When was the last time you went for a drive outside the city and didn’t see a herd of cattle? Whether you’re in New York City or Kansas City there are cows all around you. Brown ones, black ones, grey ones. Big ones, little ones. And if you’ve seen them, that’s good, because it means your dinner is just around the corner. And that’s the way we like it here. It makes our dinner just that much tastier.
Local meat always seems a little bit more complicated than local produce, but being a big eater of local cows, lambs, and chickens, I can tell you it’s not too hard once you know where to look. We can totally navigate these pastures together. I think there are two big hurdles with local, natural meat. One is finding it. And the second is paying for it. Hopefully, I can address some of these concerns, help you find some local meat, and in the future talk to you about other awesome aspects of what you’re eating. Like knowing if something is grass-fed, or humanely slaughtered, or how to cook underused cuts of meat.
Let’s start with the first hurdle. Local meat is everywhere. It’s right outside your city, it’s in your city, it’s next to the produce stand on the highway. The first place I would look is your local farmer’s market. This is a great venue for local ranchers to sell their product. A lot of farmer’s markets have stands that sell meat along side your leafy greens, squash, and strawberries. If there isn’t meat at your farmer’s markets, some of the produce sellers might know of some. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Not all of us live near a great farmer’s market, though. So, my other favorite resource is eatwild.com. Just click on your state and you’ll find lists of local producers of everything from beef to antelope. A lot of these ranches you can visit and buy your meat directly from the ranch. Sometimes they will ship it to your doorstep or do a pick-up in nearby towns. And sometimes you can find a list of people who sell their meat, local butcher shops and grocery stores. So easy! If you want more information on how to procure their product, pick up the phone or write an email. I promise you that they want to accommodate you and will probably go out of their way to do so.
The second hurdle is price. Local, grass-fed beef, chicken, lamb and everything else can make your pockets lighter than the meat you find at the grocery store. And you have to weigh the pros and cons and figure out what’s right for your family and your wallet. There are a lot of health benefits to local grass fed meat that we’ll talk about in good time. But right now, I just want to focus on its locality. There are some ways to lower the price of grass-fed meat. One of them is to buy in bulk. You can buy a portion of a cow or lamb at a discounted, flat per pound rate. This means you’re getting more expensive cuts of meat at a lower price for buying in bulk and this can be a great way to go; a big cost up front, but huge savings in the long run. Another thing you can do is buy a quarter, half, or whole part of beef or lamb with some friends, splitting up the cuts and getting a discounted rate either per pound or for buying a whole half of a cow, this is often called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. Talk to your friends and neighbors, you never know who might want to share a cow or lamb with you. Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the producers if these options don’t look like they’re available. Your demand for their availability may be the only thing producers need to make it happen.
There are plenty of pros to buying your meat directly from the producer. It means you have more control over the cuts of meat you get, and can even request special cuts or special specifications about your cuts of meat, so you can have your kidneys and hanger steaks and eat them, too. This also means that you can ask for recommendations about how the meat should be cooked. Often times, different cuts of meat and grass-fed meat can be a little trickier to cook, but I guarantee the hands that raised it can tell you everything you need to know about making your dinner as tasty as possible.
I’ve been buying my meat locally for about two years. We eat local lamb, beef, bison, pork, and chicken. I’ve talked to all the producers about how the animals were raised and their thoughts about meat and local eating. I decided, though, that it was time to start visiting some ranches and sharing local stories with all of you. The first ranch I went to visit was that of John Holbrook. He owns JH Grassfed, a local producer of lamb and beef in the Phoenix area. Their ranch is about 45 miles North of Phoenix on Bloody Basin Road (for reals). It’s a 68,000 acre plot of land on which they are running a little bit more than 100 head of cattle. Now, you have to remember I’m in Arizona, where nutrients aren’t as dense as they are in other parts of the country, so 100 cows need a lot more space. I visited John at his family home just a little bit South of their ranch to see some of his cows and talk local meat with him. He has a lot to share and I will unravel his whole story in upcoming posts.
John has been doing this for about 5 years. He raises and sells about 76 lamb and 54 cows per year. He has a mixed herd, there are herefords and angus, and a lot of them are crossbred with other breeds of cattle, ensuring that they can withstand Arizona heat. They are all grass fed, grass finished, and all natural. One of the things I really love about John’s meat is that he has a lot of different cuts- you can get everything from heart to porterhouse to chops. And he can takes special requests for certain cuts of meat. I’m sure your local meat producers will be the same.
There are a lot of resources out there aside from eatwild.com. Deborah Krasner has a great book called Good Meat that is chock full of recipes, information, and beautiful pictures. Joshua Applestone’s The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat has everything from information about sourcing, to recipes, and how to cook certain cuts. Localharvest.org offers information and links to various CSA share programs and farms throughout the United States. Local meat is everywhere if you know where to look for it. And while it may be hard to find initially, once you’ve found it, you kind of start to see it everywhere. So, look around your town and your state for places that can accommodate you. If you’re having a tough time, I would be happy to help. Just shoot me an e-mail.