part one: buying meat, local farmers and a throw down
I’m feeling lucky this morning. You have no idea just how difficult it is to source a fresh, pastured pork roast from a local farmer on short notice this time of year. Why you ask? Because pasture raised meat is SEASONAL!
“Meat seasonal?” you ask, exchanging “chick’s nutty” eye rolls over my head….
Yes, seasonal. If you want it pastured, humanely raised and free to have a life on a local farm, meat is seasonal. Let’s think this through: babies are typically born in the spring, they eat grass all summer and are then butchered before winter sets in. Fall is the best time for lots of meats and planning to buy a quarter, half or whole animal directly from the farm enables you to get the freshest, healthiest and most extraordinary meat at the best prices.
Fortunately, I was able to tap into the private stash of Steve and Melanie Montgomery of Lamppost Farm for the pork shoulder I needed for April’s Charcutepalooza smoking challenge. Steve and Melanie are really fun & interesting young farmers. The kind of farmers that make you want to learn more about food and farming. And lots of other stuff…. like I said, they’re interesting.
There just aren’t enough water cooler chats about the fact that farmers make up a paltry 1% of our population. When our grocery shelves are bursting with such quantity & varieties of boxes, cans & jars, the last thing we fear is that we’re running out of farmers. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. The average age of an American farmer is 55 years old – most are actually over 65 years old and expected to retire within the next ten years. And more unsettling, young farmers are getting scarcer. Read this excellent article by Zoë Bradbury to learn why this is such a critical issue. Really, read it now – it’s that important.
Thank goodness young families like Steve and Melanie Montgomery feel called to give farming a chance. Of course, I was wondering what would motivate a young couple with four kids to throw caution to the wind and jump into farming. Having done it myself, I know it’s not a lifestyle choice for the faint of heart.
It seems both Melanie and Steve have sadly lost close relatives to cancer. As a result, they became very concerned about how ignorant we have become about where our food comes from. Their faith is also a motivating factor, and farming is a vocation that allows them to slow it down, tune into nature’s rhythms and recognize God in their everyday lives. By which I don’t mean taking it easy! Farming is tiring, hard work but so satisfying in a meaningful, spiritual way.
The really awesome thing about Steve and Melanie’s farm is how transparent and accessible it is. They actually host events inviting people to participate in the butchering of their pigs & chickens. Now, I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but do you think Tyson or Perdue would be willing to open their farms up to scrutiny like that? You should really check them out – the farm is an easy drive to Pittsburgh and Boardman Ohio:
14900 Market Street
Columbiana, OH 44408
According to Melanie, the overall response from those who have participated was one of empowerment, pride and appreciation. Many families are finding their Lamppost Farm butchering experience to be a truly awakening and educational opportunity. The meat they take home becomes much more than just another supper; each time they cook up some of the pork they butchered themselves, the memory of the day and the farm makes the meal just a little bit richer. Apparently they’re also feeling an increased appreciation for their Lamppost Farm meat too, since they keep coming back for more.
Lamppost Farm’s pigs are a combination of two heritage breeds; Hereford and Berkshire. Now, I’m the first to admit I don’t really know any pigs personally, but I think it would be hard to find any cuter, chubbier or more entertaining pigs than these.
My enthusiasm for these old-fashioned breeds isn’t about being hip or trendy or a food snob. Today, 75% of the pigs raised in the United States come from only 3 breeds. That’s dangerous! One severe outbreak of disease can wipe out a huge chunk of our food supply; protecting genetic diversity ensures that species of plants and livestock will be able to survive and adapt to future conditions.
In addition, the pig confinement operations raising most of the pork you buy in the grocery store are like small cities housing huge numbers of hogs and producing tremendous amounts of manure and chemical wastes. Confinement hogs do not live pretty lives, and they do rely on antibiotics to maintain their health and increase their growth rate in such close quarters. Not the kind of genetics capable of revitalizing an ailing gene pool….
The hogs at Lamppost Farm have a totally different lifestyle – they are playful, happy and free to run, root and wallow as pigs were born to do. Ditto for the cows & chickens. It’s really nice to see the Montgomery’s care and enthusiasm for their animals.
If the fact that humanely raised local meat is better for the environment, the animals and your local economy isn’t enough to motivate you to consider stocking your freezer with fresh meats purchased directly from a nearby farmer, let me go about this in a different way. How about a pork butt throw down with this Lamppost Farm pork butt vs a conventionally raised pork butt from my local butcher? Seeing (and smelling & tasting of course) is believing….
My Lamppost Farm roast is a 3 pound Boston Butt. Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone. This roast is really pretty – so pretty in fact I’m a little afraid to touch it. It’s neatly cut and squared with a really nice layer of fat resting perfectly on top.
My second butt is from our neighborhood butcher. Living in a rural community I am really fortunate to have such a nice, immaculate butcher shop so nearby. The shop is run by a local family with care and enthusiasm. I admire their ability to work hard and waste nothing. Scraps are sold as soups and dog food, simple charcuterie and lunch meats are made on premises, they’ve added an impressive smoker and make some pretty tasty bacon.
Still, it is a proudly modern shop, interested in bright lights, big cuts for the money and the latest efficiencies in animal rearing and butchering. Just a little out of step with the likes of me and my fondness for old world food traditions.
There was a polite whiff of bristling and teeny bit of exasperation when I asked what breed of pig the roast was from and whether it was a conventionally raised or pastured pig. The women behind the counter have no idea; the owner had to be called out to answer such questions.
My conventional roast is fresh, clean and has some fat gnarled through the center of the roast. I’m told my conventional roast is most likely a Duroc or Duroc Berkshire cross and probably raised by a conventional hog farmer about an hour away. Or not. But probably.
So, for now, my two butts are resting up for their big day in a simple brine bath, to be slowly smoked over apple wood tomorrow. Tune in tomorrow for part two…..