By Caroline Morgan
The meatpacking industry is constantly scrutinized for its practices, including the poor treatment of animals. But local farms offer a solution by providing delivery services for healthy meat without antibiotics or GMOs.
There’s been a push for transparency in the meat industry. The movement towards knowing exactly where meat comes from before eating it and how the animals are treated prior to slaughter presents an alternative to supporting industrial agriculture.
Local farms and farming organizations offer delivery services for better-quality meat–a solution that’s one step closer to solving the industry’s problems on a small scale. Ordering from local farms means delivering meat to the doorstep.
These delivery services developed in response to the unknowns in industrial meat production. Operations such as Cairncrest Farm and Acabonac Farms as well as organizations like Grassroots Farmers’ Cooperative provide meat delivery services directly to Long Islanders.
On a local level, Cairncrest Farm in West Winfield, New York, partakes in this response. Garth Brown owns the 200-acre farm with his wife, brother and sister-in-law.
“We raise grass-fed beef,” Brown said. “That means 100% grass fed. Our cows never eat anything but grass.”
Beef, lamb, pork and poultry are the four staple options. Brown was adamant that all of their animals are raised humanely.
Although Brown and his co-owners grew up in rural Pennsylvania but not on farms, Cairncrest Farm was the result of recognizing the issues in the meatpacking industry and attempting to change farming on a small scale.
The farm began in 2010 as a way to “provide an alternative” to purchasing from the industry, especially “knowing that there were big problems with industrial agriculture,” Brown said.
That alternative is a delivery service that ships to all of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and parts of New England and Pennsylvania.
Brown used to deliver to Long Island himself. But the pandemic has changed that and given the farm the opportunity to expand shipping with UPS and FedEx.
Stephen Skrenta, the owner of Acabonac Farms in Amagansett, also delivers locally raised meat. Acabonac Farms sells grass-fed beef, raised on Long Island.
“Conventional beef, in most instances, you’ve added hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics… that, you know, was concerning,” Skrenta said. “For those that see value in what we do, it’s very convenient, compared to the supermarkets.”
Even on a broader level, there are organizations that provide similar delivery services.
Cody Hopkins is the CEO and founding farmer at Grassroots Farmers’ Cooperative, a farming organization made up of 55 local farms that each contributes its supply to the online store. Grassroots Farmers’ Cooperative delivers to homes in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, according to its website. The company is also supported by the nonprofit organization Heifer International.
“We are a farmer-owned cooperative,” Hopkins said. “We have all agreed to use the same standard of farming and to be very transparent with our customers about those farming standards.”
Customers can buy grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised poultry and forest-raised pork from Grassroots Farmers’ Cooperative.
“We direct-market to individual families across the country,” Hopkins said. Customers place orders and then “we ship it direct to them from our fulfillment facility.”
The issues in the meatpacking industry are large-scale problems, but delivery services attempt to address those issues. By setting up a delivery service from their farm, Brown said, he and his co-owners feel they’re doing their small part to change the farming industry.
“Industrial slaughterhouses are about the most exploitative labor environments in America–they’re really, really horrible–so supporting an alternative to that is pretty important to me,” Brown said.
Hopkins agreed that industrial agriculture is harmful, especially considering its widespread use of antibiotics.
“Eighty percent of the antibiotics in the country go to livestock,” Hopkins said. “There’s a lot of consequences to the industrial livestock system.”
The Food and Drug Administration website states that there’s no current data on the quantity of antibiotics used in livestock; however, the site says the 80% figure “likely derived from a previous FDA report regarding drug sales, not drug use.”
Supporting alternatives to industrial agriculture engenders a better understanding of the meat source.
“You’re actually buying directly from the farmers,” Hopkins said. “Every package we ship out has a farm-of-origin label on it. You can trace it back to that farm, you can learn more about that farm … We’re very transparent.”
The transparency that local farms offer compared to the opacity of the meatpacking industry is the most significant difference, Brown said.
Delivery services from local farmers who handle animals in a humane and healthy way is a solution to the problems in agribusiness. Even still, it’s a work-in-progress solution, Brown said.
“I think it’s the start of a solution,” he said. “Figuring out how to shift the entire food system towards something that’s more sustainable and more ethical… I feel like this is a step in that direction, but there’s a lot more that needs to be figured out.”
Grassroots Farmers’ Cooperative is “hopefully one of many solutions,” Hopkins said. “We’re not close to solving all that exists due to the industrial model.”
It doesn’t completely solve the problem because of the prices that local farmers have to charge compared to what the industry charges. Buying meat from local farmers costs significantly more.
“It costs more like $600 or $700 for me to get something that an industrial meat plant can do for $100,” Brown said. “I’m aware that there are a lot of people who can’t afford to buy from a farm like mine, and that’s a big systemic problem that I honestly don’t have the answer to.”
The meatpacking industry problems lie deeper within the system. But using farm delivery services can make a change to the institution.
Delivery services aren’t just beneficial for farmers. They’re beneficial for customers, too. It’s a convenient way to get meat. Customers can order online and have meat delivered frozen to their door without going out.
“You can just go online and buy,” Brown said. “Also, everything I sell is à la carte so people just buy what they want.”
Running these delivery services proves to be a developing solution, but there are limitations to the practice.
The backup UPS and FedEx faced delivering packages during the pandemic was a problem when delivering perishable items, Brown said. But the larger obstacle these delivery services face is the skepticism from the public.
“People are pretty comfortable buying groceries [online],” Brown said. “But they’re not nearly as comfortable buying meat online… people are much more comfortable going to a store and buying it.”
Still, farm delivery services are effective, even if only a work in progress.
“No one’s trying to get rich here,” Hopkins said. “We’re just trying to help create a food system of integrity.”