What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, December 08, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Today our featured Terra Madre guest is Robert R. Perry, of the University of Kentuckys College of Agriculture (as well as the Chefs Collaborative Board), and his innovative and practical project, the Kentucky Hamburger Alliance, which just launched in October. Thanks to Bob for providing us with a picture of him and his wife, hard at work on the farm (ha!). Bob was a delegate to Slow Foods Terra Madre conference in Torino in both 2006 and 2006. Terra Madre, he says, is like a giant pep rally for local foods. Having attended in both 06 & 08 I have built not only an incredible professional network in sustainable agriculture of advocates, farmers, chefs, educators and youth, but a network of friends that will last a lifetime.
This year, Bob was an essential contributor to the Meat Working Group that met during the conference. Recognizing that meat producers are easily able to sell the choice cuts but have a harder time moving the rest of the animal, Perrys program connects farmers and their less desirable cuts with buyers looking for meat for hamburgers. It’s about helping these small farmers band together, pooling their “trim,” creating enough product to supply a big client. The first big client is University of Kentuckys Dining Services, which means that UKY students are eating burgers made from fresh, local meat. As Bob says, the Kentucky Hamburger Alliance is a way to help the farmers develop their own businesses through cooperation and get great local food on campus for the students. UKs Food Service is very progressive about sourcing local food and their efforts deserve to be better known. They are reluctant to blow their own horn but Im willing to blow it for them. For more information about University of Kentuckys programs such as their Growing Kentucky program, click here.
Posted on Sat, November 22, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
As weve mentioned here on the blog before, one of the main obstacles for sustainable small to mid scale meat producers in this country right now is a lack of infrastructure to help them get their meat to customers. Gone are the smaller, more localized meat processing facilities of old, meaning producers are having to travel extremely far (using costly gas and stressing their animals). Some, like Will Harris of White Oak Pastures Cattle Ranch, near Atlanta, actually have facilities nearby that are too small for them (mid-sized facilities are extremely hard to come by).
Harris, and some otherssuch as Stan Schutte (and his son Ryan, a Terra Madre 2008 delegate) in Central Illinois, are taking matters into their own hands by building facilities right on their own properties. Harris facility opened this past spring and last month Slow Food members in Atlanta went out to spend time at his farm and see the new facility.
Slow Food Regional Governor Julie Schaffer reports:
On Sat,. Oct. 4th, people from Georgia, Florida and Alabama gathered at White Oak Pastures Cattle Ranch in Bluffton, GA for a meat summit sponsored by Florida A&M University, Georgia Organics and Slow Food Atlanta. Jennifer Taylor, from FAMU’s Small Farm Program, organized the event for small meat farmers all over the southeast, as part of their outreach program. There were several speakers including Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, Suzanne Welander from Georgia Organics, and myself (from Slow Food Atlanta and Emory University). Attendees discussed problems common to all small meat farmers, and shared success stories. It was a great opportunity for networking, and learning from one another. Processing issues seemed to be a stumbling block for many of the producers, and Will shared his story about how a dream to have an on-site processing facility became a reality. We toured the processing facility and enjoyed a delicious lunch of chili, stew and cornbread provided by Avalon Catering in Atlanta. I think people left the meeting with some great new ideas about how to grow their businesses, and grateful for the opportunity to share stories and discuss issues.
Posted on Fri, October 24, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Turns out, a lot.
Last March, KayCee Wimbish, winner of the $500 Culinate Youth Food Awareness scholarship to Terra Madre, uprooted her life in Brooklyn, NY and moved upstate to Tivoli to start Awesome Farm with fellow new farmer, Owen OConnor.
We asked KayCee, who is part of the growing Youth Food Movement and one of over 1,300 Youth Delegates at Terra Madre, a few questions about her farm, her philosophy and a certain security donkey.
Q: In a New York Times article on the new generation of farmers published March 16, you say that moving to NYC was the catalyst that got you farming. What pushed you to become a farmer? Given that you grew in the heartland of America, don’t you find this ironic?
A: New York City introduced me to an entirely different way of thinking about food. I learned about CSAs for the first time, joined one, and fell in love with the vegetables and the idea. Growing up in Oklahoma, I had very little contact with local foods, farmer’s markets, political ideas around food, and it was hard to eat out and not eat at chain restaurant. I grew up in the suburbs, and it sure didn’t feel like the heartland. Growing food is such a tangible political act. As I struggled to make sense of the injustices, inequities, racism and other huge, heady issues, farming made so much sense to me.
Q: Like Joel Salatin, you identify yourself as a Grass Farmer. Talk to us a little about your farming practices and philosophy.
A: We farm on rented land that is very marginal in quality. Vegetables could not be grown on this land, but our sheep can convert the grass and legumes and weeds into usable energy that people can then eat. We are actually improving the quality of the pasture, minimizing erosion and encouraging native plants and growing food at the same time.
We also have laying hens and raised meat chickens this year. The chickens are problematic for us because of their dependence on grain. Philosophically, I don’t want to be feeding animals grain: it is expensive, and although it is local and organic, we still have to drive and pick it up. The land used to the grow grain for the animals can be used for grain for humans. We want to kick out the middleman that is grain. We want to raise animals that eat grass. However, we love the laying hens and we want to be able to have eggs. We are trying an idea put forth by the Vermont Compost Company and are currently getting pre- and post-consumer waste from the cafeteria of the nearby elementary school in order to supplement the chickens’ foraging with community food scraps. Its a big experiment, but we are excited to keep food out of the landfill, use up a local resource and create more connections within the community.
Posted on Fri, September 26, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
You have to wonder how many people would buy a package of ground hamburger meat if it had a nice big label that said: “this meat comes from six different countries! And may contain part of dozens or even hundreds of cows!” Especially at a time when fear is mounting about tainted products, such as food and drugs, from places like China.
On September 30th, here.
For more information and sample letters to sign and send to the USDA during their comment period, go to Food and Water Watch.
Posted on Wed, September 10, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Consumers (ahem, co-producers) are getting wiser about meat.
They are asking questions about where it comes from, how it was raised, and how it was killed. They are demanding grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork. But is the supply always there? Are the channels for getting the product to the consumer always there? How can we help consumers learn more about sustainable meat production and how can we facilitate producers in marketing their product and connecting with consumers?
Directly Following Slow Food USA’s National Congress and dovetailing into Slow Food Nation, two of Slow Food USA’s Regional Governors, Matt Jones from Denver and Larry Martin from Russian River, CA), organized SFUSA’s first ever Meat Working Group to begin to tackle these issues and to see how Slow Food USA’s netowrk can help. They gathered together a stellar crew that included:
Slow Food USA leaders and guests attended to learn about the issues we face with respect to animal welfare, species and breeds, provenance, environmental concerns especially production practices -traditional (feedlot/CAFO) and alternative (small scale, sustainable).
As Matt reported, “What became apparent immediately was the need for consumer education about meat production. What we don’t know can hurt us and, has an enormous impact on not just the food we eat but on the ground upon which it is raised. The issue raised repeatedly by these world-class operators was the economic pressure on them to survive in a market where consumers (co-producers) do not have the ability to make informed purchase decisions. A generic meat case cannot educate eaters about the issues that affect their food. If honorable and respectful farmers and ranchers, who are making a meaningful difference in our food supply system, are forced to compete on a price point basis alone, they cannot be expected to survive.”
As a result, the group has decided to form a Meat Working Group to improve communication about meat issues. They already have several great ideas—stay tuned to the Slow Food USA website and blog for further information about how you can get involved.
Posted on Mon, August 18, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Cecily Upton
As the Slow Food in Schools Coordinator, you can usually find me sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, writing emails and talking on the phone. I spend a lot of time thinking about where food comes from and how it gets from our farms to our plates. And while I feel pretty comfortable with my knowledge of the process, there's far more to it than that.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to experience the process, in a very real and visceral way. I was invited by my friends at Awesome Farm to help slaughter 104 pasture raised, organic chickens. As it says on their eggs, their chickens are "really, really free range."
Now, I think it's important to know a few things about me so you can understand my perspective on the whole slaughter thing.
That said, I've never killed anything bigger than a very large cockroach with my own hands.
Last saturday, that changed. Before the actual kill day, I'd spent weeks telling any and every one within earshot that I was going to be slaughtering chickens. I was excited. Desk bound most of the time, I couldn't wait for the opportunity to be out on the farm. And, even though I know that slaughtering = killing and that there would be lots of death that morning, it wasn't until I was traipsing through the dewy, overgrown barnyard and hearing the first low coos of the 104 chickens just awakening from their last night of sleep, that I realized, truly, what I was about to do.
There were five of us: Owen and KayCee, the farmers; their friend Tracy, who works at neighboring Hearty Roots Community Farm; Amy, a fellow Brooklynite, and myself. We were solemn, but not in a mournful kind of way. I think we just all realized that we had a long morning ahead of us and that a lot of creatures who were now alive would soon be dead. And then we just began.
Ok, from here on out it gets a little graphic, so if you're not into blood and guts, you might want to stop reading.
The slaughtering set-up looks a little like this: there are two metal cones with the small end down nailed to the wall about face height. The bottom of those cones is cut off, kind of like a large pastry bag. The chickens go in here, head down. Below these are 5 gallon buckets to catch blood.
The first two chickens went, hesitatingly, upside-down into the cones and, without much ceremony, Tracy and Owen cut off their heads using small knives. The decapitated bodies slammed around against the metal chutes and in Owen and Tracy's hands the beaks kept opening and closing on the severed heads. Deep red blood splattered against the rough wooden barn walls and dripped into the buckets below. After a few minutes of bleeding, we took the bodies outside and scalded them to loosen the feathers. After defeathering them using a large machine with stiff rubber fingers, we cut off their feet and oil glands, eviscerated them–being careful not to pop the bile bag (bile is BRIGHT green!)–and plopped them into a pool of icy water to cool.
While I hadn't thought about it in the days leading up, at some point during the morning I knew that I wanted to kill one myself. After about an hour of chopping off feet and separating livers from bile bags, I turned to Owen and told him it was time. We went together into the holding pen and I grabbed the first chicken I could get my hands on. She was warm and dirty. She flapped around a bit as I carried her by the feet to the slaughtering station and put her into the cone. I reached in for her head and stretched it down through the hole in the bottom. Owen instructed me to pull back the feathers on her neck and to cut through her trachea right below the skull. "Don't hesitate," he said calmly.
The knife wasn't as sharp as it had been first thing in the morning, and I had some trouble breaking the skin. I was shaking a bit. It wasn't as clean a cut as I wanted it to be. It was difficult to saw through the tough neck. The chicken flinched and blood oozed down my hand. It felt like it took longer than it should, but before my mind could settle on one of the thousand thoughts going through my head it was over. And I had a chicken head in my hand and blood was dripping into the bucket.
Afterwards, I walked back out into the sunlight and over to the evisceration station. There was more work to do. Later, though, when things slowed down, I thought about what I'd done–killed something for food. For my food. Looking back, it's not something that I want to do again, but it's not something that I don't want to do again either. It is part of a process that I believe in and support and I'm proud of myself for participating. I feel good about the way those animals were raised, I feel good about they way they were killed, and I feel good about eating them and sharing that meal with others. If I'm going to savor the smells and tastes of freshly roasted chicken, I should also know the fell of that chickens neck in one hand and a knife in the other.
Posted on Fri, May 16, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Jerusha Klemperer
Throughout March and April we covered the Island Grown Farmers Cooperative, in the San Juan Islands, and its USDA certified mobile slaughter facility. This week I traveled to Lopez Island where I had the opportunity to visit several members of the cooperative, see their pasture-grazing cows, sheep, and goats, and witness the slaughter of 2 sheep.
The only images of slaughter I have previously held in my mind have been of the horror show kind. Distressed animals being handled quickly and roughly, and me, in tears, watching footage through my fingers.
To see the IGFC mobile slaughter facility in action is to understand, in the deepest sense, what a successful venture this has been–for business, yes, in the ways that I described in earlier posts–but even more, for the health and well being of the animals. The animals live quietly and well in the fields, then enter the barn they've known all their lives. They are processed humanely and the work is slow, careful, and meticulously clean. I watched it from inches away, and though it was challenging, especially at first, I watched it eyes open.
I left the island utterly convinced of mobile facilities as the next wave–to step in where small/mid-size infrastructure has crumbled away. It works for the farmers, and it works for the residents of the islands, who are able to eat meat that their neighbors have raised. It's an amazing sensation to drive around the island and see the animals, and then to know–not just because someone told you, but because you've seen it with your own eyes–exactly where your food has come from.
(picture is of Horsedrawn Farms, on Lopez)
Posted on Tue, April 29, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
While network television is rarely a topic of discussion here, Sunday night's episode of "The Simpsons" proves that awareness of industrial agriculture practices might be growing in the minds of Americans. When Bart joins 4-H (it's slogan on the show: "4-H: it's still a thing") in order to drive a combine, he finds himself caring for Lou, a runt calf, for a competition at the county fair. What Bart learns when Lou wins the blue ribbon, though, is that first prize means a first-class trip to the feedlot and the killing floor.
Of course, this being "The Simpsons," a plot to save Lou is hatched and hilarity ensues. In this case, Bart doesn't "have a cow, man," he saves a cow. But before the happy ending, we head to the feedlot where hundreds of cattle are literally stacked on top of one another and Lou is found bloated with growth hormones. That's not to say that the episode ends in serious reflection or comment (Lou is sent to India to escape slaughter, after all), but the fact that the writers took on the subject may serve as a small sign that some messages about big agriculture are beginning to take root in our culture.
And it's true, by the way, 4-H is still a thing. In fact, it's a thing that has—in Sonoma County at least—a connection to Slow Food. Slow Food Russian River has helped establish a 4-H heritage breeds club, one that is helping to reintroduce heritage turkey breeds into the marketplace. This past November the convivium and the 4-H members processed and distributed 200 turkeys in the Russian River area. So heads up, Bart! Sending the cow to India is one way to "save" it, but if you want to save the whole breed, you've got to (as Slow Food USA Ark of Taste Committee Chair Poppy Tooker would say) eat it to save it! Just ask the kids at 4-H in Sonoma….
Posted on Wed, April 23, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
A few weeks ago, we began to explore the concept of a mobile slaughter unit as the solution to small scale farmers having no place within driving distance to process their sustainable, grass-fed meat.
The Lopez Community Land Trust, on Lopez Island (in the San Juan islands), started a project called the Island Grown Farmers Cooperative in 2000 and got the first ever mobile slaughter facility up and running back in 2003. In parts 1 and 2 we discussed what a mobile slaughter unit is, what it can accomplish, and the assessment phase for the creation of this unit.
The final piece to the puzzle, of course: who uses the facility? And does it make a positive difference for them? Farmer Nick Jones described to us how the unit made it possible for him and his wife to get into livestock farming, and how it has enabled them to take their business in a satisfying direction. As young farmers, the initial costs to starting up an operation can be intimidating; the combination of beginning on rented land with borrowed animals, as well as being able to sell their meat directly and locally, thanks to the unit, meant that farming was actually a viable choice for them.
The cost for slaughter, per head, is extremely expensive by American standards. This is because some portion goes towards equity and membership fees in the cooperative. Nick explained that people in the county are really proud of the unit, and everyone is affected by it. As a result of its success, restaurants and individual consumers are able to eat local meat, something they couldn't do before 2003. When the farmers sell their product, they make sure to emphasize that they use the unit and what it means in terms of treatment of the animals, how the collective treat their staff, etc. In fact, he says, it has to be part of the sales pitch because the meat is so expensive, comparatively.
And the taste? Well, Nick's biggest and best customer is the local bar and grill, and people call it the best burger on the island.
Posted on Mon, March 31, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
We've been talking about meat a lot lately–mobile slaughter units, meat recalls, laptop butchershops–and we're not the only ones.
Issue #3 of Meatpaper jut hit the stands and it's the best one yet. They cover everything from the controversial presence of retail pork in Israel, to the hunt for roadside goat testicles in Tunisia. And over at Chow.com, they've got Meat Week 2008, kicking off with a very comprehensive feature on buying meat direct, with a bunch of great sidebar stories on bison, innards, greening your meat consumption and more.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.