Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Whither Processing?

With many meat livestock farmers that I talk to, sooner or later the topic of slaughter & processing comes up.  Rarely does it seem to generate positive comments.  Either the farmer feels like processing is too expensive, that they don't get everything back that they should, or that there just isn't room in processing line when they need one to be.  Often the complaints refer to more than one of these issues. I'd be remiss if I pretended that I myself haven't had these experiences...the bill is how much (GULP)?

On the good side, I have a pretty positive relationship with my local processor and have heard the comments from the other side of that processing bill.  Farmers who raise animals when the grass is green and want to ship everything in a September/October window of time.  Farmers who don't understand the cuts of meat and options...such as if you want pork steaks, you have to cut up a ham.  Farmers who are slow to pay.  Processors have to pay to keep good help on, even in the slow times of the year.

On and on, it's a complicated system, and a very personal one.  Each contributor to the relationship has the ability to make or break the business of the other. The side I fall on in this situation is that we all have to work together, because together we will succeed or together we will fall.  The customers out there wanting to buy our products...they need us to succeed.

There will be more posts about this in the next few months as the VT Meat Workshop Series gets going, but in the mean time, we all need to take the time to learn  more about the State of Meat in Vermont.  For a great overview, check out the Farm to Plate Initiative Strategic Plan section on livestock infrastructure and meat processing.  It;s an excellent read and a good place to start your education.  Already it's been useful for mine.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grass-based Media Smackdown

About a week ago, VT was visited by our illustrious NY grazing partner-in-crime Troy Bishopp of Bishopp Family Farm.  For those of you who don't know Troy, you can acquaint yourself with his writing and farming activities at his web site:

Technically, Troy was visiting our comprehensive grazing training group for our second training in the series (on planned grazing, more on that in another post).  Troy is never one to avoid over commitment (and apparently neither am I), so he agreed to come a day early and lead a training for farmers wanting to improve their media skills.  The training was great (although too short to get to all the topics), and one of our attendees showed up the rest of the group by submitting a letter to the editor the very next day!  Even though I do outreach and media work a lot, there was plenty for me to learn and the process gave me a good kick to restart our VPN blog.  For those with long memories, we had a blog several years ago, but the interface was grumpy and cumbersome.  A new day.

As a result of the media training and the advent of our new (again) blog, I'm announcing a grass-based grassroots media campaign.  Let's spread the word about the benefits of grazing to the public.  Let's share our perspectives as grass-based farmers through our newspapers and with our neighbors.  Let's talk with farmers and neighbors (and farming neighbors!) about new ideas to address water quality, farm profitability and quality of life.  Let's step up with our stories of success so that policy and decision makers can learn from us.

So I've just started with some quick notes in several local newspapers:

Submitted to the Randolph Herald 4/11/11:

Caption: NY farmer and "Grass Whisperer", Troy Bishopp, recently visited Bethany Church teaching local farmers how to become more media-friendly.  Bishopp encourages farmers to share their experience and perspectives about current events and how they relate back to farm issues.  Workshop attendee Jinny Cleland of Four Springs Farm took the plunge with her Herald letter to the editor in last week's paper.  (Photo: Jenn Colby)

and to the VT Standard in Woodstock, VT 4/12/11:
Caption: Bill & Cathy Emmons of Cloudland Farm hosted a training workshop for agricultural advisors helping farmers improve their pasture management skills.  NY farmer and "Grass Whisperer" Troy Bishopp and Jennifer Colby of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture led the training for attendees from five states.  After grazing on a delicious roast beef and caramelized onion sandwich buffet, the group was ready to dive back into debating the finer points of grazing grass and clovers.  (Photo: Jenn Colby)

So let the grazing smackdown begin!