My social media has been filled with posts encouraging everyone to buy local. I think it is a great idea, but have learned over the past couple of months that it is not as butterfly and unicorn as it sounds.
Around five years ago, myself and a great friend were looking at investing in a packing plant. The numbers were a little tight, but they kind of made sense. The goal was to start a direct-to-consumer beef business utilizing our own ranch cattle. We stepped away from the idea after months of research until this last fall when the idea reared its head again.
This time around we had an additional person to add in – one that was great at marketing and working with customers. Along with that, consumers were embracing the farm-to-table movement like never before. It seemed like a great time to take the plunge. We had cattle that were lined up, restaurant discussions occurring, investor meetings taking place, and then like for everyone else, COVID-19 hit. Things that should have been simple suddenly took more time and energy.
On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes a slowdown is good. It’s a time to reanalyze the directions that the business is taking and change paths if needed. We’ve changed a lot of paths, and because of it have definitely built a stronger business.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with how to buy local, it can be really easy. You can reach out to a farmer or rancher to see if they have any animals that are ready for harvest. Sometimes those farmers or ranchers already have a spot reserved at a processing facility, sometimes they will ask you to find a spot. If you are not using a USDA –inspected facility you will need to agree to buy the animal before it is sent to the processor. (In fair warning, with the COVID outbreak, every plant that I know of is taking bookings into 2021.) If the farmer or rancher is using a USDA facility, you can legally buy beef after it is harvested and packaged.
This is also an important note for those selling product. I’ve seen a number of individuals trying to sell meat after it is already packaged from a non-USDA facility. I would say to proceed with extreme caution, as there is liability that many don’t consider.
Delivery is important, as beef will be frozen at the locker. Sometimes driving long distances to deliver product or even having product shipped can be a nightmare. One of the biggest shipping details that we have come across is dry ice. There’s lots to know – from arranging consistent dry ice delivery, to the amount to use in a box based on fluctuating temperatures outside.
Delivery is a whole other challenge. Having a freezer trailer is convenient, but start factoring in cargo insurance costs, food safety measures, and even retail licensing and it throws in a whole other level of time commitment and research. Not only is there the delivery on the retail side, but there is also the delivery on the cattle side to consider. That involves insuring that cattle are where they need to be for harvest on the dates that are reserved.
I’ve learned so much in starting Flying Diamond Beef. The most important lesson is that I could not have done it alone. I have two amazing female business partners that are experts in their own areas. It allows me to handle the production side. They do the heavy lifting after. Our areas overlap at times which is great, but it gives us the flexibility to focus on areas where we excel.
The other great take away is that there is something pretty special about being able to deliver beef to a new consumer. I’m usually the first human interaction that animal has, and in a way it seems fitting that I’m able to share what I’ve committed many hours, sweat and tears to with others as I hand it off for someone’s dining room table. Interacting with consumers has been one of the greatest surprises and enjoyments out of the whole ordeal.
With that all being said – yes, buy local if you can. But, local also means your grocery store. Please don’t add to the fear mongering by putting one product over the other. Both are important to those that raise it.