Farmers, agribusinesses and meat lockers innovate to meet consumer demand
BY KAY SNYDER
Nothing says summertime like pork chops or ribeye steaks sizzling on the grill! With grilling season in full swing, Iowans are sure to find high-quality and flavorful protein options no matter if they shop at the grocery store, local meat locker or purchase from a neighboring farmer.
The movement to “buy local” foods – especially meat – skyrocketed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and consumers were preparing more of their own meals. The increased demand for animal protein exposed gaps in meat processing systems, causing the traditional farm-to-fork cycle to derail. There wasn’t a shortage of livestock; the supply chain was disrupted by worker shortages at processing facilities due to the pandemic. As a result of the disruption, food insecurity increased and consumers wanted more control over the source and supply of their food. The trend to buy local is expected to continue throughout 2021 and beyond.
Iowa’s livestock farmers lead the nation in pork production and are in the top 10 states for beef production. Globally, Iowa meats are recognized as the standard of high quality and flavor. With the challenges large meat processing plants faced during 2020, Iowans turned their attention to sourcing meat from small local lockers.
In general, local demand for meat has far outweighed capacity. Local meat lockers – many in electric cooperative-served areas – have developed unique offerings and business model responses to strengthen Iowa’s overall food processing supply chain, support rural communities and help meet consumer demand.
Expansions in Edgewood
Edgewood Locker is embarking on the construction of a 19,000-square-foot facility in Edgewood. The additional space will help satisfy demand from wholesale and retail customers. It is expected to quadruple the volume of wholesale business, increasing the production of products such as jerky, sausage and more. As of early this year, Edgewood Locker’s processing capacity for individual farmer-owned beef was sold out through 2021 and 2022. Owners expect the new facility to open sometime next year and anticipate adding 14 full-time jobs for the community.
Central Iowa Power Cooperative has applied for possible U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) support of this project. Maquoketa Valley Electric Cooperative, Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative and Dairyland Power also offered to provide support from their revolving loan funds, if needed.
New opportunities in Camanche
Naeve Family Beef in Camanche plans to construct a 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art processing and packaging facility this year. The startup company will provide locally raised protein products to local consumers, retailers, restaurants, grocery stores and food distributors. It will also offer custom processing and packaging to farmers across the Midwest. The new plant is expected to process 50 head-per-day and create 45 to 50 new jobs for the region.
Customer service in Osage
S&S Meats & Spirits has a vending machine filled with meat products that are available to the community of Osage all year. No matter if the shop is open, this vending machine offers a rotating stock of beef sticks, bacon, cured pork and other locker-made products. In addition to the vending machine, they offer curbside pick up and meat bundles for customers who may not have the finances or freezer space to buy a half or quarter of beef or pork. The meat bundles provide a larger selection of meat at a reduced per pound price. Throughout COVID-19 shutdowns, S&S owners and staff used social media to stay connected with customers.
Mobile meat processing in Hull
Old Parlor Meat Company is a custom meat-processing business with a unique twist – its mobile unit travels to livestock when it is time for slaughter. Bringing the processing facility to the farm saves time and is less stressful for the animals. The carcass is brought back to a permanent location on the Van Grouw family farm between Rock Valley and Hull, where meat can be aged, cut, trimmed and packaged to customers’ specifications.
Program expands market opportunities
In May 2020, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship adopted the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program, designating Iowa as the seventh state to enter the program. CIS allows meat processed at state-inspected plants to be sold outside of Iowa. To qualify for the program, a meat processor must have less than 25 full-time employees and comply with all federal food safety, sanitation and facility regulations.
This means that livestock producers can sell their meat and poultry across state lines if processed at a CIS facility. Before this program, farmers had to use a USDA-inspected facility to sell out of state, but small and mid-sized livestock farms could rarely access those plants due to volume requirements and logistics tailored to larger producers. The CIS program allows farmers to grow their business, move more products and access new markets. It also gives consumers more access to Iowa-raised processed meats.
“Local meat lockers play an important role in their communities and the food supply chain,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We pursued the CIS program to help small Iowa businesses grow and give consumers more access to Iowa-grown meat and poultry products.”
Story City Locker was Iowa’s first meat processor to be approved for the CIS program. They originally were interested in the CIS program to fill a 15% lag in their schedule, but with COVID-19-related product demand, the locker quickly gained traction and experienced a 25% increase. Story City Locker is now booking well into 2022 for custom processing. Being approved for the program has positioned the locker well for future growth.
Kay Snyder is the director of marketing and communications for the Iowa Area Development Group.
Sizzling-delicious local meat options for consumers
By Ann Thelen
Iowa’s farmers, agribusinesses and meat processors continually demonstrate flexibility and creativity when working to supply food to consumers. If you are interested in buying local from a meat locker near you, access the business list online at: data.iowaagriculture.gov/licensing_lists/meatpoultry/.
The following are two examples of innovative solutions developed by Iowa organizations, designed to help consumers connect with high-quality Iowa-raised proteins.
Iowa beef directory
A year ago, the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) announced the launch of a local beef directory to connect farmers that sell beef with consumers who want to buy it. Those looking to purchase beef have a great deal of freedom to select from a variety of beef choices. The Iowa Local Beef Directory provides educational resources to help shoppers through the buying process and directly connects them with Iowa beef farmers.
“Today’s global challenges have shown us that consumers want to support their local economies,” says Janine Moore, IBIC 2020 chair. “We’ve seen a growing desire by consumers to learn more about how beef is produced and where they can find direct marketing opportunities. Since IBIC supports all types of beef production and purchasing options, this beef directory is a resource that will help make that connection.”
The directory features an interactive map and contact information for a growing list of farms and farm retail stores. Shoppers can use the various comments and certifications found on each listing to determine what best fits their particular product preferences.
The local beef directory provides resources to help buyers understand what to expect when purchasing their desired amount of beef, including carcass breakdowns, cut guides, insight into reading beef product labels, storage and shelf-life recommendations, food safety and cooking tips, family-friendly beef recipes and frequently asked Beef Quality Assurance questions.
Visit iabeef.org to learn more.
If you want to support farmers and small businesses, and you also want the convenience of delivery or pickup, ChopLocal is for you.
Founded by Iowa farmers in 2020, ChopLocal is an online marketplace that makes it easy for farmers and butchers to connect with modern meateaters. They simplify the process from farm-to-fork, support small businesses and provide great-tasting products.
Consumers can find beef, pork, turkey, chicken, lamb, duck, rabbit, seafood and more on the site. Plus, there are options to buy whole, halves or quarters of beef and pork.
Visit choplocal.com for more options.