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Who’s Your Processor?

January 9, 2010

First, a quick weather recap. We made it through the coldest night in years just fine. The sheep and goats seem unfazed by the cold and really enjoyed the slight warmup today. The Okie-engineered-drum-watering system performed great (after a few adjustments). And we all are looking forward to the *much* warmer weather on tap for this week. I’ll have some ice sculpture pix tomorrow or the next day 🙂

Think spring, it will make you feel warmer!

Second, I wanted to take a break from the navel-gazing I feel like I’ve been doing, and talk about something else near and dear to my heart–local food pathways. I choose the word “pathways” intentionally, because to imply there is a local food system would be a vast overstatement. There’s a great commentary in Grist from Steph Larsen at http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-05-it-takes-a-community-to-sustain-a-small-farm/. The article talks in broad strokes about all the different community components needed to ensure the success of local farmers. The part I honed in was this:

“As Tom Philpott pointed out in early November, the infrastructure for small-scale processing is woefully inadequate, having suffered decades of atrophy and consolidation—to the point where an otherwise profitable farmer can be driven out of business because she has no where to take her pigs for slaughter, her grain to be milled, or her tomatoes to be ‘sauced.’ “

So, what happened to all the processing plants? Twenty years ago, there were 2-3 small to medium-sized processors in each county. Local grocers cut their own meat, often buying beeves and pigs from local farmers and having the one of the local processors handle the kill and initial process and then finishing the cuts at the store. Back then, farmers had many options for selling their finished livestock. Today, if we were not selling our lamb to you, our only option would be to haul the lambs to one of two viable sale barns and take whatever price they happened to bring at auction.

This is especially true here in Oklahoma. For those of us who raise sheep, we have one USDA-inspected processor who will accept and process lamb for private label customers. Private label refers to those of us who sell our animals by individual cuts labeled with our approved (yes, the label must be approved by the USDA inspector) information from our individual farm. Because we sometimes sell in the Denton, TX, area, we need to be USDA-inspected to transport the meat across state lines. To reach that processor, we drive 130 miles to the little town of Big Cabin, north of Tulsa. There, Four States Meats, a family-owned operation in a fine new facility, accepts our live lambs and returns to us vacuum-packed packages of lamb: frozen, weighed, and labeled. Four States dry ages our lamb at least a week in their walk-in cooler and cuts the carcasses according to our specs. This gives us the flexibility to do any kind of cut our customers request.

It takes more than us raising the lambs to bring you grass-finished meat. It takes people like the Greenwoods at Four States, farmers market managers like Summer Terrell in Edmond, and distributors like the Oklahoma Food Co-op and Matt Burch, the Urban Agrarian, to make locally raised lamb available to you. Nearly all of the entities in that list have started operations in the last 5 years, so this is a relatively new pathway to bring you our grass-finished products. I call this blog “Who’s Your Farmer,” because I believe it’s important at the core to know who produces your food. But, it’s just as important that you know your processor. When you buy our lamb, you support us, you support them, and you support the continued resurgence of local food in Oklahoma.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    January 10, 2010 8:19 pm

    amen!

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