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Subscribing to steaks and chops

Marketplace Staff Aug 29, 2008

Subscribing to steaks and chops

Marketplace Staff Aug 29, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: San Francisco is definitely not the place to be this week if you’re looking for a quick bite. Sure, there’ll be places that’ll slap something on your plate or in a bag that you can gulp down on the fly. But this weekend the city’s hosting something called Slow Food Nation. A celebration of locally grown food and sustainability.

A lot of those local farms rely on supscriptions to keep themselves in business. Selling produce, mostly. But a handful are experimenting with a new way to boost profits — meat.

From San Francisco, Lauren Sommer has more.

Lauren Sommer: Tamar Adler spends most of her time cooking at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse restaurant. But lately, her San Francisco apartment has become a hub for a new kind of food distribution service.

TAMAR ADLER: It’s been six pigs, 14 lambs, and two cows. I mean, it’s over 1,000 pounds each month.

Adler runs a Community Supported Agriculture group in the Bay Area. These groups are fairly common. Members pay a subscription fee and get monthly deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. But Adler’s group is different — it’s all about meat.

ADLER: OK, what do you have? You have lamb riblets, which are super wonderful. Bone-in pork chops. And then you have chicken and eggs.

SOMMER: This chicken has the head on it.

ADLER: Yes, it has the head and the feet on it.

The group buys from small farms and ranches that raise animals the old fashioned way: outdoors. And more humanely, says Wendy Kosanovich, a member of the Bay Area group.

WENDY KOSANOVICH: You know, a bad day is a bad day. You know, being killed to be eaten is a bad day. But other than that, I’d like you to have a piggy, goat-y, lamb-y life.

Kosanovich and other members say they joined the group to get high quality meat and, at the same time, form a personal connection to the food they eat.

Adler says the response to her service has been overwhelming. The group developed a waiting list almost immediately. But she’s also been getting calls from meat producers eager to reach more customers.

ADLER: One of the biggest problems is actually that demand outstrips supply by a good margin, not because there aren’t people producing, because there aren’t people producing on a scale that puts them on the radar.

One small producer looking for some attention is Clark Summit Farm, about an hour north of San Francisco.

DAN BAGLEY: Hello, chickens.

Dan Bagley runs the farm with his wife Liz. All of Bagley’s cows, pigs and chickens are raised outdoors on organic feed, and that adds up.

BAGLEY: It’s a lot more expensive to raise animals this way. Just raising these birds costs us $10,000 before they even lay an egg.

Bagley sells most of his meat and poultry at local farmers markets, but a few months ago, the farm founded its own Community Supported Agriculture group.

BAGLEY: The nice thing with a CSA is that people will pay up front for their three months of meat. And it makes it nice when you know you have customers waiting for you products.

By getting paid in advance, Bagley and his wife can rely on a steady stream of income. That helps a lot, given rising food and energy prices.

BAGLEY: Yeah, we feel the crunch. Fuel and corn and grain. Everything costs so much to produce now.

Those expenses aren’t likely to get any cheaper, but Dan Bagley hopes his subscriber service will help him turn a profit.

Other farmers are also getting into the game. There are now over 2,000 CSAs nationwide, double the number four years ago.

In San Francisco, I’m Lauren Sommer for Marketplace.

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