Valley Bounty: Produce flowing, but there's a challenge to meat

  • Sweet Morning Farm

  • The Leyden farm produces a variety of vegetables, and raises pigs and cows for meat. They have six sows, a boar, piglets, and some older pigs. Sweet Morning Farm

For the Gazette
Published: 8/22/2020 11:42:25 AM

The meat industry, like most industries, has been under immense pressure due to COVID-19. While rural communities have generally had lower infection rates than their densely populated urban counterparts, slaughterhouses and meat processing plants around the country have reported outbreaks of COVID-19, forcing these plants to operate on fewer hours or shut down altogether.

This presents both a health issue for the surrounding communities, and has led to a massive supply chain issue, with major meat companies such as Tyson reporting significant declines in production.

In western Mass., our small-scale and local farmers are not immune from the impacts of this disruption.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for local meat, which is great, but it is really hard to adapt to these changes for two reasons,” excplains Robin Creamer, co-owner of Sweet Morning Farm in Leyden.

“One is the lead time — it takes time to raise animals, and I want to be confident that next year, when my pigs and cows are ready to be slaughtered, that the demand will still be there. The other challenge is that, for the animals I am ready to have processed, the slaughterhouses are booked solid until next year.”

This spring, when Creamer called to set a date to have his animals processed, he learned that the earliest date was not available until December. As local farmers around the region have responded to increased demand for local meat because of the national supply chain disruptions, limited local processing capacity has only become more of a challenge.

Creamer owns and operates Sweet Morning Farm with his mother, Laura Timmerman. They grow a wide variety of vegetables on less than an acre of land in order to maintain a well-stocked farm stand, bring products to the Easthampton Farmers’ Market and the Greenfield Winter Market, and offer a vegetable CSA, a sales model where consumers sign up directly with a farm for a subscription of that farm’s products.

In addition to vegetables, they sell cut flowers and bouquets, eggs, pork, and beef from their small herd of Jersey cattle.

Now in the height of their growing season, Sweet Morning Farm has a vast variety of vegetables being harvested on the farm including bok choy, pak choy, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, beans, eggplants, peppers, beets, carrots, onions and garlic.

Creamer and Zimmerman are focused on implementing sustainable farming practices on their farm, including being entirely no-till, and using rotational grazing for their cattle.

No-till is a farming method that preserves soil fertility by restoring and building organic matter in the soil. When farmers till their soil, they turn over the first 6-10 inches of soil in preparation for planting crops. This is fast, efficient, and mixes any old crops, weeds and animal manure into the soil. However, it also loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare and more likely to be eroded by wind or water.

Rotational grazing is the practice of containing and moving livestock through pastures in order to build plant and soil health. With only one section of pasture being grazed at a time, the other sections have time to recover, allowing foraged plants to regrow and deepen their roots.

Cattle and pigs can kill all plant material, and trample and compact the soil if left on a patch of land. However, by using rotational grazing, the livestock eat back some of the plants (causing the plants to develop deeper and stronger roots), and play a vital role in increasing soil fertility, preventing erosion, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

“The greatest reward of farming, for me, is the connection I have to my animals, to the soil, and to the community,” Creamer explains. “That said, we go the extra length to implement these practices to ensure that we are using the safest practices to preserve the health of the land, our animals, and customers.”

Sweet Morning Farm still has some CSA shares available, with on-farm pickup. If a CSA isn’t for you, you can find their meat, eggs and vegetables at their farm stand and at the Easthampton Farmers’ Market. To find other local farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




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