How to connect with farmers that are selling to people, not restaurants?
Trying to kill two birds with one stone. I’m seeing the effects of meat shortages in my area so I’m going to try and get more stocked in my freezer. And I’ve read in other forums about people sourcing meat from ranchers who ordinarily sell to restaurants but are starting to sell to regular people to make ends meet.
Has anyone done this? And what kinds of prices are the farmers charging / is it cheaper than stores?
I admit I’ve never had to think much about where to get food before and don’t know how that all works.
Camille - June 4, 2020
I grew up on and continue to live on a diversified livestock farm and we have a community supported agriculture (known as a CSA) share that provides meat (pork, chicken, turkey and beef) and eggs to our customers every month. Most of our customers found us due to our website and our involvement with farmers markets in our area and I’d say that checking the online contact directory of farmers markets near you (if these exist) is a great place to start looking for partnering with a farm that could potentially suit your needs, and many farms have small websites so you can view their inventory. Also U.S. states have land-grant universities which support cooperative extension programs that bring research to farmers (a great place to get information for anyone who is a budding agriculturist) and those offices may be able to connect you with farmers who are looking to pivot from restaurant supply to participating in direct to consumer marketing as well. Depending on your area you may find an abundance of farms looking to redirect sales directly to the consumer or a distinct lack. The lack may be due to a huge surge in customers that for various reasons a) don’t want to go to grocery stores at this point in time or b) can’t find what they need in grocery stores and are thus turning to farms. Many smaller farms and even some large ones can’t support such a huge influx of customers looking for products without being able to scale up production and processing, and scaling up food processing isn’t feasible in many places right now unfortunately. Be mindful of food safety as you look to buy directly from farmers as well, as any meat sold commercially in the U.S. should be USDA inspected as per FMIA guidelines. Prices typically vary by the style of raising the animals (grass-fed, organic, conventional will be priced differently in most cases) as well as the type (dairy cull cow beef is most likely cheaper than certified Angus beef because the Angus Beef Association has put a lot of effort into marketing in recent years). I hope this is a useful start!
Alisa Felix - June 4, 2020
If there’s a farmers market in your area, you can probably start there. Not physically but they usually have a website or Facebook. From there you can see what’s available even if it’s not from them.
I’d guess they keep in touch with each other and can direct you to who may have meat available. But don’t expect a response right away. I’m guessing anyone connected to meat and dairy is having a tough time keeping up with requests or finding the right stuff needed to shift from how they normally prepare to getting meat to people dropping by.
C P.Contributor - July 4, 2020
This is good advice. We buy meat from a local farmer we met at a farmer’s market.
Roland - June 4, 2020
It’s funny, I’m starting to see another problem develop from this. You’re right that some farmers are selling directly to people, but I know a few that have seen demand spike almost immediately after word got out that they’re now having problems dealing with the orders. And in most cases, they’re not set up to fill orders on a smaller scale so it’s like a different kind of work, and a lot of that work but less money coming in since most people aren’t buying what a restaurant or bigger company would order.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try and get in onit, just warning you that the prices and availability might be not what you expected. Consider that Butcher Box has been wait listed for over a month now.
Supersonic - June 5, 2020
Prices are going to vary so much man. Start with something like the marketplace on Facebook. I know some people are listing cuts and prices there. From there you can message whoever is posting or check the comments to see if they’re answering questions. I got a bunch of eggs a few weeks ago on marketplace and they were real nice about it.
Jonnie Pekelny - June 29, 2020
Are you talking about farmers (plants) or ranchers (meat)? I subscribe to a local food delivery service called Imperfect Produce. They are on a mission to reduce food waste. They source their products from both farmers and resellers. Their focus is on products that would normally go into waste because they are off spec in some way or there is an excess, etc. They claim that it’s a win-win situation. The farmer or retailer gets to sell product that would normally be dumped; the consumer gets a cheaper product in exchange for putting up with slight, cosmetic imperfections and the earth gets a break from lessened food waste.
I find the service easy to use and I like the fact that I can shop for products and see the prices ahead of time. It’s been an important source of food and especially fresh produce for me during the pandemic. Note that there is controversy about whether these kinds of models of reselling food meant to be dumped actually do more harm than good. Some experts claim, for example, that this “irregular” food would normally be going to food banks, but now is going into the homes of more well-to-do consumers.
Personally, in my brief exploration of it, I found the ins and outs of the food chain and food supply business to be quite confusing and wasn’t able to tell which side in this tussle was right, so I’m sticking with my imperfect box for now.
Kelsey DonkContributor - June 29, 2020
This is a great question, and I think we’ll only see more stuff like this as the “second wave” really surges. I had some great success looking at my favorite restaurants on Instagram to see what they were selling. I suspect that those who’ve reopened will soon find themselves with extra stock.
I haven’t bought meat directly from a rancher since the pandemic began (though I do have a CSA for vegetables and mushrooms) but I’ve loved buying from restaurants!
C P.Contributor - July 4, 2020
I think buying your meat from a local producer is great. A few thoughts on getting started:
1) You can find people (at least where I am in the Southeast) by internet searches. Use terms like ‘pastured’ ‘free range’ ‘grass fed’ ‘grass finished’ ‘cow share’ or ‘pig share’ (plus your state or nearby states) to find smaller scale producers who are already selling to the public. Some will deliver, some require pick-up.
2) Be aware that the price will be higher than at the grocery store. The niche these producers are catering to is people who want a higher quality product (more ethical, healthier, etc.) and are willing to pay for it. Also, small scale producers make a sustainable living by cutting out the middleman (grocery stores and agribusinesses) while still charging retail prices. So think of what you might pay for an organic cut of meat at the grocery store and then expect to pay at least that much.
3) You can cut the cost by buying in volume. Cow shares and pig shares are both an option. Cows can sometimes be purchased at a quarter share (or a half or whole) and pigs I’ve seen mostly as a half. The farmer takes an animal to the butcher (you may be able to specify how you want it cut up) and you pay by the pound, based on the ‘hanging weight’ of the animal. If you buy in volume you will need a chest freezer, but you can probably get 6-12 months worth of meat in a single purchase, depending on how much you or your family uses.
4) You may need to plan in advance. Farmers try to book orders before the animals are slaughtered. A farmer I know, for instance, is now booking cow shares for animals he’ll slaughter in October.