Finger Lakes Meat Locker
The meat locker provides inexpensive, shared freezer space for people to store bulk meat purchases and increase the bulk meat market to benefit local farmers and consumers. As a meat locker customer, you can purchase meat directly from farmers through MeatSuite.com. The meat will be cut, wrapped, frozen and delivered to your bin, then you can pick up your meat during scheduled pick-up times, much like a CSA.
The meat locker is part of the Finger Lakes Meat Project and is funded by the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program. We talked to Taryn Hubbard, Meat Locker Manager, and Matt LeRoux, Agriculture Marketing Specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, and a founder of the Meat Locker Project.
What is the meat locker?
TH: The meat locker is a community freezer space where people can rent bins to store their bulk local meat purchases.
ML: The Finger Lakes Meat Project, as a whole, is trying to make local meat more accessible in a few ways. One way is by renting freezer space here at the meat locker. Another way is our website, MeatSuite.com, where people find farmers selling in bulk. The third way is that we do public education. So we have these three ways that we’re trying to make local meat more accessible.
Who is it good for?
TH: It’s ideally serving people who don’t have the space for a huge chest freezer, can’t afford one, or don’t want one. Many people in this area live in apartments but like eating local meat, and its generally more affordable to buy it in bulk.
ML: If you’re going to buy half a hog, you’ll lay out the cash for that but also having to lay out the cash for a freezer would be prohibitive for a lot of folks.
TH: It’s also good for our local farmers who want to be able to sell meat in bulk and are looking for a market- we’re hoping to expand that market. It also cuts out a lot of marketing costs for farmers to be able to sell in bulk. Selling more in bulk generally makes it easier for the farmers.
What kind of change are you trying to make?
ML: We want to create new local foods buyers, specifically local meat buyers. We think meat raised on the farms in a 30, 50, or even 100 mile radius is great for the land, it’s great for the way the animals have been handled, it’s great nutritionally.
How did it start?
ML: Kerri Bartlett (my partner in Steuben County) and I have received a stream of different grants through the years. My conclusion from research from an early grant was that the most efficient and therefore profitable way to sell animals is in quarters and halves. So in essence, farmers are selling animals, not meat. We then found that almost every farmer wants to sell in quarters and halves, but they cited factors that were limiting them.
We surveyed consumers in the region to ask people why they don’t sell and buy local meat or meat in bulk. We heard the reasons that were keeping them. Then we developed this meat locker project to expand usage of the meat suite.
So, it’s always been about trying to help farmers access the best markets for them: ones that are labor efficient and have good prices. It just so happens that it’s also so affordable for the consumer.
what impact does this have on the community?
ML: We’re looking to remove barriers to the access of local food, specifically local meat. Meat is a place where the best way for the farmer to sell also happens to be really affordable. When it comes to meat in bulk, local meat bought this way can actually be cheaper than non-local meat that you find in the grocery store.
TH: As of November, consumers could get a quarter of local beef in bulk, much of which has value-adding claims like “grass-fed” and “organic”, for $102 less than buying the same cuts of Western US conventional beef at area grocery stores.
How has the community supported the project?
TH: People have used it! We’ve had such a great response since the meat locker opened in April, and at this point we’re almost full. We only have 4 or 5 bins still available!
What struggles have you encountered?
ML: The main problem is that we need to fundraise.
What should we be celebrating?
ML: I think we should be celebrating local meat. There’s a lot of options out here. I was a strict vegetarian for 13 years and that’s why I’m involved in this project and have the career that I have… I really feel strongly about how great local farms are and how great the food they produce is and how great the animals are treated.
TH: We should also be celebrating that the meat locker is almost full and that people are coming down and using it. We found that we have some folks using the meat locker that are new local meat buyers! We’ve started to really make a change in how people are buying meat.
How can we participate?
ML: Whether you use the meat locker or not, we hope everybody gets involved with the Finger Lakes Meat Project by coming to our educational events and by looking for farms on MeatSuite.com and supporting those farmers. If farmers are selling more meat in this community then this project worked.
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