Natural. All-natural. Sustainable.
All glossy words gazing back from grocery shelves and meat cases, but what do they mean?
In short, not much.
The phrases are commonly tagged to products which have not been subjected to any sort of regulations or, like USDA certified organic products, a certifying (and intensely scrutinizing) third party.
This week’s Ask A Foodie question inquired, “Who or what are the local sources for organically raised meat products?”
From the purity of the land and the origins of animal feed, to the conditions of animal housing and meat-processing locations, it takes numerous steps and quite a bit of cash to earn the green USDA certified organic seal.
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“I’ve had an organic farm for eight years and I’m a strong proponent of certification,” said Susan V. Siemers, owner of Ceres & Co. “When you see that USDA circle, you should be confident about the process from start to finish. There are no kinks in that. It’s organic from the get-go. As soon as that chain is broken, there’s no label.”
She estimated that, even with an early application deduction, receiving an annual organic certification for her farm cost about $1,350. The initial fee covered inspection of the land and animals. If she were to process her own products, an additional $300 fee would be required.
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The large, upfront sum for certification has led many area farmers to practicing organic methods of production without the seal of the government.
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Support animal health and welfare
- Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
- Only use approved materials
- Do not use genetically modified ingredients
- Receive annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
Even without the backing of the USDA, meat products could very well be raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, and graze in open pastures.
“The big thing that I preach to people is that you need to go to the farm and see what they’re doing,” said Third Day Organic Farm manager Nathan Walenga.
After numerous calls to area meat distributors and farms, it’s clear: finding local, certified organic chicken in Michiana is much easier than tracking down certified organic beef.
“The infrastructure (for raising organic chickens) is easier to have,” Walenga said. “Beef, that is a more considerable investment.”
Jason Brown, owner of One Ten Craft Meatery in Warsaw, shares the same sentiment as Walenga of doing research before deciding on a distributor.
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Although Brown and his company don’t deal directly with certified organic farmers, the meat man stands by his sources.
“We think it is very important to have a good relationship and understanding of how our food is being raised,” Brown wrote. “We have simply opted out of the certified organic because we are not sold on the idea that a government entity should be dictating what is considered good and what is considered bad. We educate ourselves on how our farmers raise their products and make educated decisions on who to support and who not to.”
Where to buy certified organic meat
Susan V. Siemers
South Bend Farmers Market, Stalls 50 and 52
1105 Northside Blvd., South Bend
- cabrito (young goat)
- pork (beginning in July)
- beef (grass fed, vacuum-sealed and flash frozen in limited quantities)
DC Meats Inc.
1711 Lincoln Way W., Osceola
7355 Heritage Square Drive, Granger
- beef (frozen)
2081 South Bend Ave., South Bend
1527 Bashor Road, Goshen
- beef (frozen)
- pork chops (frozen)
926 Erskine Plaza, South Bend
- ground Beef (frozen)
3900 E. Bristol St., Elkhart
- ground beef (frozen)
- hot dogs (frozen)
- chicken (frozen)
4522 Elkhart Road, Goshen
- ground beef
Third Day Organic Farm
2814 Plymouth LaPorte Trail, Walkerton
Pre-orders can be placed online or by phone
- beef (multiple cuts)
- chicken (whole, breasts and leg quarters)
Purple Porch Co-Op, Wednesdays
123 N. Hill St., South Bend
Michigan City Farmers Market, Saturdays
Corner of 8th and Washington Streets, Michigan City
Whole Foods Market
4230 Grape Road, Mishawaka