Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Buy Meat from a Farmer

Since deciding not to buy meat at the grocery store any longer, I've been scrambling to figure out where the heck I will find and buy grass-fed, pastured, happy critters.

  • I asked local crunchy friends where they buy meat.
  • I asked friends with agricultural jobs/contacts for leads.
  • I asked at the local fed store.
  • I checked out the chalk-board ads on the community blackboard at the fed store (who knew that existed??)
  • I searched at was by far the most helpful, but still the prospect of spending hundreds of dollars at one time on a meat purchase to get half a pig or beef remained daunting.

Photo from
Enter Joel Salatin's book Holy Cows & Hog Heaven:  The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food.  

First, let me say, if you've never read anything by Joel Salatin (the beyond-organic farmer featured in The Omnivore's Dilemma) I highly recommend it.  His style is folksy and witty, and his content is paradigm-shifting, empowering, educational, and entertaining.

I ask you, who else could get away with using the term techno-glitzy?

Having read Salatin's book, here are some of the questions I'm asking myself as I investigate farm-sourced food that will be good for me, good for farmers, and good for the environment:

1)  Is the farmer trustworthy?  This is the cornerstone of the philosophy of personal-responsibility and informed-consumerism that Salatin advocates.  He recommends visiting the farm, talking to the farmer's business peers and neighbors, and finding out what sort of professional materials the farmer is reading (of course, this means I have to have some idea what he ought to be reading . . . )

2)  Is the farmer committed to appropriate size?  Salatin argues that you want to buy from a farmer who is committed to quality and balance--not one with aspirations to become an empire.  He writes, "Any small farmer who aspires to an empire is no different than any multinational corporate entity."  An empire mentality will lead to compromise and sacrifice of best practices.

3)  Is the farm neighbor friendly?  Salatin argues:  "The bottom line is this:  a farm friendly food system is both aromatically and aesthetically pleasing.  Anything else is not a good food system, period."

4)  Is the farmer open?  A farmer should communicate well, give complete information, and offer free access around the farm so that I can see the conditions of the animals for myself.

5)  Is the soil healthy and fertile?   I'm not so sure--especially in March--that I'm going to be any sort of accurate judge of this, but Salatin suggests asking to see the compost pile and looking around for earthworm castings (note to self:  look up pictures of earth worm castings).

6)  Is the animal feed non-GMO?  Much like I avoided reading Omnivore's Dilemma for a long time, I've avoided reading about genetically modified plants.  I still haven't read enough about it to be well-versed, but enough to know that I want to avoid exposing myself and my children to GMOs whenever possible.

Final Thoughts
Joel Salatin is so passionate about his land, his animals, and our freedoms that there were many times I found myself choked up with tears (yes, in a book about buying meat).

I am the sort of person who hates to barter and negotiate with people (buying vehicles is painful for me!), so I find myself intimidated by the prospect of asking farmers a zillion questions and requesting farm tours.  It almost feels accusatory, as if I'm starting out not trusting them.

However, since I want to opt out of the inhumane, unsustainable, unhealthy system of mainstream food, becoming an inquisitive, informed consumer, who digs deep and builds relationship with the producers of my food is a skill I need to develop (hence the forty-five minute conversation I had with a rancher yesterday morning--bless him for making the time!)

As I wrap this up, I'd like to quote one of those passages from Joel Salatin that brought me to tears with its profound depth:

Farm friendly food asks the question:  "Is the pig happy?"  On our farm and thousands like it, we try to provide a habitat to each plant and animal that allows it to fully express its physiological distinctiveness.  When we respect nature of the Creator's deign enough to reverence the plow on the end of a pig's nose, the graceful beak on the front of a chicken, the earthworms gamboling around in the soil underneath the cabbages, then w  have a moral framework in which to contain our human cleverness.  

I highly recommend reading this book.  It has reaffirmed my decision not to buy meat from the grocery store and has empowered me to get educated and informed as I engage directly with farmers.

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