A Community That Feeds Itself is Free

Reader Contribution by Cole Ward
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“A community that feeds itself is free.”

The quote above is from locavore activist Joel Salatin.

So what do locavores really want?

• Is this meat hormone free??

• Was the animal humanely treated??

• Is the meat local?

So basically, what locavores want is healthy sustainable food… locally-raised without chemical fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics. In a nutshell, food that’s derived from a farming style that’s sustainable and keeps dollars in our local community. I believe this is what we all want – and should demand.

But locally-raised, sustainable food is often more expensive than “factory-farmed”. It seems counter-intuitive – you’d expect the opposite, wouldn’t you?

There are many reasons for this. Raising an animal without hormones takes more time – which means more feed, more dollars invested, etc. Plus, small local farmers aren’t subsidized to the degree that large commercial operations are – an issue I’m not going to get into today.

If we’re talking meat – which I am – then a small farmer is also at the mercy of the USDA-inspected processing plant which, by law, must slaughter the animal and cut the meat for the farmer.

A big commercial meat-raiser will generally own its own USDA-inspected processing plant, which brings the price per pound way down. Local farmers are stifled by the way the system is set up, because they have to pay a high price to have their animals processed at an inspected facility. If you’re only butchering one cow a week or three pigs a week, it’s going to cost more. It’s a volume thing (consider Walmart). Plus the fact that we’re conditioned to expect cheap food in this country.

I think it’s in farmers’ own best interests to learn to cut their own meat, because then they’re in control of the cuts they receive and ultimately, the final profit out of that animal. And if you don’t know how to use the whole animal, you have no business raising meat.

If farmers can process their own meat, much more money will end up in their own pockets. But federal and state laws make this difficult.

What puzzles me is chickens. Lots of Vermont farmers raise and slaughter 1,000 birds a year without being inspected – the USDA provides exemptions for this. So why can’t there be a similar rule in place for farmers raising pigs, beef, and lamb? Then, if those farmers were allowed to process their own meat, they could be profitable.

These are legal issues which I think, ought to be discussed. If we want to get this local movement moving, then we need to get our lawmakers behind us, so that restrictive regulations that unduly affect the smaller producer change.

Because frankly, I’d much rather buy beef from a farmer who’s put the care and quality feed into his animal, where I know for sure the animal was treated humanely, than I would going to a supermarket and buying a feedlot animal.

And now for something completely different…

While I was working at the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, a well-dressed blind woman walked in with a seeing-eye chihuahua. From the back room, I watched her walk up to the meat display case and start twirling her dog around her head on its leash.

So I came out and said to her, “Good morning ma’am, is there something I can help you with?”

And she said, “No, I’m just having a look around.”

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