As we gain more knowledge and support for our local farmers we also gain more knowledge about the many struggles they are facing. Ulla Kjarval of Goldilocks finds Manhattan is super passionate about the farming community and knows everything there is to know about the issues farmers are facing. Why? Because she grew up on a farm so she knows first-hand how tough it is to be a farmer. I’m pretty excited that she agreed to let me interview her as I am getting more interested in this topic.
Q. I know you support farmers and grass-fed beef but can you talk a little bit more about what you’re advocating?
A. My family raises grass-fed beef and lamb. We have seen a big rise in demand. Sadly, we have lost a lot of our traditional pasture-based dairies in Upstate New York. As it stands now, we have almost 3 million acres of unused pasture land in New York State alone. This is good grassland too, and we make excellent beef on it. In my mind grass-fed beef is good for the cow but it is also good for producers like my father who can escape the commodity system which gives producers very little freedom to be creative.
Q. Currently what are some of the issues you’re facing?
A. The biggest issue that faces our farm, and all other farmers I talk to, is access to slaughterhouses. We used to farm in the Hudson Valley but after our local plant closed and the community we were living in became more and more suburban we found farming there to be challenging. We have since moved to Delaware County, NY and love it. It is a true farming community.
Q. Are there any short-term or long-term solutions?
A. The demand for local and sustainable products is staggering. Demand here in NYC is creating channels that were not there only a few years ago. We have more grass-fed beef available, more pastured pork and now even local wheat! This is very exciting but I would like to see farming become easier for young people. With more infrastructure and better distribution channels more farmers will be able to make the commitment. It is a very exciting time but there is still a lot of work to be done to make farming an affordable and viable alternative for young people and local food more accessible for all.
Q. Obviously knowledge is a powerful tool but that’s if you have it. I feel the people living in NYC are so blessed because we are able to share knowledge so easily among ourselves. People actually care about sustainability, good food, and support local farmers and businesses but what about people that don’t have that knowledge or that they simply don’t care? How are you going to reach those people and inform them? Especially the people that watch their wallets more than watch what they eat.
A. I love this question. This is an issue close to my heart. How can we make our meat more affordable? We need better infrastructure, more slaughterhouses and a fairer market place. Currently 80% of our beef is processed by only a few companies.
Strict regulations are one of the reasons that local sustainable meat is so expensive. It costs almost as much to process 10 animals as it does to process a 1000 because of how the USDA safety regulations are set up—they benefit the large packers and hurt smaller plants. This adds a big cost to local meat. We are currently in the mist of a fight over more regulations that threaten smaller plants. We need less regulations for the smaller plants or government funding to offset the insane costs that go along with USDA regulations. Currently, we pay almost 500 dollars to have a steer processed. I wonder how much it costs Cargill?
In terms of awareness, we are all relearning skills that as a society we have lost. We are learning to finish our animals on grass, learning to cook again, enrich our soils, by directly from farmers. This requires us all to educate ourselves; farmers are meeting at grazing conferences and sharing tips and insights, butchers are experimenting with sausages and converting new fans to the-nose-to-tail cooking and home cooks armed with dutch ovens are learning to braise. This movement is a movement of education and learning new skills. It is about empowering producers and consumers to make smarter choices.
Q. What should people do to help? What should I do as a food blogger, as a consumer, as a fellow meat eater?
A. I am a big believer that cooking is a revolutionary act. Also, nose-to-tail cooking helps farms like mine who are not finishing thousands of steers a year. We do not really have that many steaks to sell. And to fill a chefs order we would have then sell all the other meat. Chefs that take the whole cow or even half a cow are great. Also home cooks who get excited about beef shins(which are better then short ribs) or like to make their own stock from bones all help us. I think food bloggers have a big opportunity to reach out to the farmers they buy from and help them. Maybe do a blog post. Get there farm name out there.
OH, and I think everyone should be on twitter. It is where all the food activism in NYC is happening.