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?
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!