Meeting demands for meat
While the claim of food shortage has been warned, those in the agriculture sector know this is far from the truth. Food, protein especially, is in no short supply; instead, employees of processing facilities are in short supply due to risk of contracting COVID-19. Many consumers and producers have united and communicated to get around this typically essential piece of the production chain, ensuring that animals don’t go to waste.
Social media meat market
Shonda Boyd, a Wheatland, Wyoming, resident of the past nine years, started a Facebook group on April 17 to open lines of communication between consumers and producers.
Boyd’s group was centralized to just Wheatland at its beginning just a week ago. On the third day of its existence, Boyd noticed that the group was growing at an alarming rate, so she expanded it to Wyoming Meat and Produce Market. On Tuesday, she changed it to its current name of 5 State Meat and Produce Market.
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Nearly 3,500 are members of the group as of Thursday, and it gets more than 50 posts per day, most of which are advertising protein sources.
“When I started this page, I thought it was really far-fetched, but I thought if we can get this thing going, then we can set the standard for the market, and we can balance that demand and supply algorithm in the United States and still have it work for everyone,” Boyd said.
A website is in the works to strengthen connections and broaden the reach of consumers to producers, continuing what her group has started. The website will be available to use nation-wide, eliminating the need for animals to be shipped across borders.
“It connects your state with your region,” she said. Meat that is not USDA inspected can not be sold across state lines.
Boyd said she thinks this break in the production chain is perfect timing in allowing consumers to take charge of their food sources and producers to supply them with their best product.
“The thing that I’m excited about is it doesn’t matter if you’re republican or democratic, everyone is uniting to make this happen,” she said. “I believe that we can make this the way it is for years and years to come.”
South Dakota Local Meat Producers, already with over 6,000 members, has been connecting hungry consumers with meat producers, especially the pork producers with nowhere for stock to go due to the closing of large processing facilities. Sherri Vig, of Vale, South Dakota, created the Facebook group a few weeks ago.
The idea stemmed from a friend’s need for half a beef and half a pig. The local producers Vig asked were out, so she posted to two other ranching-based Facebook groups.
“The feedback was just crazy, not only from producers, but other people that were looking,” she said. “It got me thinking there was a bit of a breakdown between producers and consumers, and I was hoping to bridge that gap a little.”
“There has always been a call for locally-raised meat, but I think people are realizing how dangerous it is to have huge packers who supply the food for everyone in America,” Vig said. “They’re wanting to find local producers who they can trust and rely on.”
Vig grew up with varying meat animals on their 40-acre farm, and now she and her husband, along with their young daughter are building a small herd of cattle along with one dairy cow.
Rancher Henry Poling, of Wheatland, Wyoming, primarily operates a cow-calf operation called Crown P Cattle, but a year ago, Poling started finishing out about 20 hogs annually, and grows some produce. His side business has boomed since the threat of a protein shortage has loomed, and he has done his best to provide.
With Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act, he has been able to transition from only selling pigs as a half or whole prior to processing to now being able to supply individual cuts.
“We send them to a little processor here in Wheatland that does an excellent job,” he said. His Berkshire hogs have already garnered repeat customers in his first year of business due to the variance of supermarket pork.
He sources his pigs from a local who supplies Berkshires to 4-H and FFA youth. Whatever is left after the youth have taken their picks is purchased by Poling, fed out, and processed locally. Poling is overwhelmed by the response he has had in his little bit of advertising for locally-raised pork but he understands the need.
“People truly want two things, I think, out of this: the assurance that they’re dealing with safe food, and the assurance that they’re going to have a supply,” Poling said. “For the first time since WWII, we’ve seen a shortage. Most of the people alive today do not remember ever seeing an empty grocery store shelf. They’ve never seen anything limited, like one bag of sugar. It scared them, and it should. Home-processing pork
Stephanie Stevens, a vet at Cheyenne River Animal Hospital in Edgemont, South Dakota, undertook a project on her day off. Due to the amount of available pigs that were finished for large packing plants that are closed due to COVID-19, Stevens, along with her husband Kerry Barker, his dad, Kenneth, Kerry’s brothers Kurt, and Kalvin, and their spouses, and a family friend, butchered six hogs for their families last Sunday. None of the party had ever butchered hogs prior, though they were familiar with butchering cattle and wild game.
“Our good friend did a lot of homework on this and knew a lot about how to skin them and make the cuts.”
Stevens ensured the pigs were humanely killed with a firearm before being suspended to be skinned and gutted from pickups with hydraulic arms intended to lift bales. From there, they were wrapped and placed in a cooler as quickly as possible.
“I just think it’s awesome the way the ag industry, in general, is able to go to plan B or fluctuate as needed. It’s really amazing how resilient the ag industry is in being able to deal with whatever comes their way,” she said.
Meat on the go
Wall Meats is no stranger to providing meat to customers in the Black Hills of South Dakota; however, they have adapted greatly to the needs of their customers during the self-isolation period.
Prior to the pandemic, owners Ken Charfauros and Janet Niehaus purchased a 20-foot reefer truck that they intended to use for large deliveries to nearby restaurants and schools they serve. The truck has instead been parked at Cabela’s in Rapid City on particular days, allowing them to sell meat to customers, while also limiting contact.
“We moved two-thirds of our restaurant employees up to the meat plant and ran a 24-hour shift six days a week to meet the demands of Rapid City’s requests for protein,” Charfauros said. “Inspection days increased. We got an extra day this week, and now we’ll get some more days, in the next couple weeks, approved to inspect in order to provide some beef and pork protein to Rapid City.”
With this change, the meat plant is operating at 168 percent capacity. They are booked through the next six weeks for hog slaughtering, and, like many other small-town butchers, they are booked to 2021 for cattle.
Wall Meats has refrained from upping its customer’s prices or lowering its producer’s prices.
“There are a lot of folks who are going to lose a lot of money in this effort, especially producers, specifically pork and beef, and we just need to maintain at a local level, those same prices, if possible,” Charfauros said. “I’m not saying anybody else has to, but I will, to the best of our ability, maintain prices on both ends.”
Raw isn’t wrong
Melanie Chapman of Chapman Farm in Henry, Nebraska, has started offering raw milk for sale in the past few weeks. While she had planned to sell it prior to the pandemic, the timing is ideal in instances of store shortages.
“In Nebraska, they allow raw milk sales off the farm,” Chapman said. “You don’t need inspections, and you don’t really need testing done on the milk, but I really recommend it.”She sells her milk for $3 per half gallon.
Chapman also sells flour that she mills herself as well as local garden produce.
“When harvest comes, I collect the berries straight from the truck, so it doesn’t sit in bins and get dirty,” she said of her flour process. “I really hope to make our tiny farm here makes it worth it for me to stay home.” F
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