• Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Vermont is facing many challenges when it comes to local meat production: Grazing land is expensive, there aren’t enough facilities in which to process animals, and many residents refrain from buying local meat because they don’t know how to cook the unusual cuts sold by small farms. What exactly do you do with a pork loin or lamb shoulder?

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  • A Breed Apart

    A Breed Apart

    On a 40-acre hillside in Corinth, Ben Machin raises a flock of 60 Tunis sheep. They’re a “heritage breed”—a domesticated breed of animal that has a long genetic history but is now endangered. As industrial agriculture continues to rely on just a few breeds designed for maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, more sustainable farmers are raising heritage breeds as an alternative—and to save them. Ben, a 35-year-old farmer who also works as a forester with Redstart Forestry and Consulting, is managing the flock that his great-grandfather started in the 1920s. Local Banquet editor Caroline Abels recently spoke with Ben about his unique sheep and why heritage breeds matter.

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  • A Boost to the Butchers

    A Boost to the Butchers

    In March 2009, in an attempt to help strengthen Vermont’s meat-processing infrastructure, the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program awarded $40,000 in grants to four facilities. For recipient Tony Brault, it was perfect timing; he had been planning to add on a spiffy retail area to his slaughterhouse. But for grantee Gary Barnes, who runs a meat market, the amount he was awarded would barely begin to cover the cost of adding on a separate processing area for wild game, so as of this writing, he had not collected the grant funds. Nevertheless, the grants helped both of these meat facilities in northern Vermont, with and without funding, and here’s how.

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  • We Have Sausage

    We Have Sausage

    Late in life my father was able to get the spicy breakfast sausage he loved as a kid sent north to him from the general store in the small southern town where he grew up. It was better than caviar, he once noted. Packed in dry ice, it was shipped only in the winter, when the weather was safe for fresh meat to travel. And when my infrequent visits home coincided with those deliveries, he would call out in greeting the welcome words, “We have sausage!”

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Close to Home

    Close to Home

    We’ve always believed that if you eat meat you should be able to kill it. We had our chance to put our beliefs into action this year.

    On two very different days, one in early July, the second in late October, we gathered with four friends to kill the 30 chickens and 10 turkeys we had co-raised. Although this past July wasn’t the hottest on record, the day we gathered was warm and the rain held off. On a cold and raw late October morning we met up again to process turkeys and a few older laying hens.

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  • Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    It’s bad luck to be born a boy—on a dairy farm, that is. A farmer’s face will often fall at the sight of a newborn male calf, who obviously will never grow up to produce milk. “Girl?” someone might ask on hearing of a birth on the farm. “Nope—a bull,” the farmer might say. “I’ll call the truck.”

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  • Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    It all starts with a single surprising statistic: 40,000 mature dairy cows leave the state each year. They are so-called “market cows”—dairy cattle who have stopped producing milk at an economically viable rate. They are culled from their herds and trucked primarily to Pennsylvania, where they and other cows from the Northeast are slaughtered and processed. Their meat then enters the industrial food distribution system.

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  • Windowsill Greens

    Windowsill Greens

    In the dead of winter—when fresh salad greens are scarce, expensive, and probably not local—I grow shoots (the stem and first leaves of a plant grown in soil) and have fresh, colorful, crispy, and delicious greens that are ready to use every day. Pea shoots, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, radish greens, and broccoli greens are my favorites—they offer a fantastic mix of flavors and make a great-looking tossed salad. Shoots are also inexpensive and easy to grow, benefit your compost pile, and provide colorful trays of growing plants that can make the dark days of winter a little brighter. Good-bye cabin fever!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    North Branch Farm, in the mountains of Ripton, is an unlikely place for ducks, but we’ve been raising them on a very small scale each summer for the last four years. Pekins are our favorite meat ducks to raise—they’re fast growing and white and beautiful. And they have lots of fat.

    “Lots of fat?” you might ask. “Why would we want that?” Or maybe you already know. Local duck fat is a localvore’s dream. Any food lover’s dream, actually. It is delicious to cook with as a replacement for oil or butter, and it keeps beautifully in a glass jar in the fridge.

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  • Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    I stopped eating meat at the impassioned age of 14, when a biology teacher showed a film called Diet for a New America, which graphically described the many and various evils of the modern meat industry. I dumped that day’s turkey sandwich in the garbage and didn’t touch meat again for nine years. My reasoning was three-fold: I believed that vegetarianism was better for my body, better for the planet, and decreased the total suffering of the world. I knew that certain responsible farming practices could, in theory, mitigate or overcome most of my objections to meat, but I’d never seen them in practice and didn’t know how to judge them or trust their claims.

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  • How to cut a chicken

    How to cut a chicken

    The kitchen skills of our grandparents have largely gone unused since the appearance of ready-made foods in American grocery stores. Yet if we want to eat local food, we must often cook from scratch. Here is a guide to cutting a whole, uncooked chicken—a necessary skill if we want to eat the fresh local birds that Vermonters are beginning to raise again in large numbers. Once you’ve broken down a chicken, you’re good to go with all sorts of recipes!

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Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

boys eating burittos

Written By

Elizabeth Ferry

Written on

December 01 , 2009

It all starts with a single surprising statistic: 40,000 mature dairy cows leave the state each year. They are so-called “market cows”—dairy cattle who have stopped producing milk at an economically viable rate. They are culled from their herds and trucked primarily to Pennsylvania, where they and other cows from the Northeast are slaughtered and processed. Their meat then enters the industrial food distribution system.

Forty thousand is a big number. It might make you wonder, “Who is thinking about this in terms of local food production?”

Actually, many people are. Dairy farmers, beef processors and distributors, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, nonprofit organizations, public school lunch programs, the Vermont legislature, and students attending at least two Vermont colleges are among the diverse groups looking at that number—40,000—and considering alternatives.

What if we could devise a way to keep some of those animals in-state? The potential benefits are numerous and are being voiced by a diverse number of (pun intended) “steakholders.”

For the cows, getting processed in Vermont would mean a shorter, presumably less stressful ride, which would contribute to a higher-quality final product. And Vermont farmers might receive a higher price for these cows if less were spent on their transportation. Driving a trailer load of 1,000-lb. animals doesn’t come cheap, and creates an unnecessarily largecarbon footprint.

For the Vermont economy, there would be new jobs and a potential expansion of livestock infrastructure. That could strengthen Vermont’s overall ability to produce more of its own food. And protein is an expensive and highly sought-after nutrient. Why send it out of state when there are so many potential benefits to raising, slaughtering, processing, distributing, and eating it right here? What are we waiting for?

Ed Jackson, agriculture development coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, puts the idea in perspective. “It has some significant challenges but also huge potential for Vermont agriculture and its citizenship.”

This past fall, representatives from Vermont FEED, the Vermont Foodbank’s Gleaning Program, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture met to start a discussion of this topic. The purpose was to share perspectives and to see where areas for potential collaboration exist. Here is a look at how these groups are contemplating the benefits—and pondering the practicality—of turning local dairy cows into local beef.

Vermont FEED: School Food that is Safe, Affordable, Healthy, Nutritious
FEED, an acronym for Food Education Every Day, is a collaborative project of three non-profit organizations: Food Works at Two Rivers Center, theNortheast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, and Shelburne Farms. Staff from these organizations work with school communities to increase awareness about healthy food, good nutrition, and the availability of Vermont-grown food for local schools.

Since its founding in 1999, FEED has facilitated connections between school lunch programs and farmers, producers, and distributors statewide. That includes getting local beef into about 50 schools. “It used to be just produce,” says Abbie Nelson, director of FEED. “Now, increasingly, it is meat and dairy, too.”

In addition to participating in the emerging statewide conversation about market cows and local beef, FEED is poised to get ideas from its network of supporters throughout Vermont. Julie Wolcott of Green Winds Farms, a dairy farm in Fairfield, is involved in her local school food program through FEED. She has noticed that most of the beef served in the Fairfield schools is from market cows—though not local ones. The Fairfield school system, like many in Vermont, gets beef through the USDA commodity program.

Wolcott’s interest in the current conversation is to explore the “ultra-local” solution. This would replace commodity market-cow beef with beef from market cows. Wolcott raises the question: What if regulations could be amended to allow this cow from this farm to be processed and delivered to this local school?

Wolcott, says that market cow meat is “satisfactory” in hamburger patties or an ingredient in tacos—common dishes in school lunch programs. “It’s not suitable for the finer cuts of beef,” she notes, “but for burgers, it’s fine.” Her family regularly eats beef from their own herd.

Action at the Agency of Agriculture and the Vermont Legislature

State government, too, sees a potential synergy between schools and locally raised beef. The Agency of Agriculture and Vermont legislators have been exploring the topic in different, though complementary, ways.
One of the Agency’s activities in 2008 was to survey school food service directors throughout the state. The goal was to gain insight into how to make it easier for schools to acquire and use local beef. The Agency also initiated a one-month pilot program in which local beef was served in 10 schools around the state.

Ed Jackson and Koi Boynton of the Agency of Agriculture worked with Benjamin King, a student in the Community Development and Applied Economics program at the University of Vermont, to analyze the survey’s findings. Of the 44 schools that responded, about one-quarter were currently buying local beef. Referring to the 10-school pilot program, King wrote that “satisfaction with the beef itself received mostly excellent ratings” and that “no food safety concerns were reported.” He noted that widespread use of locally produced ground beef in Vermont schools “is a potential boon for the state’s agricultural economy.”

Jackson and others at the Agency are studying numbers to make this possible. The facilities in Pennsylvania that currently receive Vermont’s market cows are able to process 2,000 to 3,000 cattle per day, and they only handle cattle. Vermont’s slaughterhouses typically process fewer than 50 cattle per week, along with other kinds of animals. According to one study, processing 13 cows per week in-state would meet the needs of the schools with which Vermont FEED currently works. Finding or creating the infrastructure to slaughter 600 to 700 cows per year may therefore be a feasible direction in which to head.

Expanding processing capacity is only one piece of the puzzle, though. “Market cows also tend to be variable in quality grade,” Jackson notes. Accommodating that range of variety requires a more complex business plan.
During the 2009 legislature, State Rep. Will Stevens, an Addison County farmer, and other members of the Vermont House of Representatives introduced H.192, a bill to promote Vermont’s local food system. It includes a directive to “test the feasibility of centralized statewide purchasing of milk and meat for school meals and to offer technical assistance to schools regarding the use of local foods.”

H.192 was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Douglas in May. The bill requires a working group to report back to the 2010 legislature early in its session.

Jackson sees many changes that would have to take place before the infrastructure necessary for greater local beef production is created.
“First and foremost, there would need to be significant demonstration of consumer demand—the household shopper, institutional buyers, as well as commercial accounts,” he says. “And there would need to be public and government buy-in to such a project—meaning that we would need a host community that would welcome this industry.” He adds, “It’s not easy to find an entrepreneur with the necessary capital and the intestinal fortitude for such a challenging, competitive project.”

The Vermont Foodbank: Rescue and Gleaning

Since 2004, the Foodbank has had a very active “meat rescue” program that gathers unsold meat of all kinds from Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets. The meat—which is perfectly good, just approaching its due date—is sorted to determine its appropriate use; unusable portions are eliminated from the production cycle. The remaining meat may be frozen or used as an ingredient in prepared meals created in the Foodbank’s commercial kitchen. It is then distributed through a network of 280 sites including senior centers, after-school programs, shelters, and food pantries offering emergency food assistance.

The Foodbank has been creative in its rescue efforts. Beyond the beef, chicken, pork (and occasional ostrich meat) that comes from supermarkets, it periodically receives brood trout and salmon from the state’s five fish hatcheries. “I don’t think anything would surprise us,” says John Sayles, CEO of the Foodbank. He adds that “Protein is vital to rounding out our distributions. We are always looking for new opportunities.”

Theresa Snow, the Foodbank’s program director of Agricultural Resources, sees market cows as a new opportunity—much as she once viewed uncollected fresh produce. In 2004, Snow and her colleague Jen O’Donnell co-founded a gleaning operation called Salvation Farms, so named “for the salvation that farms offer to their communities.” Snow and O’Donnell and countless volunteers were highly successful in gathering vegetables that were no longer economically viable for farmers to harvest—so successful that the project is now the Vermont Foodbank’s Gleaning Program.

Snow is a passionate and experienced advocate for locating food resources that are “right in front of us. It’s a matter of perspective and opening our eyes,” says the Morrisville native. And local market cows fit that description. Snow contends that they are going out of state in part because that is the route by which farmers are paid. “It’s my gut instinct that farmers would love to keep [market cows] in-state to feed Vermonters,” she asserts.

Snow is therefore looking for ways to create economic alternatives for farmers who have market cows to sell—alternatives that could, in part, benefit Vermonters accessing the charitable food system that serves the state. “What do the farmers need?” she asks. “How can we make available quality food that is the most economically and environmentally sound?” Sterling College senior Katie Rumley is researching these questions and developing possible scenarios for the Foodbank’s consideration.

The Emerging Group Conversation

If ever there is a “slow” time in farming, time for reflecting and planning, it is winter. That time is upon us. How might the conversation about keeping market cows in-state develop in the coming months?

There certainly are further angles to explore in this complex picture. The conversation is in its preliminary stages. Other players may come on board. Significant forward movement may be months or years away. We do know that it is possible to market dairy cows in-state. Although they are currently booked to capacity, local slaughterhouses are processing some of these animals for local farmers, and the beef is being sold through food co-ops and to some local schools.

At this point, we can take stock in the fact that people from many walks of life are putting their minds to the task of retaining, rather than shipping, Vermont’s market cows. Their collective progress may become one more link in the local food chain—one more way to beef up the availability of accessible, nutritious, and locally produced food.

Photo courtesy of Vermont FEED

About the Author

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry is a writer and photographer in South Royalton who values local and sustainable agriculture. Her photographs and articles can be viewed on her website. The Food Works root cellar is named in honor of her parents, Ronald and the late Sylvia Ferry, for their support of the organization over many years.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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Home Stories Issues 2010 Winter 2010 | Issue 11 Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef