How and Why to Buy Meat from Local Farmers
August 17, 2023
What is “Local Meat?”
What is ‘Local Meat’ anyway? The widely accepted definition of ‘local’ — as in ‘buy local’ — is buying what you need from local or small operators so that your money stays close to home and helps your community.
In the case of meats, locally grown means you will be able to see your farmer’s farming practices in action, and you can have some effect on the practices the farmer uses. You can even visit if you want.
What Makes Local Farmers Different?
Small farms are quite different from factory farms. They have no animal crowding and don’t have the animal waste problem that factory farms have. An animal living on pasture deposits its manure directly onto grass and the soil. When rain comes, the manure gets filtered into the soil and used by soil microbes and local plants. Tons of manure in small spaces with no filtration system (grass) is what causes problems.
Local Farmers are Better for the Environment
Local agriculture, if done correctly, takes carbon out of the air and puts it into the soil. Carbon sequestration is what we need to combat global warming. Carbon sequestration from regenerative farming is a plus that is not available from conventional farming practices, which can emit a lot more greenhouse gas per animal.
Local Farmers Connect You to the Community
If you can talk to your neighbor, you can talk to a local farmer. Most local farms and farmers are very open, answering questions and having customers visit their farms. This is quite different from asking the butcher at a big box store how his animals are raised or trying to visit a factory farm.
How to Find Local Farmers
One of the best ways to find a local farmer who you can trust is to ask your friends, relations and neighbors. There is an old saying:“It’s not WHAT you know, It’s WHO you know.” You can also check out your neighborhood website to see what your neighbors are doing for good food. Do some searches on social media. Search using Google. The search “GrassFed Beef near (neighborhood)” will work. Most small farmers don’t have much money to spend on ads so it is best to avoid those. Scroll down to the listings below, and see what’s available in your area.
Your local farmer will love delivering to two or more customers in one neighborhood, which is another reason to check with your neighbors and friends. Many small farmers have referral programs. If your friend down the street gets a bit off their next order, you will be helping them also. Social media makes us all much more connected than we have ever been. Join some local groups, like some foodie sites and you will soon find the right connection.
Things to Consider Before Buying Direct from A Farmer
Once you find him, don’t be shy about asking the farmer questions. Most times, a local farmer who knows his stuff will be pretty straight forward in his responses. There won’t be a lot of ‘word salad’ or prevarication. If he doesn’t know something he will tell you so, even if it is about his own products. You are trying to find someone you can trust to feed your family so if you feel somewhat ‘off’ about them, try someone else. Most people have pretty good radar.
Whole Animal vs. Cuts
Should you get a whole cow? Unless you are a real carnivore or have a big family, probably not. The USDA says that the typical American eats about 59 pounds of beef per year. A typical beef animal produces about 450 pounds of meat so one cow would last one American about 8 years or 8 people one year. The average amount of pork per American is 67 pounds. A half pig is about 90 pounds of meat, so more than enough for one person for a year. Like most people, you will probably at least start out with some cuts.
In terms of space needed, a quarter cow will approximately fill a 100 quart cooler. Most big coolers you see at picnics are about 50 quarts. Half of a pig might go into that 50 quart cooler. Of course these amounts vary, some farmers sell quarters of beef that are 120 pounds, others sell quarters that are 85 pounds. Make sure you find out how big your quarter is before you finalize.
When someone asks me about getting a whole cow, I answer their questions and then ask them if they are going to share with someone, how big their family is, etc. Most people who get a whole cow share it with at least two other families. At North Pasture Farms we almost always prepare our whole cow orders as four quarters to make splitting up the haul easier. Most farmers (us included) will dicker a bit about the price of a whole cow or a whole pig. You can also usually get a price break if you deal in cash or check. The credit card charges on a whole cow can be 150 bucks and every little bit helps. The smaller the order, the less wiggle room.
If the farmer wants you to pay for processing, be sure you know with good certainty how much meat you will be getting and how much the overall cost is going to be. It is not really simple math to figure that out. It isn’t rocket science but neither is it 2+2=4 type stuff. It generally works better to buy your meat already packaged and frozen so you don’t have to mess with all of that. We at North Pasture Farms tried selling by quarters and halves way back in the day and very quickly stopped doing that. There was simply too much education needed. It took me about 5 animals before I had the math down myself.
I suggest you buy cuts. It is simpler, and most people are used to doing it that way. You can also get smaller amounts each time and work your way into bigger purchases.
In summary, the best way to find a local farmer is to:
- Ask someone you trust. Neighbors, friends, Facebook friends of friends etc. People who have been around a while.
- There are some good neighborhood social media programs. You know the one. Someone asks for a good plumber or talks about the dog they hear barking all night.
- Do a search for “GrassFed Beef near me” or near your neighborhood and go from there.
- When you do find the farmer, get a sense of how they operate. Check out their website, email them, etc.
The main thing is to reach out. You will find something or somebody and when you do, have a conversation with them. Start a relationship, it might last a long time and be very rewarding for both of you.