The Challenge of Buying Local Beef: No Viable Business Model

Since I started this blog in April, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to buying beef from a local farm. Clearly, it’s something I want to do. Supporting Vermont farms is critical to the state’s economy and to its future.

Unfortunately, I’m realizing that buying local beef isn’t easy, at least not down here in the southwestern part of Vermont. Consider my beef buying options:

Option 1: Drive approximately 30 miles to the Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont.

The Pros:

I can purchase individual cuts of meat on an as needed basis.

The Cons:

a. I have to drive close to 60 miles round trip to get this meat.

b. The meat is frozen.

Wildcards:

a. I have no idea if this meat is expensive.

b. I don’t know what the cows eat. I do know that the meat is not certified organic, but the fact that it’s not doesn’t matter so much to me.

Option 2: With a group of friends, purchase a cow from a farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont.

The Pros:

a. Shaftsbury is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my home in Arlington.

b. The net price of the beef is cheap. Friends tell me that the meat winds up costing around $4 per pound.

c. The cows are grass-, not corn, fed. Thus, I don’t have to feel guilty about supporting the corn-industrial-complex.

d. I’ll get a ton of meat. (This is also a con. See below.)

e. I’ll get to the know the farmers who raise the cows.

The Cons:

a. I’m responsible for getting the meat butchered, and finding a reliable butcher nearby is not always easy.

b. Since I’ll be getting so much meat, I’ll have to freeze most of it.

c. I won’t have room for anything except this meat in my freezer. Thus, I may have to buy a small, standalone freezer to store this meat, and I have no idea what that will cost.

Wildcard:

Coordinating with a group of people could be a pain.

I’m finding that the problem with buying local beef is the lack of a viable business model that serves both the farmers who raise the beef and end consumers.

The direct-to-consumer model that I describe above in option 2 puts too much onus on the consumer for that model to be viable. The practice of buying local beef will never penetrate the mainstream if consumers have to find a butcher for the meat, figure out a way to transport a side of a cow from the farmer to the butcher, and then have to buy an extra freezer to store all the meat. I realize buying local forces liberal do-gooders like myself to act in alignment with our ideologies, but I’m sorry: Asking average consumers to jump through all of those hoops is absurd. And for the Buy Local movement to become something more than a bumper sticker slogan and passing food fad, it’s got to penetrate mainstream consumers. We’ve got to find a viable and realistic way to get fresh, local meat on Vermonter’s kitchen tables.

In upcoming posts, I will talk with friends about their experience purchasing a cow from a local farm. I’ll also explore different options for getting local meat to consumers. In the meantime, I’m interested in hearing about your experiences buying local meat, whether you live in Vermont or Virginia, and what you see as the barriers preventing the Buy Local movement from really going mainstream.

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2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Buying Local Beef: No Viable Business Model

  1. Hi Meridith,

    You can also call Black River Produce and agree to purchase at least $50 per order – and then you can buy local beef (produced within VT). I just bought hamburger from them and it is really good, and some steak too. (we could never eat our own cows) We started a buying club and we purchase produce from them in the winter, and some seafood and meat too. The chicken is great, but we’re stopping buying from now that Someday Farm has their’s.

    There’s a man in Wardsboro who sells miniature angus cuts -a split quarter for $199. Day Spring Farm – Rod Hewitt – they are online.

    You can also

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