By 2020 northwest Lower Michigan's food system will supply 20 percent of the region's food. This is the over-arching goal of the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network and one of the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter.
Grass-fed livestock production systems are of increasing interest as a means to meet the 20 percent mark for proteins in the region. Research demonstrates that grass-fed beef contains higher rates of anti-carcinogenic conjugated linoleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and lower omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratios than hi-concentrate feedlot beef.
In essence, grass-fed beef is healthier for you. However, the region's farmers, processors, and chefs will have to overcome several constraints to increase the supply of regionally produced grass-fed beef. In 1963 the market share of the top four beef slaughter firms was 26 percent, whereas today it is 85 percent. The lack of smaller-scale slaughterhouses is an issue not just in Michigan but nationwide. Two other aspects that need to be addressed are:
1) producer education, proper grazing management and forage utilization; and 2) culinary education — value-added beef cut preparation to increase carcass utilization.
Michigan State University professor Dr. Jason Rowntree recently received a three-year United States Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to develop a pilot for a northwest Michigan beef production system by connecting area beef producers, local processors, distributors and retailers.
As a part of the grant, Dr. Rowntree is currently looking for 20 beef producers to participate in the Grand Vision Grass-fed Certification Program to educate northwest Michigan on sustainable beef production. The program includes completion of MSU Grazing and Grass Finishing curriculum, pasture development, on-farm assessments and other requirements. Grass-fed Certification Program producers need to be located within 100 miles of Traverse City.
The grant program also involves carcass cutout and value-added beef cut preparation demonstrations for chefs. In sum, the pilot program will introduce healthier, grass-fed beef to consumers through a new, shorter regional value chain that involves farmers, butchers, and chefs working in collaboration, and helps us toward our 20 percent supply benchmark.
If you are a beef producer and would like more information on this opportunity or to participate in MSU Grazing School at the MSU Lake City Research Center, Sept. 12-13, 2012, please contact Dr. Rowntree at (517) 974-9539 or Jerry Lindquist, MSU Extension Grazing Educator at (231) 832-6139.
About the author: Dr. Rob Sirrine is an MSU Extension Community Food Systems educator based in Leelanau County.
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