Hampshire Life Editor’s Note: A boon for local meat

  • Mike Mahar, who is the owner of Poplar Hill Farm in West Whately, feeds a group of his Angus cattle, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019.

Published: 10/10/2019 4:39:00 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 4:38:50 PM

Dear readers,

Farming is not an easy profession. Beyond the difficult physical labor involved, economic realities can turn managing a farm into a precarious budget balancing act. Such was the case for Goshen farmer Cosimo Ferrante, who told reporter Luis Fieldman this week that in recent years he switched from raising beef cows to more inexpensive pigs. Ferrante just couldn’t keep his beef operation viable. But then Smith College stepped in.

With the backing of a private grant worth $250,000, Smith is now contracting with 17 local farms to buy whole animals. The money will be spent on permanent infrastructure upgrades, making the project sustainable in the long term. For the college, this is a good deal because it can feed its students local meat. For the farms, Smith represents a reliable customer. One farmer remarked, “I don’t think Smith College is going to go out of business anytime soon and they have kids that need to eat and that’s not going to change.” Additionally, by selling whole animals, the farmers are not stuck with hard-to-sell cuts, and one imagines that even these cuts will be superior to much of the meat that would have been purchased from large, industrial farms.

The question for other schools and farms in this area is: Will others follow Smith’s lead? Providing life blood to local farms while at the same time offering local meat to western Massachusetts’ students seems to be a situation that benefits everyone. And with the vast wealth some of these schools have accumulated (Smith has an endowment approaching $2 billion; Amherst College has even more), contributing to the economic health of area farms and potentially to the physical health of their students seems like a good use of resources.

Having a healthy agricultural community will benefit everyone, not just the students. Farmer Mike Mahar told Fieldman that having the security of a contract with Smith allowed him to take other risks investing in his farm. That means more resources for locally-produced food to be sold in the region, likely beyond the borders of the campus. Imagine if schools (and wealthy businesses) across the area made similar deals. Western Massachusetts has a strong agricultural tradition, and this decision by Smith to move toward 100 percent local meat in its dining halls is a great way to preserve it.

—Dave Eisenstadter


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