Where’s the beef at the farmers market?
CLEAR LAKE – While produce abounds at north central Iowa farmers markets and gains traction at area eateries, locally-sourced meat and egg products seem to be missing from the plate.
At Opportunity Village in Clear Lake, several small to mid-scale egg, poultry, beef, lamb and pork producers were brought together on April 5 with budding restauranteurs in the Mason City/Clear Lake area to identify the barriers keeping meat from its place at the table.
The event was hosted by Healthy Harvest North Iowa, a non-profit group committed to the development of sustainable regional food systems through diverse partnerships throughout nine counties in north central Iowa.
Armed with a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, Healthy Harvest of North Iowa began the research culminating in the Meat and Greet Event.
“The goal is to increase the presence of locally-sourced meat at our area farmers markets,” said Andrea Evelsizer, Healthy Harvest North Iowa Program Director.
With farmers markets as a model for providing meat products to the general public, the reach of the regional food system then extends to the restaurant and grocery industry.
Several area market and restaurant owners, motivated by the growing local foods movement, described their unique business models and vision for the future.
Ashley Coleman, founder of The Market at BE WELLness, of Clear Lake, has been in the business of supplying organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, local products to consumers for more than three years.
Coleman said she feels that she has a supply system in place with local growers once the education piece of the puzzle is put into place.
“Our biggest barrier is educating the public on the value of the product,” said Coleman. “It must be successful on this small scale to start. Then growth can happen.”
The prevalence of regional meat and poultry growers interested in offering their goods directly to consumers was evidenced by the number of growers present at the event. Each farm was given the opportunity to highlight their production practices, marketing strategies and operational goals – each as diverse as the products they offer.
From pasture-raised chickens and heritage Berkshire pigs to corn-fed age and source-verified beef, a broad spectrum of production practices were represented without passing of judgment. Each had a moment to showcase their farm.
All shared a common theme in pride in their product, love of their stock and commitment to the land on which it is grown.
Meat and poultry producers alike identified a shortage of state-inspected meat processors in the area as a hurdle in their ability to provide their products to consumers.
“We are hauling our calves to Story City to be processed,” John Ebensberger, of West Forty Enterprises, LLC., said.
With their farm located in Green, the transport adds cost and logistical struggles to his operation. He and his wife, Sue, sold their meat at the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines last summer and have committed to vendor space for the upcoming season.
Ebensberger said their experience has shown that buyers in the larger metropolitan area are more likely to pay a premium for higher-quality hormone and antibiotic-free beef. However, the Ebensbergers are also licensed to sell cuts directly to their nearby customers directly from the farm.
Following the virtual farm tours, buyers and producers were given the remainder of the event to exchange ideas, share challenges and build relationships.
A table brimming with healthy appetizers provided a taste of the existing vibrant local food scene in the area, prepared by Lauryn’s Lunchbox, in Clear Lake, with beef from Mossy Cup Farm, micro-greens from Twisted River Farm and eggs from Joia Food Farm.
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