When’s the last time you visited a real, working farm? Most of the folks we know beyond city and suburbia live in the forest (doesn’t that sound romantic, like Hansel and Gretel?). Others we know have “hobby farms” – smaller acreages devoted to keeping pleasure horses, large garden plots, or orchard fruits. Most of us rarely have the opportunity to see farming in action, and some of us have never seen one at all. We were excited about the opportunity to visit one, and purchase what we hope is going to be a year’s worth of pork, over the weekend.
Our daughter, Robin, has been dating her boyfriend since the beginning of the year. It’s a great match, as Robin is studying to be a veterinary technician and wants to specialize in large animals. Scott lives and works with his parents on a dairy farm down by New Prague, Minnesota. Robin, who likes cows and loves horses, is in hog heaven. 😀
On Saturday, we drove down to New Prague to introduce ourselves to Scott’s parents (and no, we didn’t pull any of the stunts I’d threatened my kids with for years – I probably should have, just for fun), to see the farm, and to pick up our pig. A couple of months ago, Scott asked us if we wanted a pig – meaning he would raise it and then we could have the meat. We readily agreed to the plan, and now it was time to see the butcher.
But first things first. Scott’s family farm is quite an operation. While citified civilization – housing developments and gentlemanly ranches with McMansions – slowly creeps up around their acreage, they’re active dairymen who also grow corn and other crops. Scott attended the University of Minnesota for a couple of years studying agriculture, but he quit because he was needed at home, and because, as he puts it, “I was paying money I couldn’t afford to pay to learn stuff I already knew.” Who can argue?
When we pulled up, it seemed as though the middle barn was surrounded by a village of igloos. These structures are white polyethylene calf nurseries. Each one held an only weeks old calf. These snug little homes keep the animal’s bedding and feed dry, and also conserve body heat to keep the babies warmer. The result is stronger, healthier calves. Calves are eating, pooping, and sucking machines. They will limit the capacity of an active, milking herd if they remain with their mothers, and if they’re sheltered together, they will suck on each other. They also like to suck on zipper pulls, fingers and sleeves. 😀 When they’re kept in a dome, it’s easy to see if an individual calf isn’t thriving.
Scott’s family’s cows are good milkers, but not free range animals. The farm isn’t certified organic, although it comes as close as it can while still treating illness with antibiotics. Scott’s father believes ultra-organic practices result in sicker, shorter lived animals.
Robin pointed out several of their show cows on our tour, but like real city slickers, we couldn’t tell the difference. The farm has 180 head of milking cows, mostly Holsteins (the black and white ones) but a few Jerseys (my favorite – caramel color with big brown eyes). Calves are being born every day; we saw half a dozen who were one day old and yet to be put into their igloo-like domes.
As we slogged through muddy pathways from building to building, Robin pointed out horses and heifers. The milk truck pulled up while we were on our walk, and hooked up to the side of the milking barn as Scott, his mother, and his father finished up the last few. They milk at6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. I couldn’t help but notice they were finishing up at around 11:30 a.m. There’s a reason it’s called a working farm.
We chit-chatted while a dozen barn cats and kittens wound themselves around our legs and jumped from hay bale to manger. Yes, they are good mousers and so are the dogs, we were told. What farm would be complete unless there were a couple of big, friendly dogs loping around? Yes, all the pigs had gone to the butcher, so there wasn’t any hope of seeing just what our piggy looked like. Not that I didn’t have mixed feelings about that.
We are not about to quit eating meat. It’s quite one thing to purchase it in the store without any regard to its provenance, though, and quite another to see where my dinner was raised as a living, squealing thing. I felt good seeing animals that day that were cared for and well-fed. I felt sure our piggy had been, too. Scott mentioned he would have steers available for purchase next fall, and we liked that idea.
Locavores, according to Jennifer Maiser of Eat Local Challenge, are “people who pay attention to where their food comes from and commit to eating local food as much as possible. The great thing about eating local is that it’s not an all-or-nothing venture. Any small step you take helps the environment, protects your family’s health and supports small farmers in your area.”
Pete and I know there is abundant goodness in the foods produced in our area, whether plant or animal. We love eating out of our garden all summer long, and preserving to enjoy its tastes through the winter. We regularly shop at the Farmer’s Markets, and we seek out locally-designated food at our grocery. Except for some free-range chickens, however, this experience was our first real foray into purchasing locally-grown meat for our table at home.
Evidently, we’re late to a party that’s been going on forever. As we headed out of New Prague toward Heidelberg (in Minnesota it is possible to traverse the European continent via place names in a matter of minutes), we turned into Odenthal Meats. Randy and Laura Odenthal’s store and plant is smack dab in the middle of a couple of corn fields. A Google search quickly turned up other organic meat producers, Sheepycorner.com and PiginthePatch.com, among Odenthal’s many partners. The commitment is to wholesome, healthy, local food as part of the economic and physical environment.
Pete had to work out some specifications on the sausage, hams and pork loins that were coming from our pig, who weighed 293 pounds before he was dressed. Randy figured our cost will be around $175, a flat processing fee on top of product by the pound. We pay Scott an additional amount per pound. Based upon our imprecise calculations on the back of our Mapquest page with a pen that was running out of ink, we figure when all is said and done our pork will average about $1.50 per pound. 😀
Odenthal wraps and flash freezes your cuts for you. Your sausage (Italian, summer, wild rice, smoked, whatever) is made fresh to order. Now that Randy had our wants, he’ll finish processing everything to be ready in a couple of weeks. This day we took our ribs and chops.
On the way home I thought about all the care that had gone into what would be our food. Scott had worked hard to care for our piggy from the time he was very wee. Randy Odenthal’s commitment to quality processing ensures that healthy, humane methods result in a superior product. Plus we were contributing in a personal way to the livelihoods of great folks who live in our area. Before the global economy, this kind of transaction was commonplace in society. Going back to a shorter chain between producer and consumer is transformational, and allows sustainability into local communities.
Since our trip to the farm, we have dined on thick, juicy pork chops on Saturday night, and for Sunday dinner we enjoyed ribs rubbed with herbs and spices. Pete baked acorn squash we picked from a vacationer’s garden to go with our salad. And our dessert was fruit crisp made with preserved fruit from our freezer. (We’ve got to make room for the rest of our pork!)
While we’re not complete locavores (that would mean giving up coffee and sushi, wouldn’t it?), we’re glad that we can enjoy fresh, tasty food and support family farms and businesses. Eat Local Challenge says we all can do our part by
- visiting local farmer’s markets and lobbying our supermarkets
- purchasing from CSA’s (community supported agriculture) – Kim Woodbridge has reported all spring and summer of the bountiful supply of fresh food from her Philly-area CSA
- preserving local fruits and vegetables
- buying from local vendors
- finding out which restaurants use local sources
- determining true origins of our food, and
- visiting local farms
If you’re not sure where to start, visit websites like Local Harvest or state or region specific sites that yield up from an internet search. Local food co-ops and organic grocers like Whole Foods or Trader Joes often have extensive local sections. Even large grocery chains have recognized the demand. When we think about how we think about food, we serve ourselves and our communities with the best the planet can offer.
Are you or have you thought about becoming a locavore? Would you take part in an Eat Local Challenge (click here)?
Image Credits: Apture
Related articles by Zemanta
- Folks who want to meet their meat (cnn.com)
- Friends are for farming (thestar.com)
- Independent Dairy Farmers Fight Big Milk’s Cartels [No Use Crying] (consumerist.com)