I had mixed emotions during dinner last night. It wasn't because my meal was bad. In fact, it came out pretty tasty; roasted potatoes with spicy mustard, sautéed edamame, and roasted veal rack rib chops with lots of rosemary and some more of that mustard. No, I was a little sad because those chops would be the last I'd ever eat from the meat CSA I've had for over five years. My first-Tuesday-of-every-month ritual of tearing into my paper bag to see what my delivery had brought had just come to an end.
The news came as a shock last month. I was struck by the honesty and openness of the email the farmers sent to all of us members. The family was closing up their meat business (where they raised cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, and goats) to focus exclusively on their dairy business. It had apparently been a real struggle for them to succeed financially — the farm was located in a rural area of Vermont known as the "Northeast Kingdom," so their CSA program involved driving a few hours down to Massachusetts where there were more people like me anxious to buy meat raised on family farms. After a local slaughterhouse closed, and to try and cover the cost of driving the meat to customers, they raised their rates. Apparently some customers left, and it still didn't bring in enough money.
It wasn't just money that caused things to end, though. As their children grew up, with their fourth child heading to college this fall, they said, "it seems that we can never do anything as a family because we are always working. We feel like we are missing out on their childhoods." After getting updates from the farm and emailing back and forth with them over the years, I feel a connection with the family. I hope focusing on dairy brings the family happiness, although I'm sure if will still be filled with hard work. The feeling of connection goes both ways, as their email also said, "We will miss the many members that have become like family to us. The emails and contact we have had has indeed changed our perception of 'Flatlanders'" (as some residents of The Kingdom refer to outsiders).
So, where will I get my meat from now on? I guess I'll be consulting Farm Aid's Find Good Food page and carrying an extra load home from local farmers markets. At least my freezer still has some meat left, so with every burger I grill and carnitas taco I make, I'll look north to Vermont and picture the rolling hills and wonder how things are going for "my" family farmers.