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Hunger for sustainability

(page 2 of 3)

Harder to process

Nancy and Vince Pope, operators of Double Ewe Farm, are raising more lambs as part of the “self-contained” supply chain of The Conscious Carnivore. They are pictured here with border collies Tripp and Bel, who double as house pets and herding helpers.

The Popes met Durand through their mutual relationship with the now-defunct Black Earth Meats. The demise of Black Earth Meats sent Durand scrambling for a new meat-processing partner, preferably a small facility outside of a giant industrial chain. Enter Chris Johnson, of Johnson Sausage Shoppe & Catering in Rio, Wis., who was receptive to the required animal-handling practices.

Johnson’s niche in the sustainable supply chain is to ensure the animals are harvested by following state and federal meat inspection guidelines and returned to The Conscious Carnivore under the specifications requested. Her facility has similar arrangements with groups such as the Wisconsin Grass-Fed Beef Co-op.

“Bartlett approached me some time ago about an interesting business concept,” Johnson says, “and we worked out the details to make it work for both of our businesses.”

Johnson characterizes the partnership with The Conscious Carnivore as “extremely successful” for her company, and she believes such agribusiness relationships should be the way of the future. “The food we eat affects how we live, from our health to our surroundings,” she notes. “This cannot simply be part of the mix, this must be how we go forward and encourage other industries to follow the path of sustainability and high-quality foods.”

To expand into other communities, Durand suspects he’ll have to teach the required practices to smaller processing facilities. “If they don’t have the experience — either because they have no experience or they grew up this way and they just do what their fathers and uncles taught them — they don’t know to even ask the question,” he states.

Durand now views the closing of Black Earth Meats as an opportunity to spread the wealth to other shops and “jump further afield,” perhaps into neighboring states. “There are butchers out there, and we can train them, and we are training them,” Durand explains. “We have a training program and we have the management program. We have the marketing. It’s almost like a franchise model, just trying to build my own supply chain.”

Whatcha got cooking?

In addition to educating home cooks, Durand is working with local chefs like Nick Johnson, who just opened 1847 at The Stamm House Restaurant in Madison. Durand believes that locally-sourced food on the menu is a must-have for “any restaurant of any quality,” and Johnson is a willing disciple.

As Durand explains, restaurant chefs must also understand the full utilization of an animal, and beef is the classic example. In the past, he says, restaurants featured beef tenderloin as their “cheap steak,” but there only are about 12 pounds of tenderloin in a 1,500-pound animal. “If all they were doing is buying the tenderloins, what’s happening with the rest of the animal?” Durand asked. “The bigger places started having a lot of trouble when they were spending top dollar to get their tenderloin in and basically subsidizing other people to get the ground beef.”

That’s why he’s working with several chefs on utilizing a single animal across their menu. It means they can’t set a menu throughout the year, just as they can’t claim to have fresh asparagus throughout the year because it’s a seasonal vegetable.

“Everybody knows there are only certain times of the year you get these things,” Durand explains. “Well, the same is true, or should be true, with meat — not so much with the availablility but in the sense that there’s only so much of a certain thing if they run it in specials. When you have too much of something else, you can find creative ways to utilize it.”

Johnson says the concept behind 1847 at The Stamm House Restaurant is to build on the preparatory craftsmanship of farmers and butchers and to emphasize the full utilization of the animals in what he calls a modern American restaurant with French accents. Johnson believes farmers, foragers, and artisans are the restaurant’s building blocks, and “farm-to-table” should be an expectation, not merely a concept.

“Knowing the farmers who are raising the animal is the beginning,” Johnson says. “My plans are to use all of the animal, and Bartlett and his butcher have given me those capabilities. Rather than just cutting away a piece of meat that is new and trendy, I’m really working to highlight beef, pig, or lamb in many forms.”

Setting the table

Michelle Miller, associate director for CIAS, cites “agriculture in the middle” as one of the Center’s most important research directions that pertain to sustainable farming. Over the past 30 years, the number of mid-sized farms has declined dramatically, which is considered a limiting factor in the development of integrated agricultural systems. The Center, she notes, is looking to identify and breakdown barriers to reestablishing mid-sized farm operations.

“We’re looking at the issues that are keeping mid-sized farms from being economically successful,” Miller says, “because we think they provide a number of really important services to rural Wisconsin.”

For Durand, the next step is to introduce the farm-to-table concept to other Wisconsin or Midwestern communities. That will require gaining acceptance, raising money in the community, and building new partnerships.

“It’s almost like a franchise, where they put up the money for the build-out, which greatly reduces our risk coming in, and we come in with our management, sourcing, and the ability to run the shop, which greatly reduces their risk,” says Durand, noting that about $500,000 in capital would be needed to launch a good butcher shop. “The new Wisconsin crowdfunding law gives us the mechanism, so the village elders, the lawyers and doctors, and the accredited investors can always form an LLC and create that, but the more we get the community itself invovled, with $500 or $1,000 stock shares, the more it really is a community-building event.”

(Continued)

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