Raising livestock in Northern California is a tough job. On top of one’s dependence upon the vagaries of the weather, the cost of feed and the distance to suppliers and markets, are the laws. We operate a small family farm, Petit Teton Farm, in Anderson Valley. For the past six years we have raised a small number of cows and pigs which we must have USDA slaughtered and butchered in order to sell off the farm and at farmers’ markets. Our customers appreciate what we are doing and how it benefits them both taste wise and health wise. Two new issues make this job even tougher.
First, our nearest USDA slaughterhouse closed to the public on January 1st of this year. For the past several years, Marin Sun in Petaluma, accepted animals for slaughter from small farms like ours. Now it will only be processing its own cattle. In essence, they have created a mini meat monopoly for themselves in our area. Their action has left all small farmers and ranchers in Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Lake Counties with no USDA slaughter facility within a viable distance, and there are a lot of animals ready to go to market. The next nearest facilities are in Orland and Eureka; both at least a four-hour one-way drive from our farm. Not only is that not economically feasible, it is awful for the animals, especially for pigs, which become car sick like humans, and the stress harms the meat. There are about 80 farmers and ranchers who are left in this same untenable situation, many of whom have far more animals than we.
There is a consortium of small farms working on alternatives. One is to explore the purchase of a small mobile slaughter facility that would be USDA compliant. Another is to build a brick and mortar slaughter facility possibly somewhere along the 101 corridor. Either or both would be welcome, but they will be years away and hugely costly. These solutions do nothing to help the farmers who have animals at present ready for harvest.
Secondly, did you know that about 85% of the meat sold in this country labeled "Product of the USA" comes from anywhere on the planet but here? In 2015, corporate America, with the help of Congress, changed the law on labeling so that consumer products, anything from meat to fruits to screwdrivers, could be born elsewhere, shipped here, repackaged and relabeled "Product of the USA." Most consumers are unaware of this deception and a lot of grocers and restaurateurs have no clue from whence come the foods they prepare.
Of course this is a huge hurdle for family farms, which are not corporate, want or have to pay good wages to their workers, and are to some degree having their farming practices checked to make sure that they are doing what they say — grass feeding/organic, etc. No one has any idea what foreign countries are doing to or with their products despite what is said, and our costs are much higher than those in other countries which translates into more expensive products. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to change this law back to what it was and should be, at least with regard to specific meats— pork and beef. Big Ag, with its international supply chains and lobbying armies will defeat this effort, unless enough consumers make their voices heard.
Nikki Ausschnitt and Steve Krieg
Petit Teton Farm, Yorkville, CA