Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where's the beef?

Short answer: in my freezer.

Years ago, i worked on a farm to help supplement our meagre income. They needed harvesting help, and were just small enough that big machinery was too big and just large enough that the work could be daunting. The farm comprised 30 acres, and they hadn't raised livestock there for a number of years before my season of working there, although they did take in a young goat that went home with some Mexican mushroom workers. The little WASPy boy who saw the men picking up the animal told me blithely that they were taking home their new pet. I didn't bother to correct him, but i knew many in the Mexican community found goat meat tasty, and this goat was a billy. It was during my time helping out at the farm that i realised i'm not a farmer. I putter about in a garden and can grow some veggies. I hope to be successful this year, unlike last year when industrial sized slugs annilhilated everything. They even denuded the rhubarb!

Although i learned i was not a farmer, i also learned that i could do my part in keeping those who were living nearby gainfully employed by buying what they grew or raised. So long before it was "cool" or "green" i sought local produce and bought it whenever i could. I preferred dealing with the farmer directly. I could ask if he sprayed his crops with anything, and if so, what? My tastebuds preferred minimally sprayed, local produce to the tired greentruck shipped from miles away, and i found myself growing some things at home and leaving the farmers to grow other things for me. Like corn. I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) when several popped up nearby; actually i joined two: one was for veggies (, and the other fruits (

When i moved to my new location, i met a local farmer who offers a CSA option as well as arriving weekly at a local farmer's market. I decided to frequent the farmer's market first. There are a few of them near me, and they're open on different days, so it's easy to get fresh produce. When this farmer decided to raise pigs, she sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in a whole or half pig. I was and let her know. I decided a half pig was plenty for my household's needs. I enquired if she'd have more pigs available this past autumn. No, she didn't. Before she could send an email, all of the pigs for this year had been spoken for. I was glad for her success and sorry for my tastebuds' loss. She went on to stay that they had an older cow who would most likely be culled over winter. Perhaps i'd be interested in splitting it with her?

I was very interested. Since this was an older animal, there'd be more ground and stew meat. I was okay with that. She emailed to say the cow would be going in early February, and i could talk to the processors directly about what cuts i wanted. I was glad of it, for having a small household means that even a regular sized roast can seem like a commitment; if i could specify very small roasts or more steaks than roasts, this would work much better for me. I could also ask if they could package the ground and stew meat in smaller packages.

Besides saving my pennies for a huge purchase, my plan was pretty simple. Eat from the freezer to make as much room as i could for the beef. The farmer emailed me yesterday to let me know the beef was ready. She was going to be in the next town for an event and would be glad to have my share of the meat with her. We could meet up beforehand. I had miscalculated the hanging weight, and found myself with 249 lbs of beef. I had thought it wouldn't be more than 200 lbs and figured i could fit that in my freezer space all right, but not much more. Oof.

No matter, i'd make it work. As we transferred the meat from her car to mine, i told her how much i had enjoyed the pork. How before each meal as i gave thanks, i thanked her and the pig as well. She asked me if i wanted to know the cow's name.

This caught me by surprise because i figured she hadn't named animals she knew were going to slaughter. She explained that some just have such personalities that you need to name them. And, unlike the pigs, which are there for a season, the cows are there longer. Yes, i wanted to know the cow's name.

It's Curly, because she had curly, black hair. She had a nice disposition and once she was not used as a milk cow, she did mother three calves. She was about 5 years old, and her feet were starting to bother her.

I thanked the farmer and told her that although i understand logically this is how it works: you raise the animal, feed and take care of it, so it can then feed and take care of you, i'd have a helluva time having to kill it. Here, the farmer's eyes softened a bit. I added i'm sure it gets easier over time, but....

And she said that it's never easy. It does help, however, when the animals arrive at the farm, to know their ultimate destination. She and her partner feed many, many animals on their farm, and when it's time, it's time. Curly's feet were starting to bother her more often than not, so they felt it was time for Curly.

Now, i expected i might feel a bit odd knowing that i'd be eating bits of Curly over the ensuing months, but surprisingly, i didn't. I felt an immense gratitude and thanked the farmer once again for being willing to do what she does. For those like me who are omnivores, it's such a blessing to be able to know that the food i'm eating was raised with care. That the animals were well looked after and had happy lives.

I got home and started loading up my freezer space. As it turns out, i had a tad more in the freezer than i had thought, and that coupled with more beef than i thought i'd have meant that i'd have to resort to Plan B: call friends to see if anyone had some freezer space. Friend #1 did, so the extra turkey i had bought and frozen at Christmas will go there for awhile. Several bags of frozen veg and two containers of ice cream are now iced down in a 5-day cooler i bought for power outage/camping/boat. If needed, i might ask Friend #2 to stash some of the veg; she has graciously offered her help in eating the ice cream, for which i'm glad.

Once i got all loaded in the freezer space or cooler, i took a package of the ground meat and made a quick supper. Before eating, i gave thanks for the farmer and Curly. Supper was delicious.


  1. I know when we first got married we got half a pig, and were fed up of eating pork before we finished it.

    Although I love and do eat meat, I don't eat a lot of it, so buying part of an animal is a total waste for us, but it is a good way to stock up the freezer at a reasonable price.

    Well done,


  2. Thanks, Gill! I'm hoping that by using different recipes, we won't find ourselves stuck in a rut. During hockey season, i find i crave red meat a lot more often, so by the time that's over, there ought to be room for some poultry and fish!


    1. nicely written megan... exactly what I have been thinking about no 21 and no 12!

    2. Thanks, John! I'm sure you'll find as i did that once you have happy pork to eat, you'll never want to settle for anything less.

  3. Surprisingly we've never bought quarters, halves or full portions of meat, even with a meat cutter/farmer in the family. One thing I'll buy though is hens or turkeys, if he kills many of those at once.

    I hope you enjoy all that beef, and glad you had friends with extra freezer space!

  4. Thanks, CS! With all the culinary delights you create, it is surprising to think you haven't bought larger portions.

    I found a nearby shop that has some curry powder that looks very tasty, so i'm thinking a beef curry is going to be appearing soon on the menu chez moi.