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  • Writer's pictureLiz

Purists, Partners, and Progress II: hyper locality

If you haven't read it already, check out the beginning of this conversation HERE

You want honest, regenerative, humane food, right? You want local food, right? Are you all or nothing? I want all of those things, but I realize that not all of them are possible for every farmer right this moment, and I am willing to share in their story and growth towards all of these attributes :)

How local is local? What does it mean to actually be local? And are we hyper-obsessed with locality?

Farmers markets are popping up all over the place to "feed the need" for local, honest, regenerative, humane foods. These markets do a lot of the leg work for you in regards to how the foodstuffs are produced and where they come from, but the top priority is locality.

What does that really mean, to be local? Is it the same town? The same county? Within 50 miles? Is it a region? Or should local mean: what it takes to get it to market? As in: What is the resource footprint? I think we would all agree that shipping our meat and fruits in from California or New Zealand is not the best utilization of resources. What about a producer who operates a bison farm in West Virginia, sells at market in WV, MD, and VA, and occasionally harvests custom grazed animals from a like-minded, grass-finished bison operation in Wisconsin with access to high quality slaughter facilities? Now we are in the grey area, ehh? Or some would think ;)

Here's the Dealio:

We do custom graze some animals at Double J Bison up in Wisconsin while we are putting in fencing and working on our holistic grazing model here in WV. Grazing land is not as plentiful in the Mountain State (or really the East Coast in general) and we need to be very methodical on how we raise these large animals on our acreage so as to regenerate the land instead of degrade it. The region has been excited to have regenerative, grass-fed and finished bison available for their tables and we are trying to scale up smartly with the demand.

We have a great working relationship with Double J Bison because they are passionate about grass-fed and finished bison (one of the very few bison operations in the Nation who are actually likeminded). They also have access to a couple certified processors, which is convenient because processors in our immediate area, as well as across the Nation, have lengthy wait lists. We have been fortunate enough to field harvest our bison with a local WV processor for the past few years, but they closed down in November. We are now in the beginning stages of building our own bison processing facility that will be WV inspected, but it will not be completed until late 2024 (super exciting to own this process ourselves and be able to field harvest 100% in the future!).

The bison industry is a bit different from beef and other meats because not all processors will even slaughter bison due to them being considered a wild animal (the proper term is “non-amenable species” per USDA and FSIS). They are definitely hard to get into a facility and shot safely, hence why we pushed for the field harvesting route. There are also not a lot of folks who want to take on raising this “wild” novel protein, which means long distances when building relationships and co-op options.

Building relationships and co-op options is the way towards profitable small farming ventures of the future. Most of us getting into the industry did not come from generational farms where the land, animals, and/or facilities were handed down, thereby offsetting huge amounts of start up costs. In a perfect world, we would all be raising and processing our meat animals from calves to steaks at a profitable scale; brownie points for those who can and do that all locally. There are growth steps required to head in that ultimate direction; we at Riffle Farms want to grow and process all of our own bison on our farm in WV, but we have to grow smartly and hope the local community will support us in that endeavor.

I believe the ultimate goal is to help local farmers stay in our communities and provide our communities with food that is good for us and the land. Not every community can offer all of the services necessary for their farmers to do this, hence the relationships and co-ops that have been created to lend a helping hand. We should instead be considering: Can a farmer do what they do more locally? If not, is their heart and mind focused on a shared end goal?

Just some thoughts and explanations from one mother farmer ;)

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