We've become foodies. We make pasta from scratch. My husband has been making wine. We love growing our own food so that we can try out new and exciting varieties not found in the grocery store. And we love a good steak. As long as it's local!
We've changed our eating habits over the years. Reading books like “The Omnivore's Dilemma” and “Animal Vegetable Miracle” and watching documentaries like “Food, Inc” and “Frankensteer” have motivated us on our journey and made us keenly aware of our food and where it comes from. We aren't like typical Americans in our meat consumption. Once we made the pledge to only buy local meat, meat soon became a complement to our meals instead of the star. And we are fortunate to have a plethora of local farmers' markets to buy our meat from – West Virginia recently ranked 14th in the local foods movement!
A lot of local farmers utilize email, Facebook and other social media to reach customers. Earlier this spring, we got an email from one of our farmer friends for a program they were calling “Beef Partners.” They had one beef to take to be processed, but unfortunately the costs for processing just one cow can be huge. In an effort to help offset the costs, they offered two spots for customers to receive a variety pack of meat. They raise cattle, pork, and chickens on their farm, so the 40-pound packages contained a nice mix. We do like beef and a number of people offer bulk beef at a discount, but we were attracted to the variety. And we signed up.
I went for a visit before picking up our meat to see the farm. That's one of the things I love about getting to know our local farmers. We can visit their farms to see exactly where and how our food is raised. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was their flock of free-ranging Red Ranger meat birds. They explained it was their brood stock. They have one rooster and 17 hens and hatch all of their own eggs. Once the eggs are hatched and the chicks get to be about 4 weeks old, they are put out to pasture following the cows around. Since the Red Rangers don't grow as fast as the Cornish cross birds do, they are processed at 12 weeks of age. Because of the volume they process (approximately 60 every two weeks), they have their own inspected butchering area. I got a tour of the area and found it actually quite interesting. And I absolutely love the fact that they have a self-sustaining flock. Their incubator is constantly running.
They also raise their own turkeys and have a brooder house with the hens and tom. As we walked around the farm, chickens and turkeys were ranging all around. They plan to raise a number of heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving and are starting to dabble with guineas as well. I have bought turkey eggs from them at the market and they are super to bake with!
And we loved the variety of meat we received. We got whole chickens, steak, pork chops, pork sausage, hamburger, hoagie meat (thinly sliced steaks – great for fajitas!), and even some bones for beef stock. It's been almost 10 weeks since we got the meat and we still have well over a third left. While the Red Rangers don't get the large breasts like the Cornish, the flavor is much deeper.
If you don't raise your own meat, be sure to check with local farmers first! And be sure to check out our blog to see our homesteading adventures as well as our love for local food.