It was my great pleasure to participate in the Chefs Collaborative National Summit 2010 held in Boston October 3-5. I spoke on a panel about rare breeds and pastured animals.
True to the theme of the event we looked at the past and how before industrial-scale factory farming with livestock raised in CAFOs became the norm most of our country’s meat supply came from many breeds of pasture-raised livestock. These breeds raised on pasture land were suited to regional cultures and cuisines.
With the advent of surplus corn production after WWII the livestock industry began to consolidate into factory production. Today, however, heightened awareness of the ecological and public health risks associated with industrial animal production has put the pasture-based system into the spotlight. Pasture based agriculture is not new but it is rather looking back to our roots to discover a more sustainable future.
Our purpose was to explore how chefs and producers can work together to supply a quality and dependable source of pasture protein for restaurants. The first step is finding and forming relationships between the chef and the farmer to make that happen. Then both need to pull their heads together to work out the specific logistics in a way that is fair, dependable and sustainable.
It takes effort and some outside-the-box thinking at times but the rewards are great. Dealing with and understanding chefs can be a learning curve for the farm but at the same time understanding how that animal is produced is a learning effort for the chef. For a chef used to the boxed beef world it is easy to order the number of premium steaks needed. For a farmer faced with selling the whole carcass (when only a small percentage is steak) the challenge is to sell the large percentage that is ground beef.
The couple of days I spent in the community of chefs dazzled my palate with the wonderful flavors of great food, opened my mind to the thoughts and challenges in the restaurant, and renewed my passion that what we do on our farm is not to just produce livestock but that we produce food. Food that deserves care and pride in its production as well as respect and reverence in what it does to nourish our body, soul and culture.
Chefs Collaborative is the leading nonprofit network of chefs that fosters a sustainable food system through advocacy, education, and collaboration with the broader food community. They advocate for sustainable food in the greater culinary community. They provide chefs with the information and tools necessary to make sustainable purchasing decisions – through workshops, publications, and events. And they connect chefs and sustainable food producers.
Several times in the course of events the board of the Chefs Collaborative read aloud their statement of principles which created in me a renewed passion for the food system which our farm is a part. These principles are:
1. Food is fundamental to life, nourishing us in body and soul. The preparation of food strengthens our connection to nature. And the sharing of food immeasurably enriches our sense of community.
2. Good food begins with unpolluted air, land, and water, environmentally sustainable farming and fishing, and humane animal husbandry.
3. Food choices that emphasize delicious, locally grown, seasonally fresh, and whole or minimally processed ingredients are good for us, for local farming communities, and for the planet.
4. Cultural and biological diversity are essential for the health of the earth and its inhabitants. Preserving and revitalizing sustainable food, fishing, and agricultural traditions strengthen that diversity.
5. By continually educating themselves about sustainable choices, chefs can serve as models to the culinary community and the general public through their purchases of seasonal, sustainable ingredients and their transformation of these ingredients into delicious food.
6. The greater culinary community can be a catalyst for positive change by creating a market for good food and helping preserve local farming and fishing communities.
The Chefs Collaborative has a vision that as a result of their work, sustainable practices will be second nature for every chef in the United States. As a farmer who supplies the building blocks of what they do I am very proud and happy to be a part of this group.