You would be hard-pressed to catch my friend Stacy Darnold perusing the meat counter at a grocery store. She has enough beef at home in her freezer to last her family for a year. “I don’t know when the last time I bought beef from a store was,” she says. “I’d never buy beef from a grocery store unless for some weird reason I’m out of beef.” Of course, with a freezer full of beef at home, this never happens.
Stacy is just one of the many people who have joined the growing trend of buying quarter or half portions of cows directly from farms. Granted, as a self-proclaimed “farm kid,” this is not a new practice for her. “We always did this growing up. We bought beef from our neighbor.” Though she now lives in Papillion, her beef still comes from her hometown of Sibley, Iowa. Her parents make the three hour drive to deliver her quarter cow straight to her door.
It’s not all about the convenience of having a stockpile of beef in the freezer, although this is certainly one of the most attractive aspects to buying mass quantities of meat. “I know where this meat comes from,” she says. “I know that they take good care of their animals. Their cows show very well at the fair.”
Omaha resident Amy Youngclaus agrees. “I’ve driven past the farm where we get our beef. I can see the cows happily grazing in the pasture.” Amy chose the farm because her uncle knows the owner. “It’s cheaper than buying it in a grocery store. It tastes two hundred percent better and we know where it came from.”
Stacy says the same thing about the meat she buys from the farm. “It’s not nearly as greasy as grocery store beef. It tastes better. Basically, we have farm fresh food at our house!”
Erik Lanik of Johnson Hill Farm in Ceresco, NE says his customers appreciate that his farm tries to operate just as it did when his great-grandparents owned the land back in 1892. “We have happy animals,” he boasts. “The animals can roam around the pastures. They have plenty of space.” This is in stark contrast to some of the meat offered in grocery stores. “More and more people are realizing things about meat that comes from factory farms,” says Erik. “Their chickens and pigs never see the light of day. Their cows are jammed in and force-fed.”
Johnson Hill Farm sells directly to people and also through the Nebraska Food Cooperative. The Co-op acts as an intermediary between local farms and the consumers who are eager to get their hands on natural, healthy food. Co-op members enjoy fruit, vegetables, meats and other items directly from local farms. When consumers buy items from the Co-op, they know where the food comes from and can also be sure that the providing farms really care about the quality of the food they sell.
Erik has a few tips for anyone looking to buy quarter or half portions of meat from a local farm. “You’re going to need a dedicated freezer,” he advises. Buying large quantities of meat is simply not going to work if you just have a regular fridge/freezer combo. Make sure the freezer is in good working order.
More than once, Amy has lost some meat to a freezer door accidentally being left open. “We had to toss a bunch of meat that had defrosted,” she remembers.
Erik also says it is a good idea to consult with the farmer before deciding upon how much meat you should order at a time. “When people call for the first time I go through a series of questions about their family and how many times they sit down to dinner every week. I ask them about what they usually cook and I can give them tips on what to tell the butcher about how they should cut the meat.” Most farms rely on butchers instead of tackling this task on the farm. “We don’t butcher any of our own meat,” says Erik, “but the butchers we use are very nice people.”
He does a good job of explaining everything. I leveled with him and told him that I was raised a strict vegetarian and only eat meat nowadays because my husband gets grumpy if we don’t have meat once in a while. I can’t eat meat that’s still attached to a bone because it grosses me out too much. Still, Erik did an excellent job of explaining what cuts are what animal are used for what in terms I could understand without making my stomach turn.
Then again, not everyone needs to be eased into these things. Stacy tells me that her young son Drew plays on the same farm where they buy their beef. “He looks at the cows and he knows that we eat them, and it doesn’t bother him at all,” she says. “He just knows that the meat we eat is from our friends’ farm.”
Johnson Hill Farm: http://johnsonhillfarm.com/
Nebraska Food Cooperative: http://www.nebraskafood.org/