The backbone of local food production in Utah is meat.
Ranchers raise cattle on more than 6,000 farms throughout the state, bringing in nearly $361 million in 2013 and making them Utah’s top agricultural product, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Utah’s livestock industry makes up around 70 percent of the cash flowing to farms. Turns out, beef, pork and poultry purchases are a great way to support local food production.
More and more, however, shoppers are paying attention to how their meat is raised. Nearly 60 percent of consumers report looking for labels like “free-range,” “cage-free” or “humanely raised” when they shop for meat, according to market research group Packaged Facts. Research has also found that pasture-raised meat may have added health benefits, like lower levels of saturated fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Buying meat at the grocery store, however, can muddle the product’s origins.
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“On the national market you have large corporate meat packers that basically have a monopoly on the entire meat market … they determine price, the quality, everything,” said Bjorn Carlson, rancher and owner of Blue Tree Farms. “They say when you go to grocery store and purchase a steak, from the time that beef was born until it was processed and put on that grocery store shelf, it’s changed owners eight to ten times.”
By the time a product’s moved from the farm, to feedlot, to slaughterhouse, to butcher, to grading, to packaging, to distributor and finally, to the store, it’s tough to know which farmer you’re supporting and just how much.
One of the best ways to understand meat’s source, however, is to get to know a local rancher. It’s also one of the best ways to directly support local food production.
“I like to know my customers, I like to be able to take care of my customers and determine the quality and price, rather than go through the national market,” Carlson said.
Carlson Blue Tree Farms nearly 10 years ago with his wife Shanna. The ranch got its start in West Haven, but it quickly expanded so they moved their operation to the Uinta Basin.
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The Carlsons still deliver beef, pork and lamb up and down the Wasatch Front and also sell at it farmers markets. Their animals are free-range and grass-fed. They don’t use feedlots and they don’t give their animals antibiotics.
Those practices might take a little more time and investment, but Carlson said it gives him peace of mind.
“I wanted to deliver a product I was comfortable feeding my own family,” he said. “I’m not comfortable feeding them grocery store meat. I want to know what’s in my beef.”
And while humanely-raised, grass-fed local meat might cost a little more, Carlson said it should give customers peace of mind, too.
“(The animals) have free choice of what they eat and when they eat. It provides a more healthy product,” he said.
And although cattle raising is king for Utah food production, Carlson said meat consumers might be surprised to learn how much land it takes to support a single pasture-raised animal in the dry Beehive State.
At Blue Tree Farms, it takes around two acres for each cow, Carlson said. But that extra land and effort keep his customers happy, and, he suspects, his animals, too.
“It couldn’t be better, in my opinion,” Carlson said. “If I were a cow, I’d want to live on my ranch.”
Here are some suggestions for local, sustainable meat producers in Northern Utah:
BlueTree Cattle Co.
Raising hormone-free, grass-fed beef, pork and lamb.
Where to buy: Ogden Farmers Market, Kaysville Farmers Market or place an order for delivery online or by calling 435-733-0633.
Henson Heritage Farm
A farm that takes ethical and sustainable animal raising seriously. Provides 100 percent grass-fed beef, heritage pork, chicken eggs and duck eggs.
Where to buy: Pick-up locations in Logan, Brigham City, Ogden and Layton. Place orders online or call 435-414-0477.
Canyon Meadows Ranch
Third-generation ranchers selling grass-fed beef directly to the public.
Where to buy: Beef orders can be picked up at the Duschesne County-based ranch. Larger orders can be delivered to the Wasatch Front.
44 Magnum Beef
Humanely treated, grass-fed cattle raised at the base of the Uinta Mountains.
Where to buy: Order online. The ranch provides free delivery on the Wasatch Front.