Bill Palladino is the Director of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Taste the Local Difference program, a community partnership connecting farmers, retailers & wholesalers, schools and other institutions and government agencies to build a stronger and more local food system.
Recently the driving force behind Pigstock, Chip Hoagland, convened a one-day event dubbed “Beefstock” to explore how can we increase protein production & processing in our area. Bill writes:
One issue in northwest Michigan, and in the state as a whole, is that we simply don’t have a sufficient quantity of protein producers. The main issue seems to be historic. Once the feedlot scale of beef and pork production started there was no turning back. And now we’re faced with corn-fed animals that consume a commodity whose market is mainly grown in states like Iowa and Nebraska. How do we manage our own protein production when we’ve created a production cycle that’s untenable economically?
Nels Veliquette of Cherries R Us (one of the largest agricultural land holders in northwest Michigan) represented orchardists with land that could be used for protein production. Nels emphasized collaborations of resource holders and stressed that access to capital is a necessity that is not always available to farmers.
Don Coe of Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, MI. He’s also been a long-time member of the Michigan Ag Commission. Don related that our region held one hundred dairy farms at one time … far lower today and that we’ve lost our “pathways to market” for protein.
Fred Laughlin is the Director of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute thinks that one solution could be to find a way back to the model of a half a century ago when institutions took protein shipments on the hoof saying “We simply can’t get the cuts our customers want in quantities we require from local production.”
Dan Hubbell of Hubbell Farm in Leelanau County raises natural beef, pork & poultry. He says we’ve regulated ourselves out of old sustainable models and into a cheap food mode and says, “I’ve seen at least three local food movements in my time, one during the 70′s back to land era, one during the 1980′s and 1990′s, and the one we’re in today. As in the other two, I predict the failure of this food movement. So many farmers today have off-farm jobs just to get by. How is that going to be sustainable?”
Rory Royston owner of RRR Meat Processing in Buckley told how meat processing was at one point regional. “There were small to large packing houses everywhere, so people didn’t have to travel distances to process animals.”
Jason Rountree is MSU’s Assistant Professor for Beef Cattle and Forage Utilization is running a large-scale research project to determine the best methods of grass-fed beef production in northern Michigan. He shared that that current feed-lot beef production methods require 14 calories of oil input for every calorie of protien and asks “What kind of agriculture do we want here?” Jason suggests that returning more benefit to our local community and farmers is key.
In a companion article, Tricia Phelps of MLUI suggests we vote for local meat with our wallets and lists some producers and markets where you can do just that!