More on small-scale slaughterhouses, straight from the farmer’s mouth

This past Thursday, I attended the Food System Economic Partnership annual conference in Jackson, MI, where there was a lot of discussion about strengthening the local food system. While it was interesting to see and hear what various individuals and organizations are doing to grow the Southeast Michigan food system, it was disappointing to hear very little discussion about how to make fresh, local food available not only to the wealthier consumers now flocking to the “good food” movement but also to underserved communities in our region. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “the room got real quiet” when someone hazarded a question in this realm.

On another topic, one of the panelists I heard speak was John McLaughlin of McLaughlin Farm, LTD. I purchase my beef from this farm and cannot recommend their product highly enough! John was kind enough to give me some comments on the small-scale slaughterhouse issue I mentioned in my June 13 post, “A chance to act.” So here it is, straight from the farmer’s mouth, with my thanks to John for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully and passionately:

Processing is the single biggest problem for a Michigan meat producer, at least in the south central part of the state. In order to sell retail (by the cut), to restaurants, or at farm markets, we must use USDA processing. Michigan has acquiesced to federal law and does not have it’s own inspection system (as Indiana, Wisconsin and others do). That results in limited processing for retail oriented producers. Many of the remaining local facilities can’t or won’t comply with the ever growing list of federal requirements. Some of the local processors do an outstanding job, but unfortunately they are unavailable to us for most of our needs. Ever increasing regulatory requirements such as these play into the hands of large scale producers that can afford to hire staff to handle regulatory compliance. this situation kills small processors, producers because they cannot afford the overhead to comply with the ever growing regulatory requirements. The consumer suffers when the small producer and processor is forced out of business. One small meat processor said that it would take 1.5 employees just to comply with HACCP paperwork and that would not add one customer, because they are already at capacity!

Unfortunately the “Farm to Fork” “Eat Local” movement is on a collision course with this type of regulation. Consumers need to act! Add to these requirements new accounting and tax reporting requirements and other regulatory compliance and many small businesses will be overwhelmed with compliance and reporting issues, with the likely outcome being that they close shop! There needs to be a balance in this realm; unfortunately, it seems that most legislators have no idea how to run a business or what it takes to comply with the never ending list of requirements they like to creat. Somehow the people need to seek common sense solutions and stop the regulatory nightmare that we are faced with in agriculture and in other aspects of our daily lives. Ironically, it seems that most food borne illnesses reported recently have been created by large processors of both meat and vegetables, not by farm market vendors, small processing plants, etc.

The due date for public comment mentioned in the June 13 post is past, but if you love your grass fed meat and want to support your local small businesses all along the supply chain, I urge you to keep track of this issue and get involved as you can.

Fossil-fuel-free farming and CSA bounty

The oil spill in the Gulf has not left the headline news. I heard Senator Stabenow speak about “the perfect storm” inherited by the Obama Administration. And perhaps watching The Road  was a mistake given the way the week went – it has depressed me about the direction we’re headed as a country, but I found some hope on CedarMountain’s greenopolis blog: read a straightforward summary of why we need a local food web in The High Cost of Cheap Food.

And for those of you struggling with too much produce in your CSA boxes (if you’re not, you soon will be!), some great tips to be found on the Crisper Whisperer. I particularly love the conclusion:

Finally, a couple of bonus tips. If all else fails, start a compost pile. At least you’ll be putting your waste to good use. Instead of dying a slow death under the weight of silent veggie guilt, you’ll become the instant envy of all your friends. And remember, breathe. Though it may be the last thing on your mind in the middle of CSA overload, the world really does need your carbon dioxide to grow more plants.

Silent veggie guilt must be a lot easier to deal with than guilt about the sins we’ve committed against Mother Earth recently….

A chance to act

I’ve often extolled the virtues of locally rasied grass-fed meats (good for your body! good for the local economy! good for the environment!), and if you are in the habit of purchasing grass-fed, you should be aware of the most recent developments in the processing sector. There’s a quick summary about the issue on FoodRenegade, and the original article referred to there can be found in The Atlantic, where Joe Cloud, of True & Essential Meats writes:

Picture an hourglass and you’ll understand the sustainable meat crisis: there are plenty of willing consumers out there, and there are more and more farmers looking to “meat” that consumer demand (sorry—couldn’t help myself!), but the real bottleneck is processing capacity. Small, community-based meat processing plants have become an endangered species, done in by an ocean of super-cheap industrial meat and the challenge of meeting the Byzantine demands of USDA regulations without a Ph.D. in microbiology….

For small meat businesses in America, catastrophic events result from changes high up in the regulatory food chain that make it very difficult for small plants to adapt. The most recent extinction event occurred at the turn of the millennium, when small and very small USDA-inspected slaughter and processing plants were required to adopt the costly Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety plan. It has been estimated that 20 percent of existing small plants, and perhaps more, went out of business at that time. Now, proposed changes to HACCP for small and very small USDA-inspected plants threaten to take down many of the ones that remain, making healthy, local meats a rare commodity.

Need more information? Speak with the farmer from whom you purchase your grass-fed meat.

The date for submitting your comments has been extended to June 19 – let’s not forget that if we don’t exercise our right to make ourselves heard, we forfeit the right to complain about an undesirable outcome!

Want to take action? Visit Extension.org.

Stirfried Greens

Lots of greens are in season just now – kale, chard, collards, spinach. Here’s a quick stirfry recipe for just about any variety of sturdier greens. For the more tender types (spinach, water spinach, amaranth) check out the Recipes page for specific cooking instructions.

ingredients:

  • 1 bunch greens – any of the sturdier varieties mentioned above
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • salt to taste

method:

  1. Bring about 2″ of water to a boil.
  2. While this water comes to a boil, soak the greens in cool water, then remove the greens, drain the water, and repeat.
  3. Chop the greens coarsely, then soak one more time – there should be no grit on the bottom of the bowl or sink.
  4. Blanch and shock the greens – they should be bright green and crisp-tender – then gently squeeze out as much water as possible.
  5. Heat a wok over medium-high, then add the oil, just until it shimmers.
  6. Explode the garlic until fragrant – do not let it brown – then add the greens and stirfry just until tender.
  7. Season to taste and serve.

variation:

If you prefer to use less water and spend more time chopping, you can skip the blanch and shock step: separate the leaves from the stems and chop each separately in step 3.  After exploding the garlic, add the stem pieces, stirfrying until bright green, then add the leaves, stirfrying until crisp-tender. Season and serve.