Good news, locavores: according to an article in Tuesday’s News-Miner, we now have another option to buy meat from locally raised and slaughtered animals. Tanana Valley Meats has been certified by the USDA to slaughter cattle and hogs, and they will start butchering and retail sales immediately, in the site once operated by B-Y Farms at 9 Mile Richardson Highway.
From an ecological standpoint, this is fantastic: especially in a place like Alaska, we could stand to cut down our consumption of foods that traveled from Outside to get here — whether the thousand-mile salad or the thousand-mile steak. To me, though, the more important thing is that it’s a local industries, where the money we pay the merchants stays here, rather than getting sent to Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and California (the top five cattle-holding states in 2009, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service).
Also important is that we have a closer relationship with the producers of our food. Since we in Interior Alaska are their primary (maybe only) market, we have a much greater chance to influence the direction of their business. For example, one of the owners boasts that “These [cattle] are not grass fed, these are grain fed.” From what I understand (admittedly little), grain-fed cattle are fattier and less healthy, and their meat less flavorful, than grass-fed. If enough of us put pressure on the owners to change the way their cattle are raised, we have a real chance of succeeding. In a sense, the locals become partners in the business. That relationship is far less likely at chain grocery stores like Safeway and Fred Meyer.
There’s only one bad thing I can say about their business: the retail outlet will (for now) continue to be at 9 Mile Richardson Highway. Who lives withing walking distance of such a place? While it’s good that the old B-Y Farms facility will be re-used and not go to waste — heavens, we have enough abandoned buildings already! — the location effectively shuts out the business of those too young, too old, too infirm, or too poor to drive. While the Green Line travels between Fairbanks and North Pole, I don’t think it stops near Tanana Valley Meats.
I think a better location would be downtown Fairbanks, or even downtown North Pole, within five minutes’ walk of a bus stop. In their current location, I may go there a half-dozen times a year. But if they were within a few minutes’ walk of a bus stop, especially in an area where I had other shopping or errands to do, I’d buy meat there every week.
Not having worked in the butchering business, I don’t know how feasible it would be, at this stage in their business. Perhaps the costs of transporting the meat are currently prohibitive. But most grocery stores don’t get whole animals; they get primal cuts from distant slaughterhouses that are then turned into steaks, roasts, etc. — so it’s at least theoretically possible. I hope that, in time, Tanana Valley Meats will be able to adjust their retail model to serve people in the population centers where they already live and work.