Meat processing is one of the most concentrated sectors of the entire food system. Fromartz describes the efforts of one Joe Cloud in Harrisonburg, VA, to break into the business.
Cloud is riding a wave of consumer demand for meat from local farms, which has burgeoned along with the rash of deadly E. coli food poisoning incidents, hamburger recalls and undercover videos about grossly inhumane practices at a few large plants. Prominent chefs, who work with farmers and processors like T&E to get high-quality meat, have also championed the products.
For farmers, the sales are alluring; they make more money per animal when they sell direct, even if these channels represent less than 2 percent of all meat sales. It's also a way to escape the conventional system of meat production, since Virginia cattle typically are raised in-state for a year before being shipped to feedlots in Nebraska, Kansas and Texas to be fattened up and slaughtered -- and then shipped back as meat.
"Every step of the journey, someone has their hand in your pocket," said Jeff Lawson, who raises cattle and sheep at Green Hill Farm in Churchville, Va., a few miles outside Staunton. "If I could sell every animal I raised through Joe Cloud to get to your dinner table, I would. Any farmer would."