Local Beef: GreenStar Approved

By the Marketing and
Member Services Department

In April of 2003 GreenStar’s members voted on and passed two referenda which allowed the sale of previously disallowed meats in the stores. This month, GreenStar expects to begin selling beef (and some pork) from Engelbert Farms in Nichols, NY. The new local supplier has been inspected by GreenStar and conforms to all of the Co-op’s requirements.

engelbertfamily260px.jpgKevin and Lisa Engelbert have been farming organically since 1981 and became the first certified organic dairy in New York in 1984. Kevin, who is of the fifth generation of Engelberts to farm in New York (fourth at the farm’s current location), helped develop the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s (NOFA) original organic standards which were largely based on the Engelberts’ own practices. He is now the only dairy producer on the National Organic Standards Board and the only representative of a family-scale farm.

Kevin and Lisa are very proud to run their farm with the help of all three of their sons Kris, Joe and John. Lisa, who is a Co-administrator at NOFA-NY Certified Organic, noted that if the farm hadn’t been organic, the boys may not have returned.

In order to support the extended family, the farm is diversifying. Primarily, the farm produces organic milk which is sold to the cooperative distributor Organic Valley. Additionally, as the Engelbert’s grow all the feed given to their animals, they are starting to raise extra crops to be sold to other farmers. Their growing beef and pork operations are also part of their plan for expansion.

The farm is situated on a beautiful stretch of river-bottom land along the Susquehana and supports a remarkably healthy heard of cattle. Despite several recent catastrophic floods, the herd hasn’t needed a visit from a veterinarian for a sick animal in many years.

One of GreenStar’s inspectors, Karma Glos, explained the extraordinary health of the herd.

“All livestock are very healthy and their healthcare is managed with preventative techniques such as constant access to the outdoors, a very high plane of nutrition, low stress and [a] natural environment. Cattle are not pushed on grain and maintain a healthy gut with grazing and quality forage. If animals do need treatment (which has been extremely rare) natural remedies and homeopathy are used.”

Kevin Engelbert described his philosophy, “I believe we make a living with the animals and not from them.

A Bit of History

If only the first referendum (Meat #1) had passed, “red” meats (including, but not limited to, beef, pork and lamb) that are organic or “as close as possible to organic” would probably have been sold at GreenStar starting as soon as May of 2003. However, the second referendum, which laid out certain requirements for GreenStar’s sale of these meats, made compliance with the new policy so challenging that it took GreenStar staff four years to comply with our members wishes and provide red meats in our stores.

The second referendum (Meat #2) required that “newly allowed” meats sold at GreenStar be raised on family-owned farmsteads within 40 miles of Ithaca. This alone created a significant challenge. While Central New York has many vibrant farms, suppliers were not easily identified. Further, Meat 2 required the animals’ feed to be grown organically and either certified or verified by a team of GreenStar member volunteers. Also, meat vendors needed to agree to be visited and inspected by the team twice annually. Later in 2003, Council passed an interpretation of Meat 2 which spelled out more precisely how compliance was to be evaluated.

In 2004 with the help of local farmer Peter McDonald, Council drafted and passed the “Policy on Member Volunteer Teams and Criteria for the Fair Treatment of Animals.” As Meat #1 requires that meat vendors also comply with existing product line guidelines, this policy spells out how the team is to evaluate producers. The policy also issues a clarification on what was meant by the originally vague requirement that animals be treated fairly.

The task of verifying compliance with all of GreenStar’s policies regarding the sale of red meat is a daunting one which, over the years, was not given first priority. However, in August 2006 Interim General Manager David Scovronick named the first Volunteer Meat Inspection Team. The Team includes Grocery Department Assistant and refrigerated foods buyer, Suzanne Johnson; organic farmers and member-owners, Karma Glos and Laurie Pattington and GreenLeaf editor and Marketing Department member, Felix Teitelbaum, a strong proponent of grass-based agriculture.

On April 6, the Team was joined by then General Manager Ken Arnold on their inspection of Engelbert Farms. The farm met or exceeded every criteria of the inspection and their products (including steaks, lean ground beef and summer sausage) should be available in the frozen foods sections of both GreenStar locations in early May.

As GreenStar’s policies also require that the method of slaughter be approved by the Team, members Glos and Teitelbaum made a visit to the certified organic Leona Meat Plant where animals from Engelbert Farms are processed. The plant passed inspection with flying colors.

mikedebach.jpgManager Mike Debach gave the inspectors complete access to the small plant in Leona, PA as well as its records. Mike practices this openness with all interested clients. Establishing trust and traceability is essential especially for organic producers who must be able to track any cut of meat sold back to the birth of the animal.

GreenStar’s inspectors found that transport to Leona from Engelbert Farms, holding at the plant and slaughter itself are all handled quickly and efficiently and stress to the animals is minimized.

Becoming an organic facility represents only part of the forward thinking that has sustained Leona’s business for over 45 years. Unlike many slaughterhouses, where waste becomes a liability, at Leona it is composted every day. Not only does this save tipping fees and protect the environment, but Mike is hoping to soon sell the finished compost which should be of exceptional quality. Leona’s composting has the additional benefit of virtually eliminating the odors considered unavoidable at other plants. This helps reduce stress for animals being held as well as for Leona’s neighbors, clients and employees.

GreenStar’s business is guided by the collective voice of its members. Getting red meats into the stores may have taken longer than it would have elsewhere, but it has been carefully carried out to express the wishes and values of the members. Subsequently, the meat itself is more than a commodity. It represents the healthy lives of the cattle and the care taken for the soil. It strengthens our local food network and supports our region’s farming families. If you don’t eat red meat you may appreciate the care put into the process. If you do eat red meat, you’ll taste the difference.

New in Grocery


bigstock-a-variety-of-winter-squash-smAdam Morris,
Grocery Manager

As always, we've got you covered for Thanksgiving, from the main course to the sides and everything else.

All right, members, you know the drill. ... It's Thanksgiving time once again! This year, just like every year, we have everything you're looking for to complete your holiday table right here in the Grocery Department. Organize your meal around either a local turkey or a number of main-course vegan options. From there, we've got stuffing boxes or ingredients, tasty, high-quality organic pumpkin and organic cranberry sauce in cans, organic baking ingredients, and every other fixin' you might need! For the record, it's never too early to start thinking about the next round of holidays coming up soon. We'll be rolling out some tasty desserts and treats to keep the holiday celebration going and going and going and going. ... And if you haven't yet, look for our new and improved Co-op Basics list, found at the front of the store. The Grocery Department is full of bargains perfect for pantry-stocking.


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