Farm-Fresh Find

Minneapolis butcher bridges the gap between local, sustainable agriculture and hopeful home cooks

Then I talked to Todd Lein, who works for a farmers' collective called the Southeast Minnesota Food Network, which represents a few dozen family farms located in the fertile lands that lie between us and Iowa, and he explained two interesting new things to me: First, that I'm not the only person who's been driven nuts by the separation between farmer and consumer; and second, that pasture-raised farm animals are the new hot thing for keeping the environment together.

More on that in a minute. For the time being, please know that the University of Minnesota Extension folks, the Land Stewardship folks, and local restaurant visionaries like Lucia Watson at Lucia's have been working for years now on ways to get local farmers' products into our hot little hands, and this is going to start being something you'll see more and more in metro-area grocery stores, including the co-ops, but also the various Kowalskis' and outstate chains like Coborn's.

For my money, one of the creepy things about the way the organic standards have finally played out is that it's been a lot easier for big agribusiness, especially out West, to jump through and finance all the certification hoops. And so in some instances the small, conscientious family farms organic shoppers mean to support are getting lost in a big-money organic game. If you find yourself someday soon confronted with officially organic things from far away versus unofficial local things that adhere to principles similar to the organic standards, I say local is far more important.

For instance, all of the farmers in that Southeast Minnesota Food Network (www.localfoodnetwork.org) are small family farms who don't use drugs or hormones and raise their animals in an environmentally safe way, meaning that the farm isn't creating run-off or pollution problems, the animals aren't crowded or confined to small areas and are given access to the outdoors, and all of the meat is processed in small, local USDA-inspected plants that allow close inspection of the meat and provide more local jobs. These are old fashioned meat processing plants where they process a few animals a day, not thousands, as in factory farms. (If you want a primer on why factory farms are bad, check out www.themeatrix.com.)

But what about this whole grass-finished thing? I have been reading a lot lately about how good it tastes. And when I talked to Lein, who used to work for Land Stewardship, he explained to me that having free-roaming herbivores on the hills and dales is exactly what we need. "Large herbivores, bison and elk, were a huge component in this ecosystem," he says. "There are two ways of managing grass, you can either cut it or burn it. Animals cut it, eat it, and transform it into nourishment for the soil. Their walking causes a disruption in the soil surface, which distributes seed. A crusted soil doesn't allow any seed penetration, their herding behavior works just like tilling."

In addition, animals raised outside are healthier and require fewer vet visits because they spend all day getting exercise and eating salad. Well, ground salad, anyway. "Farmers who go from a confinement situation to pasturing see all of their costs of production go down," explains Lein. "After years of careful study we have discovered that cows have legs. They are in fact capable of feeding themselves and distributing their own manure. You don't have to use energy to bring them their feed and take away their manure."

After years of careful study, at least one local woman has decided we are capable of understanding, and supporting, this difference. Kristin Tombers has a 20-year background in local restaurant kitchens and in fish wholesale, and after looking at the problems for a decade finally decided she'd be the one to do something about it--which is why she opened Clancey's. "Food and what we eat is such an important decision," explains Tombers. "Shopping at Sam's Club or eating at McDonald's versus purchasing something where you know the animals have been treated properly and you can see the families and the land your money is going to help support. I saw [opening Clancey's] as a huge opportunity to put in place some of my community-minded thinking. I got the nastiest letter the first week we opened. This lady wrote to say, 'Did you think you can charge these prices because of the neighborhood you're in?' And being a capitalist is about the farthest thing from my heart, we need to make money to stay open, sure, but it's more important that the idea of supporting local farmers catches on."

And that's why, when you walk in, Tombers or Westergreen will be happy to explain the provenance of each and every piece of meat in the case, and almost every piece comes from a place you've heard of, with a farm family you can call to thank, if you want to.

Imagine it yourself the next time it's a Minnesota night and you're cozy beneath your quilt: What would it be like if up here in town we could eat like kings, and out there, out under the moon there would be no manure lagoons, just farmers who could afford to keep their farms, and lambs who eat hillside salads. And the town and country feed each other, abandoning the previous era of mutual indifference? I'm sure you're all going to write me and tell me I'm naive, but I think there would be at least a few less night terrors, and a little more sleeping like dollies in boxes.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...