I have a solution: local farms.
You may have seen the ad this weekend, or the headlines that followed. The pandemic has disrupted the U.S. food supply chain and will cause a meat shortage. This week, President Trump deployed the Defense Protection Act to force plants to reopen as “critical infrastructure.” I don’t think that’s necessary. I believe that local farmers can supply every corner of our community with the meat they need - from food banks to home cooks to Michelin star restaurants.
"Like many family farms, we measure our growth in inches, not miles."
I have been in the pasture-raised meat business since 2006 and since that time, I have seen the popularity of locally raised, 100% grass-fed beef and lamb steadily increase. Still, despite consistent rave reviews, we’re always hustling to reach customers. Like many family farms, we measure our growth in inches, not miles. However, I have never before seen this level of support from our community - sales are up 500% in the last month. The majority of those purchases have come directly from our neighbors. Whether they were motivated to support local businesses in a tough time or just needed access to beef they couldn’t get elsewhere - we’re grateful. Serving our neighbors the sustainable, healthy food we raise has always been our mission and goal.
Still, these shortage stories have brought to light the horrific circumstances behind industrial meat production. The pandemic didn’t break the meat industry. The meat industry built perfect conditions for this problem. As Bloomberg notes in this article, supply is not the issue. This is a direct result of consolidating thousands of local family farms into two giant companies that supply two-thirds of the nation’s meat; and the few dozen plants that process it. That system doesn’t consider a holistic approach to raising, processing, and distributing meat - "And the virus is exposing the profound fragility that comes with this kind of consolidation.” The question is, will we continue to accept this status quo? Or are we ready to demand a different model?
Maybe it’s time to address the long-term effects of overconsuming meat that is raised by farmers stuck in a system that “feeds the nation” but leaves many farmers indebted and animals (and now plant workers) sick.
I propose that we change the question from "Will there be a meat shortage" to "How can we change the system to sustainably raise, butcher and distribute healthy meat for our communities?” How can we build a system that we can trust? I can confidently say it starts with local farmers, small processing facilities, and consumers working together.
I have a few suggestions to create change. Our customers have already started by trusting us to feed them in a tough time - and local farmers have risen to the occasion. We have done our best to fill the gap when big chain grocery stores and big meat producers couldn’t deliver. Don’t forget us.
I also challenge you to consider the cost of beef. This nationwide shortage will almost certainly cause a spike in beef prices, but who does that serve? Will it improve the lives of the people on the front line? Will it ensure we can treat animals with respect, pay farmers fairly, honor the hard-working folks in our processing facilities, and build a local meat supply chain that can last for generations? When paying for beef, think about where that money goes. Will you invest in families in your community or will you invest in a national corporate farm? Our beef may cost a little more, but I promise you this - it is because we are committed and investing in a fair and sustainable system for our farmers, processors, animals, and our little corner of the earth.
One other (maybe radical) suggestion, especially from a beef farmer. Guys, we can eat less meat. I love it as much as the next gal, but all meat all the time doesn’t serve us. Meat consumption is out of balance and it’s time to look at other options.
Last but not least, if you need one more reason to buy beef carefully, know this: People are dying so groceries can have an uninterrupted beef supply. Someone’s dad or grandpa might have no other option than working in a massive meatpacking facility - but you do have a choice. Our plant workers didn’t choose to be in a system that doesn’t treat them with respect, but you can choose to support farms that prove they value animal and human life.
While Foxhollow may also experience temporary low inventory due to incredible increased demand, I am committed to this. I and other loyal family farmers will keep supplying our community with healthy meat. We process consistently at the same small family processor. We will always treat our animals fairly. We will make sure our processing facilities give their employees the respect they deserve. We will put the quality of our meat before quantity.
And I will fight hard to build a better system. Will you join me?