- Collard Greens
- Red Onion
- Yellow Cipollini Onions
- Celery Root
- Acorn Squash
- Fingerling Potatoes
Last week we talked about some of the rules and regulations for meat producers how they effect smaller producers specifically as well as the industry in general. We concluded with suggestion that the best and least expensive way to find meat that you consider to be “safe” for your family is to buy directly from the farmer, have a non-inspected butcher shop process your meat, and store your meat in a freezer (a small chest freezer is relatively inexpensive and will easily pay for itself in the long term). We will continue our discussion on the mysterious world of meat production this week.
Where do you find a farmer or other meat producer?
Here in the Valley, there are a number of farms that will sell meat directly to customers. These folks generally raise their animals on pasture using humane practices. This does not necessarily mean that the animals are fed organic feed, that their pastures are managed without chemicals, etc. To find that out, you have to dig a little deeper by calling them, emailing them, or looking at their website (if that information is available there).
You can also find meat for sale directly from “farmers” on Craigslist. Be aware, however, because the animals that you find on craigslist are not necessarily raised by knowledgeable, full-time farmers. Often times these animals are raised by folks with non-agriculture related careers who have some land and want to qualify for an agricultural exemption on their taxes. These folks will buy young animals at auction in the spring—animals that were most likely raised conventionally up until that point—graze them on their pasture for a season, and then sell them in the fall. Not all craigslist’ers fall into this category, but it is prevalent and something to be aware of. So the next step is to find out what practices your meat producer uses.
How do you figure out what practices your farmer or meat producer actually uses?
That’s a complex question, obviously, but the answer is either they tell you up front or you need to ask them. The more progressive producers will tell you what their practices are. Like us, they know that using organic, sustainable, and humane practices will make their product more valuable to conscientious costumers and therefore aren’t shy to talk about it. In all cases you should be asking about the use of hormones or antibiotics. The issue with the use of antibiotics is not as a medical measure – to fight an acute infection, for example – but rather as a regular ration through out the life of an animal intended to increase growth rates or lower the high risk of infection created by inhumane living conditions. If the animal got sick once when it was young, and the veterinarian prescribed antibiotics which were administered for a month, I wouldn’t necessarily call that a non-starter (though some might). Hormones, on the other hand, are not necessary in any normal situation. Beyond that, the questions that you ask depend on the type of animal you are trying to buy.
Ruminants (Cows, Sheep, Goats)
For ruminants, it’s all about the grass. Like I mentioned in the first article of this series, they do not need to eat any grains – and arguably shouldn’t – to be healthy and grow. All these animals need is good pasture. Ask if they feed anything other than pasture and hay, if they spray their pasture, if their hay is organic/no-spray. If you are concerned about GMOs, remember that much of the alfalfa hay that comes from eastern Oregon is GMO alfalfa.
Hogs and Chickens
Hogs and chickens generally require feed other than that which a pasture can provide. This means these animals will almost always be fed grains of some type. Eggs and meat from pastured chickens and hogs will undoubtedly be more nutritious than the non-pastured equivalent. The reason is not just because they will eat the pasture plants themselves, which they do, but because of the roots and bugs too.
Always ask how the pasture is managed, sprayed or not. Ask if the grains are organic. If the grains aren’t organic, and the feed contains soy or corn (most likely both) then they are being fed GMOs.
A note on practices
Agriculture has been around in more or less the current form for thousands of years. Agricultural chemicals have been in use for less than a hundred years and are a by-product of the munitions industry from the second World War. No matter what some old timer or young 3rd generation farmer tells you, you don’t NEED to use chemicals or GMOs to grow food and you don’t NEED to feed grain to cows or sheep. Other than that, it’s to each his or her own.
Next week we’ll talk about retail labeling and full diet CSAs. Until then, enjoy another week of vegetables.