I've longed wished to buy our meat and dairy direct from farmers. When I was a child, my family bought much of our meat from my uncle, who by then owned the family farm my dad grew up on. Annually, we would purchase a side of a beef, a whole pig, and a turkey or two. It was so nice then to go to our deep freeze and get meat out for dinner. Having been there, working alongside my grandparents and parents, while they butchered our pig every year (steers were butchered off the farm), I knew exactly where our meat came from at an early age.
While I still appreciate the convenience and cost benefit of purchasing meat in bulk, more importantly, I want to know that the animals I eat lived well and were harvested humanely, that the milk my children drink is pure and made by healthy, grass-eating cows. I want to pay the real cost of real food and I want to support small family farms. I have been intimidated, however, by the prospect of coping with a side of beef and put off by the inconvenience of driving to the country every week to buy milk. Reading In Defense of Food finally inspired me to get over my objections. Pollan comes across as more hopeful in his latest tome than he did in The Omnivore's Dilemma, reminding us that it is easier than it's been in half a century for regular people to find real food.
I know he's right. I realized recently that I've been striving to eat organic and local for 20 years, since my first visit to an erstwhile farmers market, held on Saturdays in some in Beltsville, Maryland, warehouse. Things are so different today, with places like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods selling organic (though not necessarily local or, despite the latter's moniker, whole) food. More importantly, the Internet has made it possible for those living far from farms to find and connect with farmers and ranchers directly, through sites like Eat Wild and Real Milk. As much as I enjoy the shopping experience at New Seasons, when it comes down to it, I prefer to buy food from places like Rossi's (family farm with a retail "barn" just a mile from my house that sadly went out of business a year or so ago) or Growers Outlet (another family-owned retailer of local produce...when it's in season, anyway). I know when I shop at those places, more of my food dollar is going to the people who grew the food and less of it is going to marketers and middlemen and building fancy stores full of irresistibly merchandised, utterly superfluous stuff. And while I can buy local produce at Growers or at our neighborhood's new farmers market and even grow much of our own, meat, eggs, and dairy are a different story.
Since I am chomping at the bit to make my own cheese, I decided to start with getting a new source for dairy, since I had been buying ultra-pasteurized Organic Valley milk at Winco, which is no good for making cheese. Initially, I just wanted to find a local farmer selling milk from pastured cows that was not ultra-pasteurized. I had heard of Noris Dairy years ago, from Lynn Siprelle, that delivers to homes in Portland. Their prices are competitive with the price of organic milk in the grocery store, and for a few days, I thought I had found the answer. The dumbest thing prevented me from ordering from them and, fortuitously, led me to another path. We don't have a fax machine and that seems to be the only way the dairy takes orders. I called and left a couple messages, hoping to just place my order by phone. After waiting a few days for a call back, I lost my patience and and I decided to try another source. The Campaign for Real Milk listing of raw milk dairies led me to Real Milk PDX, a group that gets milk delivered from Dungeness Valley Creamery, a Sequim, Washington, raw milk dairy. For once, my impatience paid off. I picked up our first gallon of raw milk last Wednesday--at the home of an acquaintance in NE Portland who happens to be one of the people who drives to Vancouver where the dairy delivers its milk--and have been raving about it to anyone who will listen since. It's so delicious--I drank three glasses of milk in 12 hours! I have to admit, I was a little concerned at first about raw milk, but having learned more, I now feel convinced that raw milk from grass-fed cows is safer and healthier than pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows.
That same Wednesday evening, I attended the second meeting of a group of home cheese makers at Foster & Dobbs. While discussing milk sources with some people there, I got into a conversation with another woman who had just picked up her raw milk, from the same home where I picked up ours. She raved about how raw milk cured her allergies after just three weeks. Well, that was all I needed to hear. No more allergies! I've been trying to drink a little bit everyday--not that I mind drinking it, but it's a new habit to establish. So, we'll see if it helps with my allergies. Wouldn't that be incredible? Anyway, I ordered rennet, cultures, molds, etc., from New England Cheesemaking Supply last week and hope to report the results of my first cheesemaking experiences soon.
As far as finding local sources for the rest of our animal related food: We're getting about half of our eggs right now from my friend Chrissy, who has three chickens and is presently overwhelmed with eggs. I feel so lucky to have a ready source of local eggs! Next year, I would like to get our own chickens, fulfilling a dream I've had since I first heard about urban chickens in 2001. (I gave up on this particular fantasy with the birth of my daughter, but now I know so many families with young children and chickens that I can see it's doable.) I am still researching sources for meat. One of the big questions I have had about buying a side of beef is how much of everything is there? It's one thing to say that the hanging weight of a half a beef (that is, the weight of half a steer carcass, before being trimmed of fat and bones) is about 300 pounds, but just how many rib eyes come with that? I learned here that a side of beef includes approximately 25% waste, 25% ground beef and stew meat, 25% steaks, and 25% roasts. I'm pretty sure we won't eat 225 pound of beef in a year, even if it was all rib eyes. I asked Chrissy if she'd be interested in going in with us on a side and I'm excited that she'll be joining me this new venture! Now we just have to figure out just exactly where to get our beef. And our pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey.
In my next post, I will relate my new meal-planning strategy, based on the calculations I started doing as I tried to figure out how much meat we should buy.