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Sonoma County consumers buy locally produced meat

Preferring to support local producers and reduce global warming, residents join the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club

UC ANR News <ucanrnews@ucop.edu>
March 6, 2008

First there was the low carb diet, now there is a movement toward a low carbon diet. Conscious of global warming and the size of their own carbon footprint, consumers in Sonoma County have begun buying their meat locally to reduce transportation pollution that spews carbon into the atmosphere.

The year-long pilot project is organized by University of California Cooperative Extension and Sonoma Direct, a local meat company with processing and distribution capacity, to connect consumers with local family-owned farms.

"We intend to create an entity that is self-sustaining in the long run and can serve as a model for other communities," said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and rangelands advisor and club organizer. "If this club proves to be successful, we will recruit and train a county-based nonprofit organization to take over managing the meat-buying club after the pilot year ends."

The Sonoma County Meat Buying Club has 65 members so far, but more have expressed interest in buying from local ranches that practice humane treatment of animals and environmental stewardship. In the organizers' survey of 300 Sonoma County residents, 83 percent of the people surveyed said they make an effort to buy locally produced agricultural goods. Residents also want to support Sonoma County's ranching landscapes and heritage.

Club member Heather Curran of Windsor has been a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) for produce for the past 12 years. She is glad that a CSA has been formed to buy meat because she likes supporting her agricultural "neighbors."

After reading in Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" about the stressful lives of livestock that are mass-produced in feedlots, Curran wanted to buy meat produced in Sonoma County. "We have open pasture and if you have happy animals, they are going to be healthier," Curran said. "And the less it has to travel, the less pollution."

Curran also likes the fact that she can meet the people producing her food. By meeting their food producers, consumers feel more confident in the quality of the meat and not worry that "downer cows" -- cows that can't walk -- may enter their food supply.

Club members receive a monthly mix of frozen meats -- grass-fed beef, pasture-raised lamb and roaster pork, in a variety of cuts -- from Sonoma County ranches. Members can sign up for a small, medium or large package. They may also add monthly featured products, such as rabbits, ducks and eggs. Members picked up their first installment of meat on Feb. 20 at Sonoma Direct in Petaluma or at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Santa Rosa. Tucked into each reusable cloth bag of food was a monthly newsletter that suggests recipes and tells members about the ranchers who produce the meats.

The February issue of "The Prime Cut Review" features Chris Cornett, a fifth-generation rancher who raises lambs in Valley Ford; Bill Barboni of Petaluma, a fourth-generation cattle producer who raises grass-fed beef cattle; and Jube Begley, a Santa Rosa pork producer who took up raising pigs while participating in FFA in high school.

The newsletter also introduces Roger Praplan, chef of La Gare Restaurant in Santa Rosa. Chef Praplan provided 18 recipes, including grilled bavette steak, spring lamb stew and winemaker-style filet of pork loin, in the February package for cooks to try at home.

The next meat club allocation will be available for pick-up on March 18. New members are being accepted.

For information about joining the club or starting a meat-buying club, contact Stephanie Larson or Jacqueline Rotlisberger, Sonoma County Meat Buying Club coordinator, at (707) 565-2621.

In related news, the 2008 Niche Meat Marketing Conference for livestock producers will be held on March 26 and 27 at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center in Modesto. Registration costs $80 per person ($90 if postmarked after March 18). To register online or to see the agenda, go to http://ucanr.org/2008nichemeat. For more information about the conference, contact Roger Ingram at (530) 889-7385 or rsingram@ucdavis.edu.

Media contacts:

Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and rangelands advisor and Sonoma County Meat Buying Club organizer, (707) 565-2621, slarson@ucdavis.edu

Jacqueline Rotlisberger, Sonoma County Meat Buying Club coordinator, (707) 565-2621, mdgoats@csufresno.edu

For more ANR news, visit http://news.ucanr.org.