Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019, according to Statista. Consumers buy their beef at grocery stores more than half the time, but buying from a local farmer provides advantages over buying at a store. While these advantages are ongoing, local buying during the pandemic has allowed individuals to obtain beef that was unavailable in stores, says Bryce M Oxford, a Washington farmer.
Local farmers have seen a boom during the pandemic because of the shortages in stores, and most have managed to keep up with demand. Many also have not raised their beef prices as much as many other outlets, says Bryce Oxford. “A silver lining in the pandemic cloud has been that many people now realize the advantages of buying their beef from a local farmer and hopefully will continue this practice post-pandemic,” Bryce M Oxfordsays.
A significant advantage to consumers buying local is that they know where their beef comes from and how the cattle were raised. They have an opportunity to get to know the farmer and can ensure that what they are buying is free of added hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, and chemicals, Bryce Oxford said. Industrial beef suppliers to grocery stores often buy beef from other countries, and in 2016 a law was passed that does not require them to reveal the origin.
Buying local also helps the local economy by keeping the money within the community. Local farms are the backbone of America, yet many of them are disappearing. Buying from a local family-run farm keeps it in business, Bryce M Oxford says.
Consumers also can save money by buying from a local farmer. Many farms participate in a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture where customers can buy shares. Consumers who purchase a “share” pay for the whole season in advance, which improves the farmer’s cash flow. Consumers also share in the risk; they receive a portion of what the farmer produces, delivered to a drop spot periodically, such as once a month or once a week. Most farmers feel a strong responsibility to their members and will do everything they can to serve them, says Bryce Oxford. For most consumers, the amount of beef they receive as their share makes the CSA a good value, Bryce Oxford says.
Many local farmers also will negotiate bundles with consumers who don’t necessarily want to pick up regularly. Those who have freezers also may be able to buy in bulk. These bundles and bulk purchases also can be cost-effective, Bryce M Oxford says.
Bryce Oxford was born and raised in Oak Harbor, WA, where he still works on the family farm. He is a vocal advocate for the farm-to-table movement.