“We let pigs live like pigs,” says Matthew Goldfarb, executive director of the Farm Institute, the nonprofit that runs the Edgartown-owned Katama Farm.
It’s an allowance that benefits animals and farmers alike: by the time the pigs leave the paddock later in the spring, the soil will be ready for reseeding. Meat-eaters benefit as well. Pigs free to trot and root, pigs fed corn grown in an adjacent field, provide guilt-free bacon.
It’s all about relationships: between farmer and consumer, and between animals and the land, says Mr. Goldfarb.
This year the institute hopes to expand its relationship with consumers by offering meat to participants in its community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Consumers who participate in CSA programs provide start-up money to farmers in the spring in exchange for a share of the season’s harvest.
For three years, the institute has offered a vegetable CSA. The vegetable CSA continues this year, but for the first time consumers also have the option to buy a share of the farm’s livestock production.
“We think the CSA model of community engagement — the relationship the farmer has with the consumer — is in line with our mission of education,” Mr. Goldfarb says.
The institute seeks to teach sustainable agriculture through hands-on learning experiences. Children who attend the institute’s after-school and summer programs learn about organic vegetable production and humane livestock management by growing crops and raising animals.
The institute raises cows, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs. The kids who help with the animals learn right away that it’s a bad idea to name the babies since they are being raised for food. “The kids get it, accept it,” says Mr. Goldfarb. “Their curiosity is there. They want to learn about life and death and innards.”
Shareholders in the institute’s meat CSA will receive chicken, slaughtered and processed on-premises, and frozen packets of beef, lamb and pork. (The larger animals are taken to the Adams Farm in Athol, which operates an inspected, humane-certified slaughterhouse.) The institute is willing to substitute extra chicken for those who don’t like pork or lamb.
Monthly shares are available as 10-pound, 15-pound and 20-pound lots. Pick-ups begin in June and run through November. Shareholders may select a one-month, three-month or a six-month share term. The program is being offered to Islanders and to Cape residents.
“I grew up on the Cape,” says farm manager Julie Olson. Cape Codders have very little opportunity to purchase local-raised meat, she says. “I’m glad we can share the wealth.”
The institute decided to launch the program at the recommendation of Ms. Olson, who heard many positive reports from off-Island farmers who have started meat CSAs while attending the last Northeast Organic Farming Association conference.
Mr. Goldfarb says the meat CSA has the potential to be a great financial model for livestock growers on the Island. “If we can pilot a new model of sales, if we can generate demand through it, other farmers can jump in as well.”
Pricing the shares was a bit tricky. “The issue of the value of food is important,” Mr. Goldfarb says. The institute believed the pricing needed to reflect the willingness of shareholders to give up the choices offered in a standard retail setting. However, the pricing also needed to reflect the cost of raising grass-fed cows and sheep on Martha’s Vineyard.
A one-month, 10-pound share of the meat raised by the farm costs $80, or $8 per pound. That price comes down for those who buy more meat or purchase longer-term shares. For example, a six-month, 20-pound share costs $780, or $6.50 per pound.
Mr. Goldfarb recognizes some might find the prices to be high, particularly for chicken. But he says, “Farmers wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t make money. There’s a real cost to real food. We’re not raising 100,000 chickens in a barn that takes one person to operate. We’re raising 2,000 chickens, and it takes a whole community.”