Dear Aggie: I learned my lesson during this COVID crisis and want to be prepared with enough food should an emergency ever happen again! Last season I started a small garden, bought veggies from local farmers, and started to freeze and preserve my produce. Now I am ready to tackle buying meat from a farmer, I even have a freezer. Help — where should I start?
A: Nothing is more satisfying or provides a sense of security than having your pantry and freezer full of food. There are many good reasons to buy meat locally. You get to know your farmer and can buy from a farmer who shares similar animal welfare values. You support a local farm business which helps keep the dollars circulating in the community. You also strengthen our local food system. A diverse and strong local food system makes sure there is food growing in our community should supply problems arise as we witnessed with the COVID crisis.
The key to buying local meat is the harvesting and processing. If a farm takes animals to a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected facility to be butchered and processed, they can sell meat by individual cuts. If you only want a few pounds of bacon, a roast for Sunday dinner or steaks for a weekend cookout then USDA-inspected meat may be your best choice.
Meat can also be processed in a custom meat-processing facility. You must own the animal. You are buying the whole live animal or a “share” of that animal. You can buy a whole, half or quarter animal. Since you are buying the live animal you also pay the fee for processing. You cannot buy meat by the cut. You cannot resell the meat. If you choose this option, you do get a say in how the carcass gets processed. You can choose how much of your “share” goes to ground meat, how thick to cut the porkchops, or what flavor sausage you prefer. Meat cuts can be tailored to fit your family’s needs.
The north country has many wonderful farmers who want to sell you what they have nurtured and grown. The easiest way to find farmers is through the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County’s Local Food Guide. Visit wdt.me/cornell_localfood to buy beef, chicken, turkey, duck, rabbit, lamb or pork. In St. Lawrence County the organization Garden Share sponsors the local food guide. Visit www.gardenshare.org. In Lewis County visit www.ccelewis.org to find many great farmers and farm products including meats.
Another way to find farmers selling meat is at www.Meatsuite.com. Go online and enter your ZIP code, the distance you are willing to drive and the kind of meat you are looking for and local farmers pop up. I entered my ZIP code and selected a 50-mile radius and 31 farms popped up along with their names, contact information, pictures and a map. Over seven were less than 10 miles of my home.
Finally, the third option is to grow your own meat. If you would like to learn to raise poultry, pork, or beef contact Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Jefferson County. Again, visit ccejefferson.org or call 315-788-8450.