You can’t find a better name for a website that links people who like to eat meat with the farmers who produce it than Meat Suite.
And the website is a simple idea: provide a list of profiles of farms and their products, searchable by name or distance from the consumer. It supports family farms while feeding the desire for fresh farm-to-table food.
Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County started the free online directory of regional livestock farms selling meat in bulk four years ago in nine counties. It has expanded to 16 counties, including Erie and Niagara.
“We just love the idea of eating fresh and local,” said Jeweliet Phillips, who sells free range chickens and turkeys with her husband, John, on J & J Farms in Lancaster.
They signed up and put a profile on Meat Suite a couple months ago, after hearing about it from John’s mother.
“We normally sell by word of mouth,” said Ruth Phillips of Westwood Farm in Lancaster, which raises beef cattle. But she signed up for Meat Suite earlier this year, and it has generated sales.
Farms create profiles featuring contact information, prices, photographs, and descriptions of their products, practices, and more. Consumers visit the site to search for farms that sell what they’re looking for, from chicken and turkey, to beef, lamb and pork to rabbit.
Meat Suite plans to have farmers and representatives of Cooperative Extension at the Buffalo Country Market at Buffalo Place from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6. One of them will be Danelle Mascho, who runs a 270-acre farm with her husband in the Allegany County Town of Belmont.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think if marketed appropriately, it could be a great tool for consumers to use to coordinate purchasing in bulk rather than searching the internet and figuring out who is out there,” she said. “A lot of the smaller farms don’t have websites.”
Phillips estimates her small farm sells about eight whole beef cattle each year. She keeps a list of people who want to buy beef, and when she has four quarters sold, she calls the first four people on the list to verify they still want to buy it. She can wait because the meat doesn’t spoil when you’re still feeding the animal.
“Beef,” she said, “it’s not like a quart of milk – as long as it doesn’t get too old or too fat.”
Why buy beef right from the farm?
Tom Przybylak, who has not used Meat Suite but is a big proponent of farm-to-table, bought a whole pig for his wedding reception, and has been buying meat in bulk ever since.
“I met the pig,” he said, adding he knows what it eats. “I know what music these things listen to.”
Buying direct from the producer shows knowledge and respect for the producer and processer, as well as for the animal and the meat, he said.
Proponents also swear by the taste and the healthy aspects of the meat.
“My ground beef is going to be leaner than the leanest beef you can get at the grocery store,” Phillips said.
Her grass-fed cattle are moved to a different pasture every morning to eat fresh grass. In winter they eat hay grown by the Phillips, so there are no hormones or antibiotics in their food.
Mascho said meat bought in a grocery store is bland compared to beef purchased directly from the farm.
“That’s why people drown their meat in A-1 Steak Sauce,” Mascho said.
She recommends buying a small portion of meat for the first time to try it out, and cooking it without seasonings that bury the real flavor of the meat.
“You don’t have that high fat content. You don’t need to kill it with seasoning,” she said.