SALEM, Ohio — A new grass-fed beef and lamb initiative in Ohio is reaching out to both sides of the market.
The program, which benefits producers and consumers, aims to increase direct marketing opportunities for grass-fed meat products, according to Leah Miller, director of Ohio’s Small Farm Institute.
Marketing grass-fed meat can be difficult because, unlike fruits and vegetables, it is usually processed at an off-farm site rather than marketed directly from the farm. That can lead to a weak link between producers and retail markets.
However, it’s a product consumers want.
“There is a great consumer demand for grass-produced products,” said Parker Bosley, a retired chef and representative for the North Union Farmers Market in Cleveland.
Miller and Bosley joined with three Ohio State University faculty members from the Department of Animal Science — Henry Zerby, Paul Kuber and Francis Fluharty — to begin the initiative.
The program has three main objectives, including the improvement of grass-fed beef and lamb, improved cutting techniques and creating a network of producers and consumers.
Learning to cut meat differently could make the products more marketable, according to Bosley. For instance, certain cutting methods would result in less ground beef and more high-dollar cuts.
The initiative includes producer education on butchering and processing, consistency of the product and value-added processing methods.
Bosley said there are a few reasons consumers are turning to grass-fed meat products. First, there are the perceived health benefits of eating lean meat. Second, grass-based farms are often seen as environmentally friendly.
Not only do people want to do know where their food comes from, Bosley said, they also want to know how its production relates to environmental and natural resource concerns.
“The demand for locally produced food is huge,” he said.
Miller said the initiative got its start when several dairy graziers wanted to create a market for their grass-fed bull calves. It wasn’t long before beef producers also spoke up with their desire for a grass-fed market.
The new initiative is designed for both types of producers.
“It’s just kind of taken a life of its own,” Miller said, adding that it seems to have hit a positive chord with producers and consumers.
To form the program, the Small Farm Institute secured a farm market promotional grant from USDA. The institute then partnered with the North Union Farmers Market and the groups decided to focus on improving the presentation and cuts of meat.
A group of 12 people involved in the initiative went to France to study French meat cutting techniques and those techniques will be introduced in Ohio through the initiative.
The final key element of the program will be asking the processors involved to spend time cutting the meat differently.
Miller said the initiative tries to look at all the parties involved in a grass-based, direct market situation.
“What we want to do is eventually look at the whole chain,” she said.
Miller hopes the current program it is a starting point for a larger Ohio initiative that will focus on moving products directly from local farmers to consumers, returning more money to farmers, adding value to beef and lamb cuts and meeting consumer demand for grass-fed beef and lamb products.