March 2018 — NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in collaboration with NC Cooperative Extension, is supporting efforts to increase whole animal purchasing in North Carolina. Whole animal purchasing is when a farmer is able to sell his or her entire animal to one buyer — for example, a meat aggregator, meat buying club, or butcher. That buyer then finds end markets for the animal’s various cuts and parts.

Whole animal purchasing benefits farmers in that they don’t have to spend time marketing their meat, and is especially beneficial for rural farmers who don’t have ready access to markets outside of urban centers. It puts the responsibility on the buyer or aggregator to move all the parts, and reduces waste by allowing the buyer to utilize fat, bones, and trim that might have otherwise been lost in further processing.

“A 250 pound live pig might yield only about 125 pounds of packaged meat. The more the meat is broken down, the more of the animal’s weight is lost. Farmers can’t afford to just sell the popular cuts — to be profitable, they need to sell as much of that meat as possible at a premium,” explains NC Choices Director Sarah Blacklin.

In February, NC Choices partnered on a retailer training at Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery store with three locations in North Carolina’s triangle. The staff training focused on understanding how the retailer fits into the larger context of whole animal buying, and how employees can talk about their pasture-based meat program to customers. Other speakers at the training included farmers from the NC Natural Hog Growers Association, Emily Moose from A Greener World’s Animal Welfare Approved certification agency, and meat aggregator Sam Suchoff from The Pig Restaurant and Lady Edison Meats.

“The idea for this training came to me while I was meeting with Sam [Suchoff] to talk about improving the local meat supply chain,” says Carolyn Twesten, Weaver Street Market Produce and Meat Merchandiser.  “In listening to Sam talk about his processes I realized how much effort goes into whole animal utilization, especially at his scale. In retail the staff just see the product come out of the box, they don’t see the whole process of what it took to get the product to the shelf. I am trying to connect our staff with that process as much as possible, to engage them and in turn have them engage our customers.”

“Weaver Street Market is playing an integral role in making whole animal buying possible – they’re purchasing various parts so aggregators can move whole animals,” adds Blacklin. “It’s a really great model we like to see when we talk about scaling up local meat.”

NC Choices, with support from NC Growing Together and the Golden Leaf Foundation, has also created a suite ofconsumer-focused resources to build awareness of and demand for pastured meat on the consumer side of the supply chain.

This spring, the NC State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will feature NC Choices’ meat label claim resources as part of its Homegrown video series! Look for it to appear here: https://cals.ncsu.edu/homegrown/

For more information about NC Choices, please visit www.ncchoices.com.