Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Local Food

We continue to be amazed by the demand we see for quality, local food. For those who follow our farm, you know that we are in the middle of expanding our farm. We are trying desperately to shorten the wait times that currently exist. Ideally, we would like to have beef, pork, and chicken in stock so that as orders come in, we can fill them within the week. By purchasing additional land our goal is to increase our livestock to the point that this becomes a reality. We have already ramped up our pig numbers considerably. However, we won’t see the rewards of this effort until a few months down the road when the pigs are ready to harvest. Hopefully we can keep up with the feed bill until then! : )

Our little farm isn’t the only one growing. We are starting to see more small farms pop up in Utah. We applaud and welcome these farms. More and more consumers are starting to recognize the benefits that come from locally produced foods; stronger economy, fresher food, less pollution, etc… We are happy to see more farms stepping up to the plate. One thing that often surprises us is our customers’ reactions to tasting our pork, beef, or chicken. I get the impression that many customers buy from our farm because of our farming principles (humane, sustainable, pasture raised etc…) rather than buying for a gourmet quality product. Perhaps, when we get a shorter wait list, we will start emphasizing more on our quality. While all of our farming principles contribute towards superior, gourmet quality meats, we also have incredible breeds, and amazing bloodlines within those breeds. The feed we offer our animals is both a science and an art. In fact our feed looks so good to us that we have half joked about trying to make multigrain bread out of our pig/chicken feed. I actually think it would turn out pretty good. The quality of our feed is so high that I would not hesitate eating it myself. My point is that when you combine all these elements you end up with a product that is uniquely superior to anything else. I believe that this is a secret that our chef and restaurant customers hope we keep to ourselves.

In acknowledging the increased number of farms we are starting to see, I also wanted to reemphasize the need for consumers to learn about their food and how it was raised. This is one of the wonderful advantages to buying from small, local farms. As we mentioned above, we are excited to see more local farms offering high quality food. However, because we are so familiar with our “industry” which is rather close-knit, it is easier for us to recognize what some farms are or aren’t doing.

For example, we have seen a chicken farm here in Utah advertising with pictures that show chickens on pasture. It turns out that the chickens are actually raised indoors. This same farm also advertises that they are Certified Organic which really caught my attention as to my knowledge; certified organic feed in bulk isn’t available in Utah. In trying to track down this farm’s source of organic feed, it was mentioned that they are actually under scrutiny of the USDA for improper use of the Organic label. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case as stories like these damage the reputation of other farms.

Similarly, we have seen farms selling Berkshire cross pork. This seems to be rather popular. I know that some farmers are artificially inseminating their commercial breed sows with Berkshire lines. However, Berkshires cross better with some breeds than others as far as increasing meat quality goes. Even with the best crossing, the pork is nowhere near the same quality as purebred Berkshire pork. We know because we have done careful side by side comparisons. The price I have seen on most of this pork is higher than our price for 100% Berkshire. Besides, they make no mention of the way the animals were raised, the type of feed being used etc… which again are large contributing factors.

To be clear, it is none of our business to judge how a farmer raises their products. They need to do what is best for their farm and family. We are excited that more farms are open to trying heritage breeds to increase their quality, as well as try raising animals on pastures rather than small pens or barns. We just hope that they represent their product for what it is. We also hope that consumers are demanding transparency and that they try and understand and even see how their food is raised. Consumers shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. If a label states, “Berkshire cross” a couple questions that come to my mind are, “Crossed with what?” What percent Berkshire?” Technically, a pig that is 1/16 Berkshire could be called a Berkshire cross and wouldn’t likely yield any of the favorable qualities the Berkshire offers.

Hopefully, I don’t come across as a spoilt child who’s upset over competition. Again, we think it is fantastic that other farms are increasing their quality. If we did view it from a competitive perspective it would only help demonstrate the value we offer. In fact, we have had a couple calls from other chicken producers asking how we can offer our chickens at the low price that we do. We simply want to see the momentum Utah has going, continue. Utah is surging forward with CSA’s, farm to table restaurants, locally raised food is in higher demand, I think I even read that one of the school districts in Salt Lake County recently switched to buying locally grown produce. We want to see this continue! Farmers who try and capitalize on buzz words and representing their food as something less than what it really is will hurt this momentum. Consumers can act as the police in this regard. Asking questions and seeing how a couple different farms operate can offer a wealth of knowledge.

As a teaser, my secret project that I have mentioned in the past will help our customers gain a better understanding of how we operate. (I am sure some of you can guess what we are working on!)


Nicole said...

I understand why you did not specifically name the Egg Farm that is making false claims, but there are very few organic egg farms in Utah and I'm going to be upset if I'm supporting the wrong one. Especially because I've tried to do my research. Would you mind sharing where a person can find what companies are under scrutiny by the USDA?

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...


The farm I am referring to actually raises chickens for meat not egg production. I recommend simply visiting the farms you support and checking them out. Talk to the farmer and ask questions. I would think most farmers would be happy to share information about the way your food is raised. If you are still concerned, you can always contact the USDA office in your area and talk to an inspector. Most inspectors I have talked to or worked with are happy to provide guidance and insight.