By Anne Stanton
If there can be good news in the trend toward confined animal feeding
operations (CAFOs), its this. A growing number of farmers are trying
a health-oriented tack. They are marketing their free-range cattle,
turkeys, chickens, eggs and cattle to local residents at premium
Some of the well-known players in the region that are on the local
foods bandwagon include Shetlers Family Dairy, Gallaghers Centennial
Farm, and Jim Biehl who raises free-range turkeys in Mancelona. Even
Moomers, famous for its ice cream, has started selling milk.
Individual farmers, like Mike Hampel of Mesick, sell portions of
cattle to neighbors and friends, who divvy up a cow to make it more
affordable. A quarter of a cow, for example, would cost about $300 at
$2 to $3 a pound. Federal law prohibits him from selling cows at any
lower quantity than a quarter animal.
Hampel said he cant believe how demand keeps growing each year,
despite the bad economy. He attributes it to the better taste and
knowing where and how the animal was raised.
People who can afford to buy locally may want to, he said, adding
that local farms are at stake. When I was a kid and growing up on
Birmley Road, it was all farms. Farms on both sides of the road --
pigs, beef, cattle and cherries. So much is gone, all gone, its
The downside for customers is that they pay more and need a large
freezer for organizing and storing all that meat.
The disadvantage for Hampel is that individual sales are more
complicated than selling to Tyson Foods, which involves one quick
phone call. When he sells a cow to a family, he has to transport the
animal to Ebels General Store in Falmouth, which is one of only two
USDA-approved butchering facilities in the area. The other is L&Js
in Lake City.
The time to negotiate the price, transport the animal, fill out the
paperwork and meet with the buyer all adds up, he said.
AT THE FARMERS MARKET
Joanne Gallagher started selling beef about five years ago in the
farmers markets when her son wanted to return to the farm with his
wife and son, along with a grandson.
We had always milked cows, and we were trying to think of an entity
to help keep the farm going, sustain it, because theres not enough
money in dairying. Today our big dairy farms are huge, 500 to 2,000 to
3,000 cows, and we really couldnt go that way.
So we got the beef idea going, we bought beef cows, and weve been
growing a herd. We go to the farmers market, were working on online
ordering, and we have our market store here.
Gallagher sells hamburger for $5.99 a pound, a higher price than a
grocery store, but the customer is getting a much higher-quality,
better-tasting product, free of antibiotics and growth hormones, she
Sally Shetler said her family started bottling milk 10 years ago as a
way to financially survive.
The farmers put their milk on Deans milk trucks, and it goes to a
huge production facility, and they dont pay you anything, and thats
why there are hardly any dairy farmers left, she said. In the 1990s,
we had to decide we couldnt continue to farm on the income we were
getting for 40 cows for one family. We started bottling milk, and its
a lot more work than we expected it to be. Now 40 cows are supporting
three families and six part-time employees. We havent made a profit
yet, but were happy and were supporting three families.
Shetlers milk is sold at a premiumabout $3.80 for a half gallon,
plus a $2 deposit for the glass bottle. Shetlers also sells a wide
range of related products at its Kalkaska County market, including
chocolate milk, heavy cream, and individual cuts of meat for $5 a
pound, or $2.50 a pound if you buy a quarter cow.
BETTER & HAPPIER
Shetler says the milk, which isnt homogenized, tastes better and the
cows live a happier and longer lifefrom seven to 12 years. In
contrast to a CAFO, Shetler said their calves are not immediately
removed from their mothers, but are allowed to nurse for a week. After
that, theyre removed to a pen with other calves and continue to visit
and nurse from the mom for six weeks. Cows on the farm arent given
We give them a combination of vitamin C and peroxide and that heals
just about anything. And we also use Impro, an all-natural immune
Shetler believes that cattle are healthier walking out in the sunshine
and eating fresh grass. Thats what they are meant to eat, and
theyre out doing what cows are meant to do.
During the winter, the Shetlers house their dairy cattle in the barn,
but theyre allowed to go outside on calm and sunny days.
CHANGE IS COMING
That said, the biggest obstacle to buying local is price. Most
families are already struggling to make ends meet, without adding
premium meat, poultry and milk to the grocery list.
But there are ways to make it work and also live a healthier
lifestyle, said Mary Clifton, a Traverse City physician and
A good first step is to eat meat fewer days of the week. When you do
eat meat, have it play a minor role by adding lentils, vegetables,
brown rice, pasta or beans.
There appears to be a connection of using animal protein to heart
disease, obesity, and some cancers. By modifying your protein source
to a plant source, you can eat protein without the negative health
effects, Clifton said.
I often tell people that beans have the same protein as meat, but
beans dont have the same saturated fats or cholesterol. Beans are
cheaper and healthier. You can do baked beans instead of a baked
chicken. Add a can of beans into soup instead of a pound of hamburger.
I like the idea of replacing meat with a healthier choice, and at the
same time saving money.
Buying locally is a good idea when you want to be sure that the
animals are raised humanely without antibiotics and growth hormones,
The Michigan Land Use Institute has spearheaded the effort of getting
local food onto area plates with its Taste the Local Difference
program. You can go to the website (localdifference.org) to find a
farmer that sells what youre looking for.
Its also easy to find locally-raised beef cattle, chicken and milk at
co-ops, such as Oryana in Traverse City and Grain Train in Petoskey.
You can also buy buffalo meat at Olesons grocery stores. But when it
comes to other stores, its best to ask where the meat comes from.
The labels usually dont tell you or can be misleading (chicken raised
in Amish country, for example, isnt necessarily the same as chicken
raised by the Amish).
Despite the local food movement, the amount of regional food,
particularly milk and meat, is infinitesimal compared to CAFO-sourced
One reason area farmers dont sell their meat locally is that they
have to drive to a USDA-certified butcher in Falmouth or Lake City,
which involves time and expense.
That might eventually be solved with a facility closer to home. Rory
Royston, a storefront butcher in Buckley, is USDA custom-exempt,
meaning that he can legally slaughter, process, smoke, and
packagefamily farm animals without the USDA seal. His business has
grown enormously, but some farmers wont use him for liability
Royston said that if his business continues to grow, it would make
financial sense for him to seek USDA certification, a lengthy and
expensive process. That would mean far more farmers could affordably
slaughter and sell their animals.
Meanwhile, theres a three-year effort involving to get a mobile
slaughtering facility on the road, said Don Coe, who owns Black Star
The first step is to ensure theres enough interest by local farmers
to support a mobile slaughter unit, said Coe, who sits on the
Department of Agriculture Commission.
Its not easy and its very expensive, so we need to know whats the
critical mass before it makes sense. Thats really the issue.
Families can place an order with Cherry Capital Foods for locally
grown food, including beef and poultry. With Cherry Capital serving as
a distributor, farmers have less paperwork and families have to do
less legwork, because Cherry Capital deals directly with the farmers
and will deliver to a home. A minimum order is $400, said Evan Smith,
senior operations manager.
One of the issues that we as a community need to address on local
food is what is the value of distribution, Evans said. Some farmers
are distributors, but they would rather just farm, and we need, as a
community, to sort out how we want to value distribution. The exciting
thing is that the community is having a conversation on how food can
be fresh and delivered on a regular basis.
Hampel cautions that buying from an individual farmer is different
than a grocery store. Each farmer finishes an animal with a
different feed. Hampels cattle eat grass in the summer, for example,
and grain in the winter, which makes the meat more tender and marbled.
Once you find a taste you like, you need to stick with the farmer, he said.
Gallaghers and Shetlers Farm sell their products at area farm
markets and their own markets. Biehls all-natural turkeys are
available fresh on his Mancelona farm for the holiday season (or call
Jim Biehl at 231-587-9580 for store information). To submit an order
to Cherry Capital Foods, email sales at firstname.lastname@example.org
and ask for an order form. If you want to order beef, poultry, or
pork, please indicate that in your email.