Grocery store meat recalls grab front-page headlines. A virulent strain of E. coli sickens thousands of Americans annually, with ground beef being the biggest culprit.
Movies like Food, Inc. and The Real Dirt on Farmer John expose more and more Americans to the unsustainability of Big Ag, inhumane treatment of animals, and the health risks to farmworkers and consumers of chemicals used to raise our food.
Meanwhile Portland residents—and city dwellers across the country—are putting in gardens, learning how to can and preserve food, raising chickens, and discovering the cost-savings and domestic pleasures of a DIY lifestyle. They’re buying locally raised whole animals with friends and neighbors to feed their families. And they’re signing up for classes taught by local chefs and cooking instructors to learn how to buy from local farms, how to talk with a butcher to get the cuts you want, and how to to cut up a pig in the traditional French manner.
Kookoolan Farms at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.
Locally raised is the key phrase here. It’s the industrialization of meat production—how a steak or hamburger patty lands in a plastic tray at the supermarket from who knows where—combined with increasing media focus on meat production and meat recalls that’s played a key role in some people’s decision not to eat meat.
In a city with huge support for farmers markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, and restaurants that work closely with local farms, it’s no surprise to find a growing demand for meat that’s raised locally in a manner that’s kind to animals and the environment. An exemption to USDA meat processing laws allows customers to purchase live animals from farms for personal consumption and arrange for the animals to be slaughtered, cut and wrapped, as long as there is compliance with reasonable health codes. Without this exemption, farms would have to truck their large animals away for killing and processing.
Meat Selling Well at Portland Farmers Markets
“More and more people are wanting to know where their meat is coming from and how it’s raised,” says Ann Forsthoefel, executive director of Portland Farmers Market, which will have six locations in 2010. “Last year at the new King Market we weren’t sure how meat and eggs would do, but all of those vendors are returning this year.”
PFM meat vendors—16 this season—include farmers who offer quarters, and half and whole animals by pre-order as well as local butchers such as Tails & Trotters, Chop and Olympic Provisions. All vendors must meet market guidelines, one of which specifies that items sold are 100 percent grown and harvested on farmland in Oregon and Southwest Washington that they own and/or operate.
Here are the stories of three local women, two of them former vegetarians, who are playing a role in the let’s-eat-meat-again movement.
Whole cured and smoked pork belly. Photo courtesy of Lost Arts Kitchen.
Chris Musser, 42
Occupation: Owner/Founder of Lost Arts Kitchen
Home life: Lives on a half-acre lot in East Portland with husband, home-schooled children of 4 and 7, plus 12 chickens, two breeding rabbits, two cats. Teaches small classes, mostly at her home, on baking bread, meal planning for eating local, food preservation, cooking for the freezer, learning how to source and cook local meat, etc.
Early farm influences: “I grew up in Maryland and would spend time in the summer at my uncle’s farm where we would always butcher a pig. We also did a lot of preserving and we always had meat in the freezer from a steer my parents would buy.
Before Lost Arts Kitchen: Worked as a technical writer before she had children. Taught food classes informally for friends and started a food buying club (Eastside Buying Club) with them before starting Lost Arts Kitchen in 2009.
Cured pork bellies and turkey breast smoked over apple wood.
Photo courtesy of Lost Arts Kitchen.
A passion for local food: “With the specters of economic recession, climate change, and peak oil looming, I am more concerned than ever about saving money by preparing food at home, supporting my local food system, and living lightly on the Earth. I started Lost Arts Kitchen to help people in my community who want to do the same.”
Why meat?: “I was a vegetarian for a long time, for health reasons, primarily because I was reading about industrial farming in college. I began eating meat again some years later, avoiding ground beef because of concern about mad cow disease, but then I had an experience I later read about in Michael Pollen’s book,The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I was driving north on I-5 from LA and smelled the stench of manure without seeing the animals at a huge CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) along the highway.” That was the turning point, Musser says, when she began to research local farms that sold pasture-raised animals slaughtered at the farm rather than trucked away, and also decided to raise some chickens.
Saving money on meat purchases: In her Grassfed Goodness class Musser discusses the benefits to animal, human and environmental health of pasture-raised meat as well as the cost savings of buying direct from local farms. She says her family is on the low end of meat buying, purchasing a quarter of beef and pork each in the fall at a cost of between $5.50 and $6 per pound.
Kookoolan Farms chickens for sale at Hillsdale Farmers Market.
Chrissie Zaerpoor, 45
Occupation: Farmer/Co-Owner of Kookoolan Farms
Life on the farm: Since 2005, has lived with her husband, Koorosh, on a five-acre farm in Yamhill where they raise hens for eggs, raise and process (in an onsite licensed facility) heritage breed and Cornish cross meat chickens, grow organic veggies for their CSA, maintain a small orchard, run a retail farm store, offer cheesemaking classes, and partner with other small, nearby farms to raise a small number of pigs, beef cows, lambs, rabbits and Bourbon Red heritage turkeys. They also sell eggs and chickens the last Sunday of the month at Hillsdale Farmers Market and bring to market custom shares of meat for people who want to pick their orders in town.
Life before the farm: “We each had a dream about farming, but they were very different,” says Chrissie. “ I grew up in the heart of Midwest corn and soybean country…. I was a serious foodie when I was at Intel in Hillsboro [working 12 years in engineering and management roles] in Hillsboro. I cooked and gardened a lot, but I also had health issues, so I read about the health benefits of grass-fed meats. But I’d always wanted to have a little farm. Koorosh is from a city of one million in Iran and he had always wanted to be a farmer,“ she says. His path in life led elsewhere for many years: immigration to the U.S., work as a cabinet maker and landscaper, academic studies, then equipment engineering at Intel—where they met and where he still works.
Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms.
Small-scale, grass-based animal husbandry, 2010 style: This year they’ll raise and process 4,500 chickens and partner with other small family farms—“an informal cooperative”—in raising 15 beef cows, 35 lambs, 18 pigs and 200 turkeys. Detailed descriptions of how the chickens are raised, fed and killed are on the farm’s web site, assuring customers of “the most gentle, most humane practices we can find.” The larger animals are raised with similar commitment to humane practices and care for the land.
The scoop on processing regulations: Different regulations apply to processing chicken and large animals. Kookoolan uses a licensed mobile slaughtering service to kill large animals on-site rather than trucking them away, which is more stressful for the animal. The animals then go to a local processor they know and trust, and customers can pick up their meat, as small as one-eighth of beef, at the processor, the Hillsdale Farmers Market or through a food buying club. These “custom shares” of meat are purchased while an animal is still alive.
Come to a class, bring your own chicken: Chrissie and Koorosh teach an occasional class on butchering a live chicken humanely and cleaning it in your house or yard. Killing a chicken is optional for each participant, as is BYOC (Bring Your Own Chicken, with a limit of up to three live chickens).
Portland Meat Collective founder Camas Davis butchers a pig in France.
Photo: Eugenie Frerichs.
Camas Davis, 33
Occupation: Food Writer/Cook/Founder of Portland Meat Collective
The journey to meat: Davis grew up in a farming community outside Eugene, surrounded by food production. Her father used to hunt and fish; deer, elk and pheasant were on the family dinner table. “I also went through an adolescent vegetarian phase,” she says. After college, she worked as a writer and editor in New York at National Geographic Adventure and at Saveur, the food magazine, where she said she “began to think about the dying art of the butcher shop” and also started thinking, “I should know where my meat comes from and how it got to the table.”
Portland to France and back: Davis returned to Oregon in 2006, becoming food editor and then managing editor at Portland Monthly. Laid off in January 2009, she saw “an opportunity to go to France to learn about butchering whole animals.” She apprenticed with a family of farmers and butchers last summer.
The Portland Meat Collective is born: Davis founded PMC in late 2009 with two ideas in mind: teach people about the processes involved in getting meat to the table—farming, slaughtering, butchering, curing, using all parts of an animal—and connect farmers and consumers, as meat CSAs do, to facilitate the selling of live animals for personal consumption. “People will be able to go to our web site [now under construction], read about the farms and contact them. We’ll be able to help both farmers and consumers with decisions they need to make,” she says.
Photo: Eugenie Frerichs
A traveling butchery school: PMC classes are taught by Davis and other local food professionals at various Portland locations, including Zenger Farm, the Art Institute of Portland’s International Culinary School and Park Kitchen restaurant. The Basic Pig Butchery class teaches students how to split two sides of pork into primals and how to cut those into cookable cuts. In the Real Coq au Vin class, students learn how to kill and butcher a rooster and prepare the classic chicken dish before they sit down to a full meal. Look for future classes on beef and lamb butchery, meat curing and more.
Student demographics: “Our students are diverse,” says Davis. “We’ve had lawyers, cooks, a 16-year-old, stay-at-home moms, people on food stamps. They’re not all necessarily interested in cooking. Some want to save money, others want to be a part of the process of getting meat to the table.”
Future goals: “I’d like to start a fleet of mobile slaughtering units, provide private butchering consultations and classes, and teach the PMC model to people in other cities and regions of the country.”