Ian Chamberlain wants to change the conversation. The general manager at Sunnyside Meats has worked at the Durango-based meat processing company and with the Ore House Restaurant for ten years. Sunnyside is one of many of the local ranches, farms and businesses that the Ore House works with in order to produce local, sustainable and organic food and drinks. Yet there is complexity and cost in offering such a menu. “The price of local beef and local pork is high,” admitted Chamberlain. “And it is higher than what a consumer might see at the store. But instead of asking why local food is so expensive, start to ask why the other food is so cheap.”
Sunnyside Meats gets its beef and pork from local farmers and ranchers who Chamberlain calls “producers”. The producers send their meat, all raised locally and organically, to Sunnyside. “Even with 1,500 animals on a farm, there’s a connection with how the animal has been bred and raised. There’s this whole connection to the process that we lose when the volume gets pushed up,” said Chamberlain.
With higher volumes, quality, consistency and sustainability are lost. “The stuff at City Market and McDonalds is cheap because it comes at the expense of animals not being humanely treated and raised, and workers at the processing plant being exploited, and consumers not getting a healthy product,” said Chamberlain. “Even if the dollar menu is appealing for a lot of reasons, in the end, it is going to cost us a lot more.”
In contrast, at local farms and ranches, animals not only have the healthy living situations but proper care. The animals are grass-fed and, in some cases, grain-finished. There is no GMO, hormones or inhumane living conditions. Because the animals are raised in the Four Corners area, they aren’t shipped far for processing, which also reduces environmental impact.
The dialogue on local versus commercial is much bigger than the conversation about expensive versus cheap. The Ore House, in bringing customers local, organic and sustainable product, ensures that this product is of the highest quality. The effort not only provides customers with a healthy and delicious alternative, but supports farms, ranches, and processors in the area.
When consumers buy local, the quality is evident. “Producers have put a lot of love into raising the animal, the processor then puts a lot of love into the proper handling of that animal, and all of that costs money,” said Chamberlain. “That’s one of the things where the experience, health benefits and positive impact in the community has to add up so the consumer can feel like it’s worth it.”
This is the first part in a three-part series about The Bottom Line: The Cost of Local, Organic and Sustainable Food. Getting a meal from farm to table requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and consists of producing, processing, and preparing. The Ore House talked with Ian Chamberlain, the general manager of Sunnyside Meats, to discuss the details. This was originally posted at the Ore House’s blog during January 2014. Read part two and part three.