Beef from the farm to the table
More consumers are buying beef directly from producers

By Kyle Kuphal

About five years ago, Micky Sehr, of Luverne, started buying beef for his family of four directly from a local producer. That farm to table concept, as some call it, is a growing trend.

Shawn Feikema, of Feikema Farms north of Luverne, where Sehr gets his beef from, said Feikema Farms has always sold some beef directly to consumers, but they sell far more that way than they used to. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, the family farm used to sell about five to seven animals a year directly to consumers and now it sells about 50 animals a year to consumers and there’s a long waiting list.

Feikema said one cause of the increase in direct to consumer sales could have been packing plants being closed during the pandemic, which prevented producers from shipping their animals to packers and caused shortages in stores.

“Since then it’s been word of mouth,” he said. “We’re selling these animals to people we don’t even know.”

He said Feikema Farms typically takes meat sold directly to consumers to V&M Locker in Leota for processing.
Julie Ruiter, who owns V&M Locker with her husband Chad, said the business has also noticed an increase in farm to table sales of beef.

“Not only is our calendar booked out from a farmer standpoint, but also people who don’t necessarily have a direct contact with a farmer will call us and say, ‘Can you find me a quarter of beef, half a beef or a whole beef?’ and then we’ll line it up,”’ she said. “The farmer brings it here and then when they come to pick it up they’ll pay us for the processing and leave a check here for the farmer directly. That list has grown drastically.”

Ruiter said the pandemic was certainly a contributing factor to the increase in the store’s farm to table beef processing business. Before the pandemic, the store had a waiting list of about four to six months for beef orders, she said, and now it’s a year or more. She said the farm to table concept, however, has been trending consistently upward since about 10 years ago.

Ruiter said the business typically butchers about nine more beef cattle a week than it did 10 years ago due to the increase in demand and an increase in processing space at the facility a few years ago. Ruiter thinks the trend is the result of people wanting to support local farmers and know where their food comes from.
“There’s something to be said for knowing where your food comes from,” Sehr said.

Sehr said his family of four splits a quarter of beef from Feikema Farms with a neighbor about every six months and has it processed at V&M Locker.

“After trying it out we decided it made a lot of sense,” Sehr said.
He said it made even more sense when the pandemic hit and meat packing plants were closed causing supply chain issues. Sehr said it’s convenient to have a stockpile of meat on hand, it supports a local business, the price is right and the quality is good. He said his kids say they can taste the difference if he buys beef from a grocery store.

Feikema said Feikema Farms sells most of the animals that go directly to consumers in quarters as is the case with Sehr. He said selling directly to the consumer saves the family business some money on shipping and the consumers get a better, fresher product in addition to knowing where their food came from.
“They want farm fresh meat,” Feikema said.

He said another benefit to the producers is that they get to hear directly from consumers what they thought of their product. That direct, face-to-face feedback, he said, has been rewarding.
“It’s been good for us,” Feikema said.

Feikema said that another related change he’s noticed since the pandemic began and restaurants were closed for a while is that many people seem to have learned how to cook beef and other foods well at home. Restaurants have long since reopened, but Feikema said it seems that some people have come to enjoy cooking at home, perhaps at a backyard barbecue with family and friends, rather than going out to a restaurant and spending more money.

“I think that’s part of it,” he said.

Verlyn Ruiter, who started V&M Locker in 1973, said he expects the shift to more consumers buying beef directly from producers to continue to grow in years to come.

“So many new people have tried getting their meat this way and once they try it they won’t probably go back because of the quality of the meat they get,” he said. “And they like to know where it comes from.”

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