Local organic meat: It isn’t easy ‘growing green’
By Mark Luedtke
From the beginning, man rose to the top of the food chain as a meat eater. Today, the arctic Inuits thrive on diets consisting almost exclusively of meat, and suffer from far fewer cases of cardiovascular disease, heart disease and cancer than their modern-day, carnophobic counterparts. High fat, high protein diets are arguably creditable for the progression of the human race and could potentially be responsible for the eradication of many major, fatal diseases.
A new study in Britain showed red meat is good for you, but civilized man is rapidly losing appreciation for the benefits of eating it. It’s cheaper, easier and therefore more profitable to grow and sell grains than to raise and sell meat, so food corporations and government agencies blanket the airwaves with advertisements and public service announcements pushing people to eat more grains. The result is the escalation of deadly diseases plaguing modern society.
But few people would trade modern civilization for the Inuit lifestyle, despite the lower risk of disease, and most meat on grocery shelves is not healthy like Inuit meat. Naturally raised meat is lower in fat and has a significantly higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio compared to grain-fed meat. Having too much Omega-6 produces inflammation and chronic disease. Additionally, most grocery meat is raised in unhealthy, factory farm conditions. Housing animals crammed together in small spaces, these farms become breeding grounds for pests and disease, so farmers inject animals with antibiotics and spray chemical pesticides. They feed their animals grains contaminated with pesticides and herbicides and pump them full of growth hormones to force rapid maturation. Whether or not these chemicals create health problems in humans is an open question. Regardless of arguments on either side of the factory farming debate, Americans have options for more naturally grown food.
One choice for people who want to feast on healthier meat is USDA Certified Organic meat “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation,” describes the USDA website. In addition, organically raised animals must be fed organic feed and have access to pasture, and the USDA must certify both producers and processors.
Miami Valley residents have numerous opportunities to purchase certified organic meat retail. Healthy Alternative, which carries organic meat, specializes in supplements, processed organic food and organic produce. They have two stores in the Dayton area, one downtown on North Main Street and one in Beavercreek. Assistant manager Laura Holland said they have to get their organic meat from Wisconsin and insisted that organic meat is not a big part of their business. “I don’t think people realize how the government is using us for guinea pigs, doing GMO.” GMOs are genetically modified organisms created by gene splicing. Some argue that GMOs are no different than centuries of selective breeding. Holland disagreed, “They’re not actually taking the color from butterfly wings and stuffing it in the salmon,” she explained. One reason it’s easier to sell organic produce than organic meat: “I think one of the problems is organic meat is almost twice as much [money] as regular meat, whereas produce is not quite as bad a bite into your pocketbook as meat would be,”
Jack Gridley has worked for Dorothy Lane Market (DLM) since 1976 and is currently vice president of meat and seafood. DLM offers a limited selection of organic meat, much of it processed. Part of a growing trend, most DLM meats are naturally grown by local producers to keep the quality up and the price down. Gridley provides one reason organic meat is so expensive: “The only difference between the meats we sell here at DLM and certified organic is that the grain that the animals have been fed is certified organic. The trade-off for that is the organic grain is very expensive and limited in supply, making the finished product much higher in price vs. the all-natural, antibiotic-free meats.”
Locally grown organic, non-certified
Dan Kremer sells his organic products in a stall in the west end of the Second Street Market on Saturdays. His E.A.T. Food for Life stall is packed with organic products and educational signs. Kremer seems more like an educator than a salesman. His website describes his mission: “E.A.T. Food for Life Farm is a 140-acre, certified organic, family farm located in northern Darke County near North Star, Ohio … Our family mission is to grow and distribute nutrient-dense, traditional, safe foods that nourish, protect, and support life for improved health and energy.”
With a mission like that, USDA certification would seem invaluable, but Kremer is dropping his. “I’m the only organic producer for my local processor,” he said. “My land is certified organic, but our meats are not because my processors are not certified because they have to jump through all the hoops to certify.” The costs of certifying drive up the cost of certified organic meat and make it harder to sell.
Kremer explained the problem isn’t just the cost of the license. “It’s licensing fees, but then all of the paperwork that grows literally annually,” said Kremer. “That’s all frustrating, and boring and not productive. The whole climate of the culture is do you want more government or less government? I’d much rather say come to my farm. Let’s walk the land and let’s talk. You want to do any testing on my farm, consumer, have at it.” To him, USDA certification is an obstacle that stands between him and his customer, and he’s tired of paying for it.
Customers buy his product regardless of certification. During the course of our interview, Kremer sold nearly all the meat in his freezer. E.A.T. Food for Life also sells its products at the Liberty Market in Kettering, his farm in Yorkshire, and online.
Kremer credits his health to eating organic. “I have hemophilia, so each time I had internal bleeding, I’d take a pharmaceutical drug that stops that bleeding,” he said. “That’s good and essential, but it also adds a certain amount of toxicity to my body, as drugs do. So my immune system was really being depressed and declining. So it was really by the grace of God I came to understand that the quality of what we put in our body three times a day. That’s the essence of restoration and healing.”
John Stedman at the Aullwood Audubon Farm finds himself in a similar business situation. According to the farm website, “Aullwood strives to be a model of local, sustainable, organic agriculture in the Miami Valley and direct markets our farm products. Grass-raised beef and lamb, pastured chicken, pork, and eggs are available seasonally. Aullwood purchases chicken and hog feed from local organic farmers and our meats are processed by local butchers.”
The lone certified organic processor in southwest Ohio, King’s Poultry, recently dropped its certification because of cost. Stedmen can relate, “We used to be organically certified, but we stopped that. There’s no benefit to us. Not only did we pay our certification here, but we helped pay their certification there.”
That became too expensive as organic producers who had shared the costs dropped their certifications. “It cost us $500 for them, plus we had to pay for processing,” he said. “Well, there’s no way in the world you could justify that.” There’s only one certified processor left in the state, northeast of Columbus, but Stedman can’t afford two trips just to be certified.
Stedman said dropping the certification had no impact on his business. “When we dropped our certification, we asked the people here buying our meat, ‘Does it bother you if we drop it?’ and I think we had one woman say yes, but she didn’t buy enough meat to bother about.”
Because Stedman feeds his animals very little grain, the meat is more natural and Aullwood’s prices are comparable to regular meat in grocery stores, about half the price of certified organic meats. A price list is available at the Aullwood website.
Stedman also pointed out problems with the certified organic standard. There are no standards for how much pasture is available to animals, nor the quality of their feed. That means businesses can meet the standard by providing virtually no pasture for animals and by feeding them low-quality, organic feed, like weeds. According to the Organic Consumers Association, weak guidelines enable big food corporations to drive small, healthy producers like E.A.T. Food for Life and Aullwood Farm out of the market so they don’t face competition.
Locally grown with modern technology
The sign in the window of the Tin Roof restaurant in Troy reads, “Eat the best steaks in town.” Owner Craig Hughes knows his beef. He raises the cattle and their feed, specifies how they are butchered and cooks the beef himself. “I only use four genetic patterns of beef in here. I raise Charlet, and I cross it with Angus, Shorthorn and Maine-anjou. That’s the only four breeds of cattle you will ever eat in here.”
But Hughes doesn’t use organic feed. “I see the organic as a far off dream people chase, but you can never get there. They think they do, but they don’t.” He explains that all it takes is one decent breeze to cross-pollinate organic and non-organic crops. As far as the USDA Certified Organic label, Hughes declared, “It’s a brilliant marketing ploy.”
Hughes said his customers approve of the beef being served at Tin Roof. “I’ve had people that have eaten here that have had the beef and said ‘My God, I’ve eaten at Christie’s in Chicago, and Morton’s in New York and Kansas City steak houses and yours is just as good or better.’” Maybe his corn-burning grill has something to do with it. “It is the first corn-burning grill in operation in a restaurant in the U.S. today,” Hughes said. He claims the corn burns cleaner and keeps the air moist, allowing the flavor of the beef to shine.
The Organic Consumer Association warns that because of regulatory capture by big food corporations, the USDA is attempting to weaken certified organic standards to allow hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and fish meal, making it easier and cheaper for the big producers to produce USDA Certified Organic food. DLM’s Gridley claims that only a few corporations already produce most organic meat. Small, local producers committed to producing healthy food are being pushed out of the USDA Certified Organic market, reducing it to a corporate marketing gimmick. But by meeting, talking to and buying from a growing market of local, natural producers, people can obtain the healthy meat they need to thrive. Gridley sums up, “I would rather know who is raising my food and how it is raised rather than buy a certified organic product with much of it being raised by large companies and much of the grain being imported.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com