Sustainable Meat? Talk to Your Dairy Farmer.
From an unscientific survey of what people ask us about at the farmers markets, it seems like sustainability is creeping into peoples’ food lexicon, fighting for room among it Organic, Non-GMO and Grass-Fed compatriots.
It’s first prominent appearance that I can remember was as a simple wallet-sized guide to what to eat and what to throw back. Monterey Bay Seafood Watch cards, which told us which fish were ok to eat based on their hardiness and numbers as a population, narrowed this choice in a minimalist and no-questions asked format.
This view of an ecosystem as a natural resource, as a well to draw from, doesn’t quite translate to agriculture. The ecosystem of a farm depends on more than land and animals — it needs traditions, communities, and security. What’s ideal for one region isn’t necessarily so for another, and any single meat can be raised in wildly different ways that either support or harm its environment, community, and economic security.
We can’t call ourselves sustainable without making every part of the farm work efficiently, supporting every other part. Making the best cheese we can from incredible milk really only gets you so far.
Because we raise cows for dairy, we have calves. A farmer can’t exponentially grow their milking herd every year, and bulls have only so much use on a farm. Same goes for goats on a larger scale, as they have 2–3 kids a year and the 140 we have milking are already a handful. As for the pigs, they’re there because they’re good for the land, and they eat everything in sight. That includes the gallons of whey left after making cheese every day, and any cheese that we drop on the ground by accident.
These animals are raised for meat because they are a necessary part of the farm, rather than the farm solely existing to support meat animals. Meat ranches can still be sustainable, especially given how good they are for maintaining pasture. But buying cheese, and buying the meat that makes the cheese possible, is the best way to be fully involved in the production process, and help offset the costs that go into never taking shortcuts or making compromises.