May 4, 2010

How to Buy Local Meat in Bulk

Spring has arrived and I’ve been thinking about what meat I will need to restock my freezer. For me it was initially a bit intimidating to learn how to purchase meat in bulk directly from local farmers, but I found this to be the best way to be able to afford quality meat. In the process I had to learn terms like “a quarter” or “a half of beef” and deal with cuts of meat I had never experienced before (things other than ground beef and chicken breasts).

The first order of business was a freezer for the garage. I learned that, although “self-defrosting” seems like a convenience, it actually means that my meat would be partially defrosted repeatedly during storage and would not keep as long. It is much better, but more work, to get a freezer that you have to defrost yourself periodically. Fortunately, those types are cheaper.

Next I had to decide which farmers I wanted to purchase from. I met farmers at the Argenta Certified Arkansas Farmers Market and I read farm profiles from the Arkansas Sustainability Network food club.
Just because a farmer is local doesn’t mean the meat was raised according to my standards or even that the farmer actually raised the animals him/herself.
I asked questions like:
  • Where was the animal raised?
  • What did the animal eat?
  • Do you vaccinate or use antibiotics or other medication?
  • Is anything nasty (like chlorine) sprayed on the meat during processing?
These are all fair questions to ask about a product you will be eating.
Then I had to prove how ignorant I was about various meat cuts and ask questions about what kinds of cuts I would receive in my bulk order and how to prepare them. I have received meat cuts in bulk orders that I didn’t have a clue as to what they were or what to do with them.
Sometimes there was no label other than “sheep” to give me a hint before I defrosted it. When in doubt, I put it in the crock pot.
If it is meaty, then add carrots and potatoes and season it with salt, pepper, and any other meat seasonings you like.
If it is boney, make soup. Cover it with water, add cut up veggies and whatever seasonings you like. Also boney cuts, like ribs, make great crock pot barbeque. Cook them on low until the meat is tender enough to easily take off of the bones. After removing the bones pull the meat apart with forks and add your favorite barbeque sauce.
My crock pot has never failed to produce a good meal. Meat always comes out tender when cooked on low.

When you purchase organic meat at grocery stores, health food or otherwise, you should realize that although the animal was fed organic grain, it was not raised naturally on grass - unless it specifically says ‘grass-fed'.
The natural diet of cows and other grazing animals like beefalo, buffalo, and sheep is grass. This produces omega-3s and other good stuff in their meat. Grazing animals do not need to have any food other than pasture, but are sometimes “grain finished” or feed supplemental grains/soy in addition to pasture (so it’s a good thing to ask if you want to make sure it was only grass-fed.) Hogs have exposed skin, so they get lots of vitamin D from being in the sun, which is passed on to me when I eat it.

Pastured chickens are supplemented with grain in addition to their pasture. My primary interest when buying these animals is whether or not they were raised on pasture. I want omega-3s in my meat. My second consideration is whether or not the supplemental feed was organic. It is great to be able to get both grass-fed and organically fed, but if I have to choose between the two, grass-fed is the most important to me with organic coming in a close second.

If you want to inquire about bulk orders, contact the farmers directly.

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