. I started eating meat again when I learned I have food intolerances to many plant-based proteins.

My partner swore off animals as an eight-year-old faced with a lobster dinner. He started eating meat again as an adult traveling in Peru, wanting to fully experience his host family’s culture. I asked him about what it felt like to eat meat in that community:

“When you see chicken nuggets in plastic in a supermarket, it’s like, what is this? When I went to the market in Cusco, the cow head was sitting there, like this [Brandon makes a face] with its tongue out. It forced me to acknowledge what I was partaking in. It helped me to have an emotional connection with meat.”

All this is to say that my partner and I each separately opted out of eating meat, and when we each opted back into omnivorous diets, we wanted to be intentional about the meat we chose to consume.

Hence, our conviction that meat should be first on the Local Economy Project list.

To recap, or if you missed my previous post about the Local Economy Project, it’s a pledge that my partner and I are taking: each month, we will pick a normal item in our lives and pledge to buy it locally. We will strive to buy it in as many degrees of local as we can find and afford (1st degree: local point of sale; 2nd degree, locally manufactured; 3rd degree, from local source materials).

Now, on to the meat of it.

Why buy local meat?

I’ve already waxed poetic on the reasons to buy locally in general, but there are a some factors that make local meat an especially worthwhile purchase.

Conscientious meat-eaters can have a lot of questions about their meat. Were these animals given antibiotics? Were they free to graze? Were they just grass-fed, or also grass-finished? Were they a rare heritage breed that has an exceptional flavor? Were they raised organically? Was a part of the Amazon rainforest burned in order to raise this animal? Did this animal live in a tiny stall and stand around in its own poop? Did it have friends? Did it have a name?

At the risk of sounding like a Portlandia episode, I’ll stop, but you catch my drift.

When you know who raised the animal you’re eating, you can get answers to these questions. You can make informed decisions about what you’re buying. If you want to search out heritage breeds, you can. If you care most about hormone use, you can choose a farm that doesn’t use any. If you only want to eat an animal that was named Bessie and petted for at least 30 minutes a day, you can (maybe) make it happen! Et cetera.

Also: Did you know that Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef? Many of the fires burning in the Amazon today were started in order to clear new land for cattle production. Most of the beef from Brazil is exported to Hong Kong and China, but the US does import some of this meat. One way to vote with your dollars against the burning of the rainforest is to use them to buy meat from a small local farm instead of buying imported beef products.

Raising livestock on a small scale a very low-margin business. Supporting small local meat farms with your buying choices will help them stay in business for many years to come, providing healthy, sustainably-raised meat for you and your family.


Visiting Movable Beast Farm

I had the pleasure of visiting one of our local meat farms while researching this topic.

Movable Beast Farm is a small pasture-raised beef operation in the Rondout Valley run by husband and wife team Charles and Francesca Noble. Both have backgrounds in non-agricultural fields and started farming in their fifties. They sell their meat in bulk directly to the community and occasionally at the High Falls Co-op.

During my visit, Charles introduced my to his herd and told me about the way they raise cattle.

“When we started, we were looking for a way to raise beef that was respectful to the animals, healthy for people, and beneficial to the environment,” he said. The way that Movable Beast Farm raises animals fulfills all of these goals.

“Studies have found that the most important factor to meat’s taste is the level of stress the animals experienced,” said Charles. He asked, “Do these animals look stressed out to you?” A nearby cow, unphased by my proximity, stuck its head down into the tall grass. I listened to the rhythmic whumph-whumph of its powerful chewing. “Not even a little!” I answered.

If you’d like to read more about my visit to Movable Beast Farm and see even more photos of stress-free cows, I’ve written a separate article about it here.

Well, hopefully Charles and I have convinced you of some of the virtues of local meat. Now, lest you have some sticker shock when you go to purchase your own, it’s time for some real talk about the price of local meat.

Why is local meat more expensive?

Perhaps the better question here is, “Why is meat produced by small farms more expensive?” I’ll present some of the factors here, but for further reading I recommend this article and this Hudson Valley farmer’s blog post.

Small meat farms tend to be grazing farms, which means that it can take a lot longer for their animals to reach maturity. In large-scale factory farms, animals approaching maturity are put into a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO; for a fun time, google “CAFO”). Here, the animals are often given corn-based feed that is very caloric but often makes them sick, necessitating antibiotics. Raising and finishing animals on pasture is much healthier for the animals (and for you!) but is more of a time investment for the farmer. This in turn translates to a higher price per pound for you.

Another factor is which breed of animal the farmer raises. Large factory farms selectively breed their animals for qualities like rapid growth and large size (more meat) at maturity. Smaller farms tend to raise heritage breeds instead, which makes their meat unique and more valuable. Many small farms focus on raising their animals with care, but don’t breed them, so buying young animals to raise is an expense, and a higher one when it’s a specific heritage breed.

There are also a lot of back-stage-type reasons why meat raised by small farms is more expensive. For example, it costs more for these farmers to buy small quantities of good feed than it costs for factory farms to buy bulk orders of conventional grain feed. Even if small farms were using the same kinds of grain feed as larger operations, it would cost much more per animal for them to buy non-bulk quantities. Other things, like using a small scale butcher to process the animals, cost more for a small farm than commercial-scale operations that are modeled after factories. Lastly, and importantly, small farms are often not eligible for the subsidies that large-scale farms receive from the government to offset these costs.

When you buy locally-raised meat, expect to pay more per pound than you would at Shop Rite. However, know that you are getting a very different product, one that’s healthier for the animals, the planet, the local community, and you! Plus, you are supporting a local farmer who really needs it.

Local meat on a budget

Yes, local meat costs more, but that doesn’t mean it has to break the bank. Here are three things my partner and I do to get the most bang for our local meat buck.

1. Buy odd cuts

I found this very apt quote in an article in the Democratic & Chronicle: “farmers are not raising prime rib, they are raising cows.” Some cuts of meat are better-known and thus more sought-after. If you are willing to brave the unknown you can get a better deal on the more obscure cuts.

Or, buy ground meat. Often, the more obscure cuts make their way into a ground meat blend, since farmers know that this is more familiar to consumers than, say, #1410A rib chops. Because ground meat can absorb a variety of odd cuts, it is often the cheapest way to enjoy local meat.

2. Buy in bulk

Last year my partner and I bought 1/8th of a pig through Perianth Farm’s pork CSA. It was both exciting and intimidating to receive our share, which included a lot of cuts we’d never cooked and filled up about half of our freezer. We eventually learned how to cook everything, and it was absolutely the best pork we had ever tasted. Plus, we knew that the pig we were eating had been raised locally on wild forage by a farmer we knew, and that made us feel more connected to our food and community.

Our pork CSA also included a lot of “prime cuts” that would have been pricey to buy outright, but they were mixed in with the other cuts we received. By joining the pork CSA, we paid a lower price per pound than if we had purchased each cut separately. Plus, purchasing meat in bulk through a CSA gives the farmer more income up front, which can really help them.

If you’re interested in buying meat in bulk, reach out to a local farmer. Sometimes, bulk meat shares are small and not well-publicized, but if you ask around you are bound to find something that fits your needs.

3. Let the meat be a supporting actor

The right recipe can help your meat go a lot farther. Instead of using ground meat as a hamburger, for example, you could mix it with a lot of vegetables into a shepherd’s pie. The hamburgers might only eek three servings out of a pound of ground meat, while a vegetable-y shepherd’s pie should yield at least six. Bacon can be crumbled onto soups as a topping instead of eaten in strips; flank steaks can be sliced into stir-fry strips instead of presented on a plate whole.

Here are some of our favorite ways to make meat go farther:

  • Fuller meatballs – mix grated veggies, mashed potatoes, or cooked rice into meatballs to make them more full in size and flavor.
  • Sausage stir fry – instead of eating sausages whole, slice them into coins and stir-fry them with onions and zucchini.
  • Cut it smaller – having smaller or thinner pieces of meat encourages us to eat less meat and more of our side dishes.
  • Add some grains – if you can eat them, mix your meat with grains to stretch it out. Fried rice, anyone?

Meat in the Rondout Valley

In the past few months, we’ve learned a lot about where to source meat in our local community. We’ve made some sacrifices, like passing over pepperoni because we couldn’t find any that was locally made (we substituted in sausage). We’ve also had a few days when we struck out entirely and had tofu for dinner. Here, to lessen your own learning curve on buying 100% local meat in this area, is our master list of suppliers.

The Applestone Meat Co. – this place features a futuristic 24/7 local meat vending machine-refrigerator. Does it get any more convenient than that? Applestone’s meat is sourced from a few different farms and is butchered on-premises (though you’ll never see it actually happening). Their Stone Ridge location is staffed during normal business hours, and if you shop then you can buy behind-the-counter freezer items at a 20% discount.

Movable Beast Farm – this farm in Accord raises cattle that roam their organically-managed pastures and sells in bulk direct to consumer. If you can’t imagine fitting a split-side of beef in your freezer (that’s about 140 lbs of meat) find a friend or two and order together by calling (845) 532-8249. Read about my visit to Movable Beast Farm here!

Kelder’s Farm – best known for its U-pick berries and giant garden gnome, Kelder’s Farm on Rt 209 also sells their own-raised meat, frozen, in their farm store. Kelder’s offers a meat CSA in the form of a monthly subscription with rolling sign-up.

Davenport Farms – at their farm store, Davenport sells their own-raised beef (frozen) and locally-made chicken sausages (refrigerated) as well as a variety of produce, hot and cold food, and treats.

Saunderskill Farm Market – this decked-out farm market has a freezer full of local meat products. However, I dare you to step inside Saunderskill and leave with zero warm pastries.

Majestic Heritage Farm – based in Mountaindale, this farm sells pasture-raised pork, cattle, and poultry. Plus, this year they are offering apple picking in their organic orchard!

High Falls Co-op – this member-owned establishment sells a variety of sustainably-raised frozen meat, some local and some not. You get points for shopping at a local store regardless, but do read the labels to find the meat that was locally raised.

Woodstock Meats – this long-standing community butcher shop and deli features both Hudson Valley meat and all-natural meat from farther-flung sources. They butcher the local stuff on Mondays and Thursdays.

Bettinger Bluff Farm – based out of Montgomery, this family farm offers chemical-free, pasture-raised beef. You can buy their meat in bulk or by the cut, email info@hudsonvalleygrassfedbeef.com.

Sophie’s Farm – this Kerhonksen farm sells their grass-fed beef in bulk in eighths and quarters, processed into individually packaged cuts. Contact them at (845) 626-1061 for availability.

Vly Farm – a small family-run farm in Stone Ridge, they raise free-range, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, and goat. The best way to buy from Vly Farm is to call Ken directly at (845) 389-0520 to schedule a visit. You can also find their meat at the High Falls Co-op.

Twin Spruce Farm – raising adorable Belted Galloway cattle, this farm in Accord sells their beef at Stone Ridge Orchards and directly to you if you call them at (845) 901-8348.

Accord Cattle Co. – a small family operation out of Accord offering beef and pork. You can order by calling them directly at (845) 399-6142. Prices are available on their beautiful website.

Samantha is the farmer and owner at Sea Change.

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