A survey by the Food Marketing Institute says the U.S. sees an 18 percent increase in consumers choosing to purchase meat locally rather than from a supermarket. North Florida farms and butcher shops take thoughtful preparation and service when it comes to distributing meat in the local community.
American Paint Horses graze on grass besides a pool blue lake. A thick forest lines the edge of the water, stretching for miles in every direction. Many twists and turns deeper into this vast property, a red house comes to view adjacent to a wooden barn. Two dogs chase each other near corn stalks, the oinks of piglets scattered in the background—it’s the picturesque country portrait. This is a daily sight at Long View Farms.
Betsy and Tony Brown ditched their metropolitan lifestyle out West and sought out a farmer’s heaven in Florida. They have been farming for six years, and use a tenth of their 900 acre property to raise meat chickens, egg-laying chickens, and beef. While their cattle is required by Florida law to be processed at a USDA certified slaughterhouse an hour and a half West, the Browns have a permit to butcher chickens on their ranch and sell the meat directly to customers.
"Under something called the ‘Limited Poultry and Egg Permit—it’s a Florida permit that a small farm can get if you sell under 20,000 chickens a year and sell under 30 dozen eggs a week,” says Betsy Brown.
The Browns order chickens from a farm in Pennsylvania. The live chicks are mailed the day they hatch and arrive for pickup at a local Gadsden County post officer two days later. About 150 chicks are delivered every two weeks, and they will stay in a pasture for 10 weeks until processing.
The Browns are part of a small but growing locally-sourced, independent organization that bands farmers together. The Red Hills Small Farm Alliance is a non-profit union that has brought together over 50 farmers within a 100-mile-radius of Tallahassee. The organization assists neighboring farmers with selling locally-grown food within the community.
“This is a very unique area for small farmers because there is not a lot of competition because of the online market for an outlet for small farmers," Besty Brown says.
Long View Farms uses the Red Hills Online Farmers Market to sell their beef, chicken, and eggs. The digital market place lets locals order meat and vegetables weekly. It can be delivered to their door, or they can drive out to the farm on Thursdays to pick up their package.
An essential component to purchasing meat locally is the opportunity a citizen is given to support the community economy. Tyler Dyals, the manager at Revels Meat & Groceries, says their butcher shop is important because they give back to the public, donating chicken every month to homeless shelters and youth housing. He also says their location is key, as 80% of their clients walk to their shop.
“Most of it is all foot action. Most people don’t have cars that come here," said Tyler Dyals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida has the third highest number of butchers employed in the United States. Florida is also one of the fastest growing states for butchers, with a 17% increase in employment—nearly triple the national average. Specialized meat stores offer a customer service and variety in product that cannot be found at large-scale supermarkets.
Hannah Pool, a cashier at Bradley’s Country Store, says their butcher shop has seen a notable growth in customers.
"Just in the past few years—I have been able to tell by the number that we butcher, that we’re butchering twice as much as we were butchering a few years ago," said Hannah Pool.
While the competition is not high between neighboring butcher stores, Dyals says the main competitor has been supermarkets. A Piggly Wiggly opening on the Southside of Tallahassee put a significant dent in the small business market and cut their sales by 30% over two years.
"It’s very cut throat. If you have the money, you have the buying power, so you can out buy somebody. You can potentially put everybody else out of business. It’s a monopoly," said Tyler Dyals.
The Food Marketing Institute says the top demands for meat eaters is transparency, traceability, and where it comes from. Betsy Brown says young folks seek out Long View Farms for education on grass-fed animals, and older people look for organic meat at farmer markets and butcher shops to improve their health. Shopping from local meat distributers keeps carnivores in the know on what they are consuming, and puts money back into the local economy.
"I think everybody should know where their food is coming from. And when you’re supporting local producers and growers, your money stays in your community. And I think that’s the most important piece of it," Betsy Brown says.