The Conscientious Carnivore

by firsthandfoods on February 1, 2016

lucy My name is Lucy Curtis, I’m a junior in high school  from Philadelphia, and for the month of January I had an internship with Firsthand Foods. I spent my  days creating marketing materials and tagging along  after my aunt, Jennifer Curtis, trying to learn as much  as I could in just four short weeks.

The most surprising thing about visiting  farmers and customers was the depth of knowledge required for even the most simple of interactions. The average weight of different cuts of meat, how they are used and how available they will be at any given moment is information given in passing. How to know which animals will produce the best meat at a glance is another thing that was second nature to most of the people I worked with, whereas seeing animals in terms of the cuts of meat they contain was an alien concept to me before this month.

However I can now say with a modest amount of confidence that I can identify where to find the brisket, that a good beeve usually looks like “a refrigerator on its side,” and that the optimal amount of back fat on a hog is about an inch or so. But that all seems so clinical when standing in a field or in the woods surrounded by living, breathing animals that come when called and have bright, intelligent eyes. These animal’s lives seem so much less tragic than I previously imagined for the simple reason that while on pasture they are so, so alive. And I think it’s really important to lean into the discomfort and sadness that can come from eating what was once a living creature, because the uncertainty that comes from learning about this industry is where change can originate.

This month I learned that if you scratch a hog for long enough and in the right spot it will sink to its knees and roll onto its side in contentment. I learned that when a calf is very young it will run around with its tail sticking straight up, happy to be alive, happy to be under the sun and the wide blue sky. But these facts don’t make me sad to know that these animals are destined to be slaughtered, instead they make me glad to know that their lives were happy ones. So maybe the most important thing I learned this month was that acknowledging that what you are eating was once alive doesn’t have to be a sad thing, but instead can be a recognition of the animal’s life and what you can do to improve it.

 

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Back to School

by firsthandfoods on August 19, 2015

No fancy mathematics needed to calculate the impact of what “Back to School” means for all of us here at Firsthand Foods and the more than 60 local livestock farmers participating in our supply network. For one thing, our restaurant customers see a significant up-tic in business. Sales at Bull City Burger & Brewery increase over 15 percent as soon as Duke students arrive on campus. When this delicious downtown eatery sells more burgers, we sell more meat and our farmers sell more animals. It’s as simple as that.

When classes start today at UNC-Chapel Hill, Carolina Dining Services will begin serving 10,000 meals to the students who frequent Rams Head & Top of Lenoir dining halls. Thanks to student activism and creative menu planning by Executive Chef, Michael Gueiss, Executive Chef, Michael GueissCDS now routinely sources sustainably-raised proteins, including Firsthand Foods’ pasture-raised pork and beef. CDS aims to serve over 17% “real food” in their dining halls as measured by the Real Food Calculator. We’re proud to be an important part of that effort and look forward to another high impact semester working with CDS and all of our customers to support real working farms and rural communities throughout North Carolina.

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My Firsthand Experiences in Local Food

by firsthandfoods on July 23, 2015

With hogs on Jennings Outlaws' pasture-based hog farm

Well, 8 weeks has flown by! Today is the last day of my apprenticeship with Firsthand Foods. It has been a truly transformative and enriching experience. I came in knowing that I would learn about how local food supply chains work, but I am leaving with so much more.

During my time, I connected with farmers, processors, transporters, retailers, and end consumers, as well as friends and families of those involved in our local food community. I learned about humane animal husbandry, fair and equitable business, the interest of retailers and restaurants in sourcing local sustainable products, and the amount of care, attention, determination, and resiliency it takes to work in the local foods world – and succeed. Through farm visits, documenting supplier relationships, conducting interviews, and market research, I developed my communications and marketing skill sets, and also deepened my awareness and understanding of the relationships that make supply chains work.

The day-to-day, hands-on work that Firsthand Foods does in order for sustainable meats to get from local farms onto your North Carolina fork has been inspiring. Here are some highlights:

– Visiting Don York’s cattle farm in Julian, NC on the second day of the job to check on potential beef supply. Jennifer and I arrived just in time for the vet to perform pregnancy checks on the cows

– Tina and I ventured to the Upper Mountain Research Station at Laurel Springs for the NC Cattlemen’s Association meeting. Hearing cattle farmers express their needs and interests in relation to improving the health and prosperity of the local cattle industry made it clear how much time, care and effort they invest into the system.

– Before our customer appreciation party, Jennifer and I met with our processors Acre Station and Chaudry Halal at the Durham Co+op so that they could see the Firsthand Foods meat case. It was a very cool experience to see the different members of the food supply chain – processors, food hub, and retailer, engaging the physical product that their supply chain created.

– My main project this summer was writing a report for the USDA documenting the partnership between Firsthand Foods and UNC-Chapel Hill. The aim was to demonstrate a successful working partnership whereby an institution is able to successfully source critical volumes of local sustainable foods through a food hub. This entailed a lot of research and interviews, which made use of my recently acquired bachelor’s in anthropology!

Moving forward after my apprenticeship, I’m headed to Vermont Law School for their Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy program. Last summer I worked on a small-scale permaculture farm, and will be learning the law and policy side of food in the fall. What was missing for me was how foods get from farm to market, and the ways those food dollars sway policy decisions in relation to regulation of agriculture, grant support of farms, land access, programming and support for entry-level farmers, etc. My experience with Firsthand Foods has helped me fill that gap, especially with regards to the local foods market.

Thank you Firsthand Foods for all you’ve taught me and all the experiences you have given me. I will continue to seek out local and sustainable meats, and will take all the lessons, advice, and inspiration you’ve given me into wherever my career in local food systems takes me next.

Wishing you all a wonderful rest of summer!

– Eva

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A Hog’s Life: Root, Wallow, and Be Happy

by firsthandfoods on July 20, 2015

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What makes for a happy hog? Being able to experience life in ways congruent with their natural behaviors. Naturally grown hogs are raised outdoors on pasture, free to roam, wallow, and root.

When pasture-raised, hogs use trees to keep their skin healthy by removing parasites, and wallows for rolling around in. Wallows are especially important because hogs do not have sweat glands, with the exception of their snout disc. So, to keep cool they create wallows, or muddy sinks in the ground, to roll around in and cool off their skin from the heat of the day. When raised outdoors, hogs engage in another natural instinct and behavior called rooting. One of the their most basic behaviors, hogs use their snouts to dig around in the soil looking for grubs and other edibles. Roaming, wallowing, and rooting hogs translate into happy and healthy animals.

Outlaw

At Firsthand Foods, we’re dedicated to supporting farmers who raise healthy animals that are encouraged to follow their instincts and engage in their natural behaviors. We source our hogs from the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association, a network of farmers raising their hogs outdoors, on pasture, with special attention paid to humane husbandry and animal welfare. The farmer network was formed in 2007 by a dedicated group of hog farmers who wanted to build a market for high-quality pork products. For them, high quality entailed Animal Welfare Approved certification, the nation’s highest welfare standard.

We work closely with the Co-Op to ensure a consistent supply of high-quality pork every week. We provide feedback to each producer about their carcass quality so they can adjust and improve their production practices Every year we visit each farm to see their operation firsthand (ha!), hear their stories, and meet the hogs. There is no question in our minds that the pork chops, sausages, and bacon that we all enjoy, are made all the more delicious because of the care and attention that our hog farmers put into raising their animals.

– Eva

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Fairing Through Stormy Weather

by firsthandfoods on July 17, 2015

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With all the summer storms we’ve been experiencing in North Carolina, our livestock friends are less apt than us to enjoy the light shows and thunder. In fact, storms pose a great threat to pasture-based livestock farms, especially with regards to the health and safety of the animals.

During a storm, homes, pastures, livestock facilities, and the animals themselves can be harmed, but even more damage tends to occur in the storm’s aftermath. Storms create various hazards causing animals like cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats, to become fatally ill. In a recent issue of The Carolina Cattle Connection, Dr. Matthew Poore of NCSU highlights some unsuspecting culprits of harm for livestock post-storm in his article Picking Up After the Storm on Pasture-Based Livestock Farms.

When buildings are damaged, fly away debris can get blown into pastures. If animals are lacking feed or mineral supplements, this leaves them quite hungry and the pieces of debris become chocking hazards. Nearby cherry and oak trees also pose significant threats to livestock, especially when storm winds blow down leaves and acorns. Consumption of wilted cherry leaves leads to prussic acid poisoning, a common cause of death in cattle, sheep, and goats, and if large quantities of fallen acorns are consumed animals can also suffer from acorn poisoning.

Unlike most of us, when storms hit farmers have to pay careful attention to both the practical and unique hazards that can cause both short term and long term harm to their operations and livestock animals. Given the amount of storms we’ve had this summer, we’re thankful to our many wonderful farmers for the care and attention they put into maintaining their pasture-based farms.

To read the full article by Dr. Matthew Poore, visit http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/whatwedo/researchunits/amazing-grazing-picking-up-after-a-storm.pdf.

By Eva Moss
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Celebrating Our Supply Chain

by firsthandfoods on July 6, 2015

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Last week, Firsthand Foods hosted our annual Customer Appreciation Party. Many of our farmers, processors, transporters, retail customers, and friends and family came out to celebrate the community we’ve grown together. There was a delicious spread catered by our friends at Boxcarr Farms, with food and beverages provided by Eastern Carolina Organics, Woodfruit, Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop, Piedmont Wine Imports, and Bull City Burger & Brewery. Though there was much conversation, good food, and beautiful weather, the event was about celebrating something much bigger. All together, the group represented our working local meat supply chain.

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Once festivities started, it was clear how excited everyone was to be together and speaking in person with others often mentioned or worked with virtually (especially given the distance between farms and retailers). Farmers were excitedly talking to processors and retailers about the meats their animals produced, and chefs were eagerly listening to the stories of the farmers.

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One especially striking conversation occurred with our processors at Chaudry’s Halal Meats and Acre Station Meat Farm. Before the party began, both processors had the chance to visit the Durham CO+OP to see the Firsthand Foods meat case. At the party, they discussed what it was like to see the spread of Firsthand Foods beef and pork products surrounded by photos of some of the local farmers who were at the event. The processors, who deal with the day-to-day operations surrounding slaughters and processing of cuts, were able to talk to the CO+OP’s meat manager about packaging and customer feedback. Jennifer, our co-CEO, engaged them all by discussing the cuts of meat and linking them to the different possibilities of packaging and pricing for retailers. All the while, customers walked by grabbing packs of sausages and ground beef that our supply chain had produced. Though each plays their own role in the supply chain, the whole system operates as a community. It’s was a beautiful thing to have everyone come together to celebrate and talk about the work of the whole.

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Oftentimes, it’s easy to forget all the players in our food supply chain producing the meaty goodness on our plates, but those players are quite diverse and each one is integral to our system getting local sustainable meats on our shelves.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the celebration. Thanks for being a part of it all, and thanks for (m)eating local!

– Eva

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Beefing Up My Awareness

by firsthandfoods on June 24, 2015

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Happy summer! My name is Eva and I’m the new marketing apprentice at Firsthand Foods. I recently graduated from Sewanee in Tennessee, where I majored in anthropology, focusing on community dynamics and local food systems. For the past year I’ve done a lot of work with local farmers, health food stores, and permaculture groups, but my food experience mainly focused on vegetables and fruits.

The world of meat was basically completely foreign to me, other than going for a “grass-fed” burger when out to eat or purchasing already packaged, weighed, and priced meat at the grocery store. In my pursuit of a career supporting and promoting localized food economies, I realized how this gap of knowledge was more than just knowing the difference between a heifer (female) and a steer (male and castrated).  It was a question of where does my meat come from? Along what lines does it travel to get from the farm to grocer? What are the relationships like along these lines? Who works to get meats that are healthier for us and the environment into our stores? How do they do it?

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In an attempt to answer these questions, I was introduced to the North Carolina Growing Together initiative and the Local Food Supply Chain apprenticeship. Through them, I was connected with Firsthand Foods, a team truly committed to sourcing and promoting sustainable local pasture-raised meats. They are my mentors this summer in matters of business, meat, and relationships amongst the state’s cattle industry. Since I’ve started work, I’ve been exposed to a beefy (the puns are happening) landscape of knowledge. After visits to various cattle farms, co-operative markets, NCDA research stations, and just listening in on the everyday happenings in the office, I’ve realized just how much there is to know about cows. For starters, cows are not just “cows”, so here’s a bit of bovine bounty for your knowledge bank:

  • A cow is an adult female that has had one or more calves
  • A heifer is a young female who hasn’t given birth (calved) or has calved for the first time
  • A bull is an un-castrated male intended for breeding due to the desirability of its genetic traits
  • A steer is a male castrated before sexual maturity for the purpose of creating a more docile and easier to handle animal, reducing feed inputs needed for sexual development

This may all seem very elementary, especially if you’ve grown up with cattle, studied animal science, or just have a penchant for our friends that go “moo”, but these distinctions are the building blocks of the very layered world of beef, making it a lot easier for people like me to begin to understand. Past these, distinctions between “fat cows” and “market cows”, questions about finishing and marbling, differences between “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed”, and the influence of breed characteristics are more decipherable if you know you’re talking about a female or a male, and what kind of female and male.

Keep up with us on the blog this summer for more meaty information about farms, meats, recipes, and news and events!

Eva

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Soy Ginger Ham Steak

by firsthandfoods on April 30, 2015

Oh, the many wonders of ham! This versatile cut of pork can be turned into deli ham, country ham, city ham, and cured products like Prosciutto or Speck. And there are the old guards like spiral cut roast ham or honey baked ham, both of which can get a bad wrap but if done right, yield delicious results.

In this month’s box, we are going the route of the ham steak. This cross cut slab of meat has all that the ham has to offer. The lean meat you’ve come to expect, with the added small ring of flavorful fat all along the outside and the small bone right in the middle. Because this piece of meat has a short cooking time, with the right recipe, ham steak can quickly turn into a family favorite for any occasion. We happen to have one such recipe for you:

1 ham steakham steak
½ cup of tamari or soy sauce
1 Tablespoon of honey
1 Tablespoon of rice vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 Tablespoon of grated ginger

Place ham steak in a deep dish or a plastic bag for marinating. Combine soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar into a small bowl and whisk together. Pour the mixture over the ham steak, and add garlic, and ginger. No need to add any salt as the soy sauce will season the meat plenty. For best results, marinate the meat at least 2 hours in advance, but over night is best.

When ready to cook, take your ham steak out 30 minutes prior to cooking and pat dry with a paper towel. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees and on the stovetop, start getting a large pan hot. When your pan is “screaming” hot, sear your steak until it develops a nice color all over. Then put the steak in the pan into the oven and continue cooking in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 140 degrees.

When you’re done cooking, let your meat rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it. Slice, and enjoy!

PS – Ham steaks work great on the grill too!

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London Broil

by firsthandfoods on April 2, 2015

Spring has sprung! With that comes folks dusting off the grill, and cooking up some meaty goods in the beautiful weather. Firsthand Foods is right there with you! So for the first month’s round of our Spring (M)eat Local Box the beef item in the boxes will be London Broil.

London Broil is one of those things that’s more of a cooking method and preparation than a particular cut of meat. Although traditionally it was prepared with flank steak, London Broil is a term often associated with a thick steak that can be cut from a number of different lean areas in the animal. These days most would associate London Broil with beef top round, which is a great piece of lean meat that’s perfect for the grill.

A few things that make London Broil what it is, are: 1) Marinating the meat well ahead of time, perhaps a day in advance. This will give great flavor to the meat, and will tenderize it a bit before cooking. 2) Serving it rare, only a little more rare than a roast beef, and cut into thin slices. Cut across the grain, these slices are great as is with some grilled veggies, or made into a sandwich.

Here’s a recipe for an Argentinean take on a London Broil. This involves making a chimichurri sauce, made with parsley, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. This is not hard to make and is great used as both a marinade, and/or dipping sauce. Trust the Argentineans, they know how to do beef!

london broil chimichurriChimichurri Sauce

(A double recipe for both marinade and dipping sauce. Makes about a cup.)

In a food processor, or blender combine and puree:

1 cup, of Italian parsley

½ cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves of garlic

¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

A good squeeze of lemon juice

London Broil

Season meat with salt and pepper covering all sides (use a light hand on the salt if you chose to marinate ahead of time). Allow your meat to come up to room temp before cooking.

Once the grill is hot, cook your London Broil for about 10 minutes each side, making sure you have a good char on both sides. Your meat thermometer should read 125-130 degrees for medium rare.

After cooking, allow the meat to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. This step is crucial in cooking any meat.

Lastly, enjoy!

We hope this recipe will have you looking forward to more of your tasty (M)eat Local Box items this season.

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re Hiring!

by firsthandfoods on January 7, 2015

We’re looking for a part-time local meat enthusiast!

Interested in working with an entrepreneurial food hub in Durham in support of small-scale livestock producers throughout North Carolina?  Consider joining our dynamic team and gaining valuable food systems experience.  See the formal position announcement below and send a polished resume & cover letter by January 29th to info@firsthandfoods.com.

Local Meat Operations Assistant

The Company
Firsthand Foods is a branded meat company that sells local, pasture-raised pork and beef to wholesale customers, including restaurants and retailers. Firsthand Foods sources animals from a network of remarkable farmers all of whom raise their animals humanely, on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones and utilizes the services of two USDA-inspected small-scale processors. In addition to selling wholesale, Firsthand Foods also operates a direct-to-consumer meat box program. For more information about our company, please visit www.firsthandfoods.com.

Position Description
This is a part-time position (approximately 20 hrs per week) requiring day-time hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with occasional work required on nights and weekends. Applicant must be able to easily lift 50 lb. boxes and tolerate working inside a cold storage unit. The Local Meat Operations Assistant will report directly to Firsthand Foods’ Co-CEOs Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte.

Minimum Qualifications
• Must be comfortable using Excel.
• Must be highly organized and have strong communication skills.
• Commitment to excellent customer service.
• An interest in ethical and sustainable meat products.
• A valid driver’s license and clean driving record.

Primary Responsibilities
The Local Meat Operations Assistant will be expected to:
• Take inventory of all meat products received by Firsthand Foods, including assistance with pallet transport into coolers via a pallet jack, unpacking boxes and entering product specifications into an inventory tracking system.
• Make real-time updates to inventory management system to track products from receipt to delivery.
• Pack and invoice restaurant, retail and meat box orders, ensuring full traceability of all products sold.
• Coordinate pick-up and delivery of wholesale orders with distribution partners.
• Deliver selected Triangle-based orders in company vehicle.
• Coordinate implementation of Firsthand Food’s direct-to-consumer program, including order packing and customer pick-up.
• Communicate clearly and in a positive & polite manner with all customers.
• Assist with maintaining accurate records of temperatures and delivery conditions as required by our food safety and cold-chain supply management protocols.
• Maintain a clean and organized inventory warehouse space.
• Understand policies & practices that are relevant to our mission and be able to articulate these to the general public as part of consumer education and outreach to connect local, pasture-based livestock producers with local markets.
• Participate in staff meetings and trainings.

Compensation
Starting hourly rate is $10.50/hr. After a 3-month probationary period, if Assistant is meeting or exceeding all expectations, this hourly rate will be increased to $12.50/hr.
No benefits. Some paid vacation provided.

Application
To apply, please send a resume and brief cover letter to info@firsthandfoods.com. Please include the position title as the subject of your email. Deadline for all applications is COB Thursday, January 29th.

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