Almost one and a half billion dollars changed hands at farmers' markets across the United States during 2010. Yes, I was pretty surprised by that figure, too.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers' markets increased last year by 16 percent, up from 5,247 to 6,132 markets. Over three million Americans regularly buy food from the 60,000+ farmers who sell at these markets each year. This isn't the result of some multi-million dollar corporate advertising campaign. The success of the farmers' market is driven by the desires of people who believe that food is best when it's fresh, grown locally, and bought directly from the farmer who grew or produced it. So, who are the unsung heroes who are making all this happen?
In a side-by-side comparison of farm animal welfare standards, Animal Welfare Approved is shown to be one of the best. A leading welfare organization, Humane Farm Animal Care, has just published a comparison of standards including USDA/Organic, American Humane Certified, Global Animal Partnership (GAP/Whole Foods Market) and others, and once again, AWA’s standards are the most rigorous requiring pasture access and grass-based production. The comparison chart shows key elements of standards such as outdoor access for animals, antibiotic use, transparency and managerial conflicts of interest. Across the board, AWA was ranked the best, as it has time and again.
In response to Facebook Fan Lisa’s questions regarding the source of the bison burgers she purchased and also about the USDA rule regarding feedlots for Certified Organic bison and cattle, we emailed her the following information:
Unfortunately, Superior Midwest Foods said they wouldn’t be able to tell us the names of the bison farms for their burgers. They said they get the bison meat from several different farms, make it into burgers and ship them off to the retailers. This means the bison could have been raised on pasture or on a feedlot, no one really knows.
Regarding Certified Organic, sadly, this certification does not guarantee that the animals didn’t come from feedlots. While certified organic does require that the animals have access to the outdoors, and ruminants must have access to pasture with exception of the “finishing phase”, this doesn’t mean they actually have to go outdoors and graze on pasture to be considered organic or not be on a feedlot. To avoid this issue buy only from AWA or AGA farms as they are the only two labels that prohibit feedlots. A good source of advice would be http://www.organicconsumers.org/.
Alexandria, VA—Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) farmer Dan Gibson of Grazin’ Angus Acres in Ghent, New York, first heard the rumor on Sunday morning—the short ribs he had been accumulating and subsequently supplied to a mysterious buyer had been served at the reception following Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to Marc Mezvinsky on Saturday, July 31 in Rhinebeck. The rumors abounded that Grazin’ Angus Acres had been named on the menu. Unable to confirm this, AWA approached the caterer who had purchased the ribs. AWA spoke with Rob Cano at RCano Events to confirm that Grazin’ Angus Acres short ribs were the short ribs being written about by gossip columns and blogs.
“I was first approached at the Union Square farmer’s market,” Gibson says of the New York City farmer's market where he sells his 100% AWA grassfed beef and prominently displays his “Proud to be Animal Welfare Approved” sign. “A customer I hadn’t worked with in the past said he was looking for humane, local, grassfed beef for a large event. He asked me if I could supply short ribs for 350 people. At first I said no, but I went back and crunched the numbers and said yes. There are so many events in New York—from charity galas to company dinners—that I really didn’t think anything about it.”
My family and I are traveling through the American West, and I am awed by its wild majesty and beauty. During a stop at Yellowstone, we paused by a river to watch six bison cross. Soon, we were treated to one of the most astonishing sights I’ve ever seen—something I feel grateful that my sons were able to witness. Those six bison were soon followed by their herd mates, and we were able to see something not many Americans have experienced since bison were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century: the awe-inspiring power of a bison herd on the move.
Probably 200 bison forded that stream as they moved to new grazing lands, and witnessing it was an unparalleled experience. Despite their powerful size, bison are graceful creatures and move almost daintily, but with speed and purpose. And they really do thunder.
In 1800, it was estimated that more than 40 million bison roamed the United States; by 1900, after an unprecedented and sustained massacre, fewer than 600 bison remained. Most of the bison you see today are descendents of a ragtag group of several dozen bison who had been saved by conservationists dedicated to their survival.
Historically, bison were the lifeblood of a number of Native American tribes, providing meat, skins, and other important supplies. Indeed, bison meat has fed humans for thousands of years. Six years ago was the first time I saw bison being farmed for meat. The animals were being raised on 13,000 acres in Texas and were roaming their homelands in family groups, just as nature intended. They were carefully overseen by skilled stockmen who knew that the best management for these magnificent creatures was to ensure that they had the space and freedom to utilize the land to their own advantage.
Talk about a waste of time on top of a waste of money. Three senators recently sent a letter to the USDA leadership to protest that a paltry $65 million from an agribusiness support fund of $307 billion (i.e., the 2008-2012 U.S. Farm Bill) went to groups trying to supply tax-paying customers the healthy, safe, nutritious food they demanded from local American farmers. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing their “serious misgivings” regarding the new USDA initiative, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” (KYF2). They charged that the program’s measures were “completely detached from the realities of production agriculture” and accused it of prioritizing locovore markets “at the expense of rural communities with documented rural development needs.”
Am I missing something here? According to the 2000 census, nearly 80% of the U.S. population (i.e., eaters) live in urban areas - wouldn’t it make sense to focus our resources there? Though farms may be located in rural areas, their markets are by and large where the people are - in cities. The major beneficiaries of government funding to date have not been farmers but big business and shareholders. Government payments that facilitate production below the market value help the company, not the producer.
On May 4 Animal Welfare Approved hosted an expert panel of writers, farmers and representatives of sustainable livestock production. Entitled, “Green Pastures, Bright Future: Taking the Meat We Eat Out of the Factory and Putting it Back on the Farm," the discussion centered on the need for truly sustainable livestock farming that takes into account animal welfare and the health of our environment - and ourselves. Panelists included investigative journalist and author of Animal Factory David Kirby; author of the bestselling Righteous Porkchop Nicolette Hahn Niman; chicken farmer and whistle-blower in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” Carole Morison; and rancher, veterinarian and president of the American Grassfed Association, Dr. Patricia Whisnant.
The future of high-welfare, environmentally and financially sustainable livestock farming is brighter than industrialized agriculture would have us believe, says a panel of experts convening on May 4, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in Washington, DC for a public discussion, “Green Pastures, Bright Future: Taking the Meat We Eat Out of the Factory and Putting it Back on the Farm.” The panel discussion is presented by Animal Welfare Approved in cooperation with the Pew Environment Group.
Participating on the panel are investigative journalist and author of Animal Factory David Kirby; author of the best-selling Righteous Porkchop Nicolette Hahn Niman; chicken farmer and whistle-blower in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Food, Inc." Carole Morison; and rancher, veterinarian and president of the American Grassfed Association, Dr. Patricia Whisnant. The discussion will be moderated by Andrew Gunther, program director for Animal Welfare Approved.
The demand for locally produced meats is well-documented, and there are farmers eager to produce it. Too often the bottleneck in this scenario is simply an absence of independent processing facilities. A new report by Food and Water Watch explores the reasons behind this absence and the changes that would be needed to rectify it.
Entitled, "Where's the Local Beef?," the report describes an monopolistic industry that favors large operations at the expense of smaller ones. Despite a large number of small start-ups, the authors note that most of these will go out of business. The current regulatory and industrial climate is just not designed for independent slaughter plants - existing or planned.
Among the obstacles faced by smaller plants (defined as having fewer than 500 employees) are: scale-inappropriate regulations, lack of skilled personnel, and a near absence of competition in the industry. For instance in 2005, the top four beef-packing companies controlled over 80% of the market...
Concerns about food safety, the environment and farm animal welfare are prompting increasing numbers of consumers to seek out ethically produced food, including meat, dairy and eggs from humanely raised animals, even if it means paying more. A new survey from San Francisco-based Context Marketing shows that almost 70 percent of American food shoppers are willing to pay more for food that is safe, humane and environmentally sound.
Education, consumer advocacy and lifting the veil from the practices of industrialized agriculture are transforming shopping habits. Despite industry efforts, concern for farm animal welfare is gaining significant strength. The study finds that the importance of animals being humanely raised is exceeded only by food safety concerns, and animal welfare scores well above “natural” and “organically produced.” Consumers who have grown up more aware of how food is produced are intensifying the demand for meat, dairy and eggs from humanely raised animals: Forty-four percent of shoppers aged 20 to 34 always look for cage-free eggs.
Animal Welfare Approved seeking AWA pasture-based farm(s) to supply eggs in Washington, DC area. If not currently certified, must be willing to pursue free certification. Immediate need. Please contact Julie Munk at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202.546.5292.
People who eat meat are putting aside their cookbooks to explore the very beginning of meat preparation—slaughtering and butchering. OregonLive.com’s recent article “Conscious Carnivores, Ethical Butchers are Changing Food Culture” is a great look at the burgeoning movement to get really hands-on with your meat. People are signing up in droves to learn to butcher meat themselves and to learn about the slaughter process so that they can be assured their meat really comes from humanely raised animals. Of course, this is music to our ears—AWA has long advocated for the highest birth-to-slaughter standards and believes people should be well-educated about every step of the production process. Thoroughly knowing how meat gets from farm to table is the responsibility of everyone who enjoys a grassfed hamburger or pastured bacon.