"People actually buy your meat for those prices? Ugh." Real life words from a customer on her first time into our store. I gently replied, "Yes, ma'am. Our meat sales are the bread and butter of our business. The produce just fills the store." She stared at me blankly and continued to the checkout counter to purchase her apples and oranges. I wasn't offended, as we have a hard time keeping our freezers full to begin with but later on thinking about the interaction, I did see it as a teachable moment.
While not buying meat directly from a local farmer because of the cost is a reason that is totally understandable, it is important to know WHY it costs more. & if I am being honest, I've been to the Restaurant Depot & to the supermarket recently, and our prices are more times than not, right in line. We actually had a restaurant owner tell us that we needed to raise our prices on certain cuts because they are so much higher at the grocery store at this moment in time. BUT that's beside the point...
- INPUT COSTS. We aren't producing on the same scale as large commercial farms & therefore, our input costs are a whole lot higher than the yellow styrofoam container of chicken that you are buying at the chain grocery store. We aren't bulk buying feed for 30,000 chickens at a time that are cooped up in a chicken house with 'access' to the outdoors so that they can call them pasture raised. Instead, we are truly raising our animals on pasture, as you won't find a single concrete slab with livestock on it at our farm. With raising animals outdoors from start to finish, this requires land...and a lot of it if you want for it's nutrient quality to last. Have you seen property taxes in New Jersey lately?
- PROCESSING. It feels like each week, I am receiving an email update from our butchers letting us know that processing costs are rising. Disposal fees are increasing. Packaging costs are going up ten cents per package. We see it in every single piece of meat that we bring home from the processor & more times than not, we as the farmers are the ones that are absorbing that cost. We use a USDA inspected facility that processes approximately 50 head of cattle per day, a chicken processor that can handle around 5,000 in a single day. Did you know that these big meatpackers can can process 20,000 head of cattle in a day and up to 100,000 birds. That is a huge difference, y'all, & one that we are 100% paying as producers selling direct to consumer.
- FOOD SAFETY. Speaking of massive meatpackers...I am not saying that the food that you are consuming at the grocery store isn't safe, however, I am saying that you're a whole lot more likely to see a 'meat recall' at a grocery store than you are when you buy direct from the farmer down the road. Packaged meats that you purchase at a grocery store can be from multiple different animals. Ground meats could be from hundreds. This makes tracing extremely difficult when there is an outbreak or food safety concern. A problem that you will not see when you know the person that raised your meat & that they are taking their livestock to trusted small family owned facilities to be processed, or even doing it themselves.
- TRANSPORTATION. There are very few USDA certified and inspected facilities in the country that are not meatpacking houses. This means, that appointments are hard to come by & you are traveling, no matter what. Our closest processor is 74 miles (one way) away and our furthest, is 143 miles, one way. On top of fuel costs, wear and tear on our vehicles & trailers, and tolls, we also have to take into consideration our time. It should also be noted that you are not picking up your meats the same day that they are processed, meaning that you better multiply those travel costs by 2.
- QUALITY. There is a difference that you can taste, no doubt about it, when you buy from local farmers. The list of reasons why it tastes so much better goes on and on. Housing conditions, feed quality, access to natural vegetation, sunlight, open air, low stress environment, exercise...need I continue?
We understand as farmers that buying direct is a privilege that not every one has. Whether it's accessibility, inconvenience, or affordability - we see you and we hear you. Trust us when we say that we are doing our best to close those gaps for you.
If you don't have the resources to buy direct, all that I can do is encourage you to read the labels at the grocery store. Know that what you are buying was raised, processed & inspected in the United States. Read the ingredient labels. There is absolutely no good reason that vinegar, sodium, seaweed extract or carbon monoxide are being added to meat.
Water, which doesn't have the be listed, is also added to poultry for 'plumping.' This is why the chicken breasts at the grocery store are so dang big & thready. USDA definitions for what can go on a label are vague, gray at best, and extremely misleading for the consumer. Honestly, I could go on and on.
Resources are at our finger tips when it comes to information these days. It's easy to follow along with small farms on social media to learn more & witness how they are raising their animals. Have questions? Ask a farmer.