ASHLAND, Ore. — There are many local meat producers in Southern Oregon. There are also many consumers, from families and schools to restaurants and grocery stores, but connecting producer to consumer without a middle man can present some challenges.
The cows out to pasture on Valley View Beef Ranch in Ashland are all mamas and new calves. The majority of the male calves will end up being local beef, produced and sold to consumers in the Rogue Valley. Valley View Beef knows a thing or two about getting their cattle from pasture to plate and now they are passing that knowledge on to others.
“We’re really grass farmers, we’re not beef farmers,” explains rancher Dave Westerburg. Valley View Beef’s many happy customers may disagree. One look at the happy cows shows how much stock the ranch puts into its stock. “Now, I am bringing my mamas and babies in here so the babies have good pasture and the mamas have good feed,” says Westerburg as he surveys the old hay field.
Westerburg’s family has been on the Ashland property for 90 years. “The last eight years we’ve been raising grass fed beef on the best Angus bull genetics we can find,” elaborated Westerburg. His experience and success has landed him the duties as panel member at the upcoming Niche Meat Marketing Workshop in Jackson County. The discuss will cover current obstacles in getting meat from pasture to plate and what methods are working best.
Elizabeth Murphy from Jackson County’s OSU Extension Office’s Small Farms Livestock Division, says the biggest hurdle is the availability of processing facilities, “Any time you are going to sell a cut and wrap product, you have to have it killed at a USDA processing facility and that results in a real loss of product and also huge transportation costs.”
The closest USDA facility is outside of Eugene. To get around this local producers must sell the cow, or portions of the cow, rather than cuts.
Westerburg comments, “I cannot legally sell you a steak, killed on my farm and processed here locally.”
Instead, consumers can get a whole, half, or quarter cut and wrapped at a local processor.
“The last one I harvested the price for a quarter came out to $455, but if you average it out you’re buying hamburger and t-bone steaks for approximately $4.50 to $5.00 a pound,” he explains.
When you’re getting a quarter of beef, you’re gonna get a lot more than a couple of pounds of hamburger or a few t-bone steaks. This brings up the next obstacle, consumer education.
Murphy says, “That involves a lot of direct customer contact, a lot of customer education because you get a lot of pieces of the animal that you’re not really sure what to do with.”
The education doesn’t end there, to promote their product, producers must also be able to explain the benefits on buying locally raised meat that runs around $5.00 a pound.
She also states, “What we’ve been more accustomed to lately as a culture, is corn fed Midwestern grown beef where cattle are finished in big feed lots, so there is a quality difference in terms of texture and taste.”
Not only is their a difference by the fork-full, locavores will argue grass fed beef, like these guys, are more sustainable for our environment and economy.
“You’re keeping it local, so you’re not using fossil fuels to transport meat in from somewhere else. And, you’re sustaining a thriving, local economy and keeping our farmers employed.”
Westerburg is proud of this, “We feel like we can actually improve the grass, the property, the environment through properly managed land.”
“This grass is our free resource; it’s capturing solar energy from the sun and it can really help producers meet their bottom line if they can grow the food for their cattle on the land,” Murphy explains.
If producers can communicate all that with potential customers, they might earn lifelong loyalty.
Westerburg says, “They can get totally engaged in what you’re doing, and really feel like they have a connection between the producer and the consumer and you don’t have this retail disconnect in the middle.”
The Niche Meat Marketing Workshop welcomes all individuals, not just producers and livestock instructors. If you’re just interested in buying local meat in general and learning more about what you get when you do, then the workshop is a great place to do this. It is Tuesday, February 19, and seats are still available.