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Connecting consumers to local sources of bulk meat

Amanda Henning is a key player in Western New York when it comes to connecting consumers to local, healthier sources of bulk meat. The agriculture and food systems educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County has a new tool: meatsuite.com.

“It’s free for farmers to put a profile on and talk about the kind of meat that they sell, and free for consumers to go on and search for products,” said Henning, 31, a Sullivan County native who met her husband, Scott, while the two were at Cornell University together. The couple moved to Newfane almost a decade ago so Scott could take a job working as a field representative at Sun Orchard Fruit Co.

Amanda has worked at Cooperative Extension for seven months. She has bachelor’s in horticulture with a minor in animal science and master’s in adolescent education from Niagara University. She and her husband recently bought a 26-acre farm on Comer Road in Burt and plan to plant strawberries there this spring.

The Tompkins County extension launched Meat Suite in 2013 and a new grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute will fund efforts to promote it in Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Henning seeks more farmers to create free profiles on the website. A promotional effort to steer consumers onto the site will take place this spring. Currently, seven farms within 100 miles of downtown Buffalo pitch their products; 52 farms have profiles within the same range of Ithaca, where the project began.

Q. Are there parameters for folks that can offer their products?

Any kind of meat, from poultry to beef to bison to rabbit. There’s quail on there. Any kind of freezer meat. It does have to be in bulk, not individual freezer cuts.

Q. Are there parameters on whether it needs to be grass-fed or free-range?

There are not. The greatest thing about this website and the features that it has are that consumers can go on and search for farms that produce meats in the way they’re looking for. When a farmer puts a profile on, it will describe how they raise their meats, whether it’s grass-fed or organic.

Q. McB’s Hoof and Feather outside Gasport has a profile. What can you tell us about that?

They’ve only been around about a year and have quite a variety of animals for sale: rabbits, turkeys, chickens, lambs. They have heritage animals, and a lot of people are interested in that. A heritage breed has been developed over time and is specific to an area instead of a commercial breed. A lot of people like that when it comes to eggs or for meat.

Q. So this is a way for people to have a better sense of what they’re eating and support local farmers at the same time?

Yes. A lot of people are becoming more and more interested about where their food comes from. They want to know how it’s grown, where it’s grown. This a great way for people who are interested in that kind of thing. They can go online and choose farms that raise meat the way they want it to be raised. They can go to the farm and meet the farmer and the family that are growing their food. Farmers are proud of what they do. There’s a lot of work involved. And they’re very happy to share the great things about their products.

Q. What are you hearing from farmers?

It’s really easy for a farmer to go on and create a profile. For one thing, it doesn’t cost them anything.

Q. Who can go on the website?

Anybody from anywhere can go on and sign up and create a profile, and anybody from anywhere can now go on and search, too, but we’re really trying to push farmers and producers to create profiles first because we don’t want consumers to go on and search and find only a little.

Q. What else do your duties in Niagara County entail?

I wear a lot of hats here. One of my big programs is the renewal of agricultural districts. In each county, there are agricultural districts that protect the rights of the farmer. Each district needs to be reviewed every eight years. We have five in Niagara County. I’m also in a few different grants. Our big grant, which we just started working on, is the farmers market promotion grant. We’re working with the City Market in Niagara Falls and Park Place Market in Niagara Falls, to try to help them with their advertising and try to get more vendors down there and get people to know that there are farmers markets up there.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh; @ScottBScanlon

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