We are lucky to live in such a rich agricultural community. It seems as if there is a never ending supply of amazing veggies, and with easy access to farm stands, most of us can swing into one just as easily as if we were going to the grocery store. If we can find our favorite sources for local veggies, can we also find favorite sources for local meat? Christeena Marzolf, Owner of Falling River Meats, gives us some tips and a little of what to expect when buying local meats.
There are a lot of positives to supporting your local food system, especially when it comes to meat. Once you’ve shopped the farmers markets regularly, you start to see and taste the difference between vegetables cultivated using different farming techniques. You’ll have a similar experience with meat. From breeding to raising to butchering to processing, every step that nutrient-rich protein takes on its way to your plate adds a dimension to the final experience of enjoying it.
For me, one of the most important aspects of growing meat is the care of the animals. Rejecting industrial farming techniques and supporting small-scale operations generally ensures that the animals you eat have had the best life and death possible. In a future blog post, I’ll share details about the way we raise animals and techniques our colleagues throughout the region use as well.
In fact, I could write an entire blog post about every benefit of shopping for your meat locally – and I probably will, so stay tuned! But for the sake of brevity, here’s a quick list of the benefits I talk about every time someone asks why people choose to purchase from us and our fellow livestock raisers:
- Peace of mind knowing the humane conditions under which it was born, raised, butchered and processed
- Supporting the people and institutions strengthening your resilient regional food system and rejecting the industrialization of meat
- Participating personally in the food chain
- Determining which cuts and amount per package are best for you and your family
- Ensuring a whole year’s’ worth of meat is available to you in your freezer
- Opportunities to try new recipes and cooking techniques with unique cuts of meat
Most of us were raised enjoying meat from the grocery store, so buying meat that isn’t already cut, weighed and packaged may seem daunting. Hopefully this and subsequent blog posts will help you navigate the differences between grocery store and local meat purchasing.
Meat Regulations 101
When you buy meat directly from farms as a quarter, half or whole carcass, the animal is generally processed at one of the region’s Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) licensed butcher shops. The WSDA is our state-run regulatory body that inspects custom butcher shops. WSDA regulates the processing of poultry and rabbits also.
The meat from these shops will say ‘Not For Sale.’ When you purchase from the farmer, you’re buying the ‘live’ animal and are contracting a butcher to process the animal into cuts – these cuts are not to be resold; they’re for the purchaser only.
On the other hand, packaged meat sold retail is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which inspects all large and small scale slaughter and processing operations. For local meat producers like us, access to USDA processing allows us to sell individual cuts at farmers markets and to wholesale accounts such as restaurants. The cost for this is higher and involves transporting the animals to a slaughter facility.
Learning about your farmer
Just like vegetable farmers, livestock farmers each have unique personalities, practices and philosophies. When you’re working with a local farmer, you can chat with them directly to gather the information that’s important to you and your family. You might want to find out about the following:
- Growing practices: If you are concerned about growing practices, whether it be animal husbandry or type of feed, you should feel free to ask these questions before you place a deposit on an animal.
- Approximate weight: Your farmer will not be able to guarantee an exact weight or know at the time you put a deposit down how much the animal will weigh. They can, however, give you an estimate based on past animals, to give you an idea of how much it will cost.
- Deposit: Find out how much they expect up front. This is generally not refundable, it’s a guarantee to the farmer that you will purchase the animal and they will not sell it to anyone else.
- Time until processing: Animals are generally ready for processing in the fall. Small scale operations do sell out, so find all of this information out early in the spring and get your deposit in.
Choosing what to purchase
How much meat do you eat? It may sound weird as a livestock producer but I am all for people eating less meat. I truly believe our diets need to be balanced, and while meat is a part of my diet it is not in every meal. That being said, choosing what your family needs will totally depend on how much meat you consume and your ability to store that meat.
An easy rule of thumb for storage: 1 cubic foot of space will store 40 pounds of cut and wrapped meat. For example, a whole beef yields 600 to 800 pounds of cut and wrapped meat. If it’s 800lbs you will need about 20 cubic feet of storage.
The average weight for the following animals will give you a ballpark, and gauge if you need a whole or half or a bigger freezer.
Average range of weights
600 to 800 lbs
180 to 250 lbs
60 to 110 lbs
60 to 110 lb
What am I paying for?
This part may vary substantially depending on how your farmer handles their business. Generally, you will be responsible for the following:
- Deposit on the animal
- Remaining balance determined by final hanging weight
- Slaughter fees, half fees if you are only getting half of the
- Cut and wrap fees
- Extra charges for any specialty processing, such as smoking or curing
From Harvest day to pick up
The farmer will determine when that animal is ready for processing and arrange for the butcher to slaughter it. If you are a whole-animal eater or are interested in some unique and tasty cuts, you will want to let your farmer know you’re interested in being there for the big day.
Most people choose not to keep the parts the butcher removes in the slaughter process, like the intestines, organs, and other parts of the animal not usually included in modern recipes. If you’re game for it, though, you can arrange to pick up the “offal,” as it’s called, from the butcher on the day of slaughter. Using the offal will give you serious localvore points in certain crowds, and can result in all sorts of tasty and nutritious treats.
For beef, slaughter day can provide a few great meals for your family. Cuts like the hanging tenderloin cannot survive the aging process and are generally discarded. It’s also a good idea to take the tail (oxtail), tongue and cheeks on slaughter day also. Stay tuned for more recipes and info about unique cuts of beef and other meats!
The butcher who cuts and wraps the meat will contact you to get your cutting instructions. You get to make decisions about the way your meat is processed, including sizes of roasts, thickness of cuts for steaks, flavors of sausage, and weights for packaging ground meat. If you are unsure about what you want, let the butcher know, they can help you make those decisions.
Once the meat has been cut and wrapped, it’s ready for pick up! You’ll get a call, and it will be up to you to pick up the meat as quickly as possible, especially during the busy season, butchers have limited space in their freezers and you may be charged a storage fee if you delay. But seriously, why would you wait? You’re doing this because we all know there’s nothing like fresh meat! Welcome to the local meat revolution!
Check the SnoValley Tilth Member Directory to find your local meat producer.
To contact Christeena or learn more about Falling River Meats, visit their website!