The local food movement is still going strong here in the North Country. During the winter months we tend to be focused less on the fresh fruits and vegetables and more on the products we can access out of season: honey, maple, dairy, eggs, storage crops, value-added items like jams and mustards, and especially locally-raised meats.
We have many Northern New York farmers raising beef, poultry, pork, bison, lamb, goat, and rabbit, but buying meat from your farmer down the road can seem like a puzzling prospect. The cuts may not look exactly as you’re used to, the price may seem too high, and depending on the method by which they were raised (e.g. grass-fed vs. grain-fed), the cooking styles may need to be adjusted. This is a great example of why it’s to your advantage to get to know your farmer. The farmers I know are chock-full of information about how their animals are raised, the various cuts of meat and great recipes to help you turn that brisket into a melt-in-your-mouth meal.
Depending on the farm, it may save you money to buy meat by the quarter, half or whole animal. This is known as the “freezer trade” because unless you are planning a large feast, you’ll want to freeze the bulk of the meat. Buying freezer trade meat can mean easier marketing for the farmer (moving larger quantities at one time) and often lower prices for the consumer.
However, few of us have the freezer capacity for half a pig much less a whole beef.
This is why I was intrigued when Matt LeRoux, my colleague at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County, introduced us to his new venture in Ithaca: The Finger Lakes Meat Project, with a two-pronged approach, providing both a sales venue and storage capacity.
The project connects meat farmers with consumers. Currently, most of the farmers are in NY’s Finger Lakes region, but the website is available to any meat producer and we hope to eventually include out all of New York state. “The Meat Locker” part of his project really caught my eye. While it’s still under construction, it hopes to solve the bulk meat storage problem for local foodies with limited home freezer space in the Ithaca and Corning areas.
Back in the 1940s, meat lockers were a communal way for folks to keep their meat purchases frozen without buying a home freezer (relatively rare and expensive in those days). Today, we still may not have the freezer capacity needed to preserve cost-saving purchases of meat.
The Meat Locker is a pilot project so I imagine there will be kinks to work out, but here is the basic premise:
· The consumer contacts his or her favorite farmer (or multiple farmers) and places the order for a quarter, half or whole animal.
· The farmer delivers the meat cut, wrapped and frozen to the Meat Locker, a 10’ by 14’ freezer. The consumer will have rented either an 18-gallon storage bin (for $3/month) or a 25-gallon bin ($5/month) and the meat is deposited there.
· Once or twice per week for a few hours, similar to a meat CSA, the freezer is opened by a staff person and monitored while folks retrieve the meat they need.
Matt claims that each freezer can accommodate about 75 renters – the bins typically hold about a quarter beef each. The farmer benefits from larger sales with less marketing; the consumer enjoys local meat, purchased economically in bulk, without buying a second freezer. I’m looking forward to seeing how the project pans out. Could it work in Northern New York? Food for thought…
The North Country has an ever-expanding list of local meat farmers. Visit www.adirondackharvest.com to find one.