Did you know hay is likely going to be less expensive than corn this year?
It will create an interesting situation for beef prices, which are projected to skyrocket in general this summer on account of the awful drought last summer. That abysmal growing season and the demand of ethanol pushed the price of corn through the roof. The calf in that picture will probably cost a farmer more to feed than they can sell the meat for at slaughter time.
Will this mean that those of us used to paying a premium for grassfed beef and dairy will suddenly realize the prices are about the same compared to conventional beef? Maybe not. It seems like all prices go up anyway, but I’m hoping it’s one step in the right direction to encourage more farmers to raise grassfed cattle.
How do I know all this?
Because I know my farmer.
Get to Know Your Farmer
Years ago when I first shopped at the Farmer’s Market, I loved the whimsy of it all – being outdoors, buying direct from the grower, checking prices from one stall to the next, pushing my little son in the stroller and filling our basket.
I felt like I was “supposed to” strike up conversations with the farmers and sellers to complete the local food picture I was creating, but I didn’t really know what to say. I was just cordial while I made my purchases and enjoyed the whole experience immensely.
Now the Farmer’s Market is simply part of my life, and like many chores, it has lost (most of) its whimsy for me, although I now chat with farmers more than ever.
They have information I want, and I know what questions to ask to get it.
This post is sponsored by Door to Door Organics.
Sourcing the Best Food
My goal in purchasing as close to the grower as possible is to understand how my food was grown so I can source it as “cleanly” as possible.
I know that the labels in grocery stores proclaiming “All Natural!” mean diddly squat, since there are no regulations for what the word “natural” means. Even farmers at the market fall prey to using the term, since many half-educated consumers are looking for better food and want to believe that “natural” will give them what they want.
That term has been stripped of its meaning much like the value of a penny these days – you can’t buy anything with a penny, and you can’t learn anything from the word “natural.” You have to ask the right questions.
Any farmer can slap a sign that says “organic” on their stall, but if it’s not “USDA certified organic,” you can’t be exactly sure what that means. It costs a lot to be certified organic, so it’s actually really nice to find a farmer who grows organically without the sticker, because they’re usually a better deal.
You’ll want to ask them:
- What kinds of pest control do you use?
- How do you fertilize?
- How do you source your seeds?
- Do you treat your produce with anything after harvest?
The answers you’re looking for are as follows:
- Words like “integrated pest management” are good, although not necessarily organic. It’s really best if they tell you that all their pesticides are the same ones certified organic farmers use, or better yet, that they don’t have to spray anything at all (the case for much lettuce in the spring, for example, when temps are still cold).
- Standard fertilizer has synthetic potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. You don’t want to hear that. Fish oil, composted manure, or certified organic fertilizers are much better options.
- Certified organic growers can’t use GMO seeds. That’s something that you won’t know unless you ask, since many farmers like to share that they’re a “no spray” farm but might not even be aware of issues with genetic modification. That said, there are really very few genetically modified crops on the market, especially since you’re likely not purchasing industrial corn and soybeans at the local market. Watch for crookneck squash and summer squash, unfortunately.
- Hopefully, the answer is no. Local farmers shouldn’t need to use waxes to prolong shelf life! You want to particularly ask this one with potatoes, which are often sprayed with a pretty nasty root inhibitor.
Animal Products are Another Page Entirely
You need to learn even more vocabulary terms to talk shop with a meat, milk, or egg farmer to make sure the price premium over cheap conventional stuff in the grocery is worth it.
Whereas with produce, 100% organic is pretty much the whole question, with animals, you want to make sure they’re not only eating “clean” organic feed but the correct feed for their species.
- cows = grass and hay, not grain
- chickens = should have access to bugs and grasses
- hogs = eat just about anything, milk-fed is a special treat!
For hogs and chickens, the term “pastured” is a good sign that you’re in the right place. That typically means they are outside and can engage in normal behavior for the species: rooting in the dirt, pecking and eating bugs, etc.
Is the feed non-GMO?
Lots of farmers will tell you that they raise their own feed, because that sounds very local and warm fuzzy, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good quality. If they’re raising GMO corn and soybeans and supplementing with bakery waste from a “local” place that sells their trash to farmers, you’re not getting the price premium you’re probably paying.
Know that “grassfed” is another term that is unregulated, so if you live in a place with cold winters, ask specifically what the animals are eating when they can’t be out on pasture. Dried hay and alfalfa are still “grasses,” but corn silage is not so much.
You also want to ask about any supplements the animals might receive:
- no antibiotics of course
- no hormones
- for chickens, flax, egg shell, or calcium supplements aren’t a bad thing and may make for healthier eggs
For more detailed information on each category, please visit my past posts on the subjects:
- How to find good milk
- How to find healthy eggs
- How to find quality butter
- How to find quality cheese
- Meat sourcing
- Sourcing safe healthy fish
- Sourcing quality animal products/meats
- 10 Questions to ask your Farmer
What if I don’t have my own Farmer?
If you can’t, the Internet is a wonderful thing. The sponsor of this post, Door to Door Organics, offers not only produce but also beef, chicken, milk, eggs, butter and cheese (and more) that you can add to your produce box, delivered right to your door.
You can use your new knowledge of terms to find the best option for your family, and use the code “kitchstew13” to get $10 off your first produce box. (Only available in certain metro areas.)
Do you have a farmer you can trust? How did you find him/her?