Locavores hunt for meat

Locavores seeking to reduce their carbon footprint can find an abundance of produce straight from their backyard in the Rogue Valley. But if their diet includes any meat, the definition of local has to stretch a bit.

Because there are no USDA-certified processing facilities closer than Roseburg, standard cuts of local meat are scarce in the Valley. The few who still choose to trek up to Roseburg say they do so at an extremely high expense.

Joe and Suzi Ginet of Plaisance Ranch in Williams spend more than $1,400 every month to have two cows processed, not counting the fuel costs of the 175-mile round trip to Roseburg. They also pay $1,000 in inspection fees each year to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture stamp of approval on their organic, grass-fed beef.

In order to sell individual cuts of meat legally, that USDA approval is required. Without it, farmers can sell only half- or whole cows or give away smaller packages.

"We didn't realize how expensive it was going to be," Suzi Ginet said. "If we would have known, we probably would have just stayed with halves or wholes, to be honest."

At the Ashland Food Cooperative, Produce Manager Barry Haynes considers produce local only if the farmers are close enough to deliver right to the store. In the summer, about half of the co-op's produce is local, and as much as 95 percent of the local produce comes from the Rogue Valley, he said.

Over in the meat department, that definition of local doesn't work for a region as isolated as Southern Oregon, said Terry Boaz, meat and seafood manager at the co-op.

"Really, 90 miles or 100 miles is pretty darn close, especially for natural, pasture-raised pasture-finished beef and lamb that we get," he said.

About 20 percent of the co-op's entire meat department is from local sources using that 100-mile radius, he said, and it includes only beef and lamb.

Owners of The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point have been working on USDA certification for the last eight years, upgrading and remodeling all their equipment to meet federal requirements, said Cameron Callahan, co-owner of the store.

They recently earned certification for their meat processing plant and are now working on a USDA-certified mobile processing truck that could inspect meat on farms and make local meat more available in the Rogue Valley. With their current certification, they can cut meat for resale, but they must still take it to Roseburg for slaughter. If they slaughter the cow themselves, the meat cannot be resold, which limits most farmers' options to selling live animals or eating all the meat they raise themselves.

Callahan estimated the entire project, including a store and certified mobile butcher, will cost about $400,000. He is working with Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center for grants to cover some of the costs of a certified mobile butcher, and he anticipates it will take at least another year and a half.

"Our ultimate goal is that local farmers, through what we're doing, can have their animals processed and sell them to restaurants and grocery stores and consumers," he said. "If they're doing it locally, they cut out the middle man."

The most likely grant would pay for a feasibility study of a mobile butchering truck and development of a business plan, said Maud Powell, a small farms agent with the extension center.

"There's more and more of a demand for local meat, but the question is, can you justify the expense? Is there enough local meat that it will get used enough to pay for itself?" she said.

The answer to that question is "no" for Jamie Cartwright, owner of Cartwright's Valley Meat Company in Grants Pass.

"People are producing animals, but they don't produce enough to supply a retail market," he said. "Those people are raising enough animals to sell a few to their friends."

About ten years ago, Cartwright's slaughtered cows and distributed beef to restaurants, but over time, the retail portion of the business outpaced the other operations. When they stopped restaurant distribution, federal inspections were no longer necessary and were dropped.

Now Callahan is hoping to pick up where Cartwright left off and go even farther to bring local meat to local tables.

"It's a spendy process, but it would be well worth it to everybody around, and I think people will really support it," Callahan said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.

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