Category: News


A Visit to Consider Bardwell…

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Last weekend I traveled with a group of Heritage Foods and Heritage Radio folks to Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, VT. The farm makes goat and cow cheeses the have achieved great acclaim from top chefs and cheese connoisseurs. The cheese-makers credit their amazing products to their pasture raised animals and small batch productions that are ages in caves on the farm. The taste of place (what the French call terroir) is exemplified so perfectly in these cheeses and they stand out as the heights of what American cheese-making can be.

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We had the privilege of staying in the small cottage on the farm and learn a little about its history. In 1864 Consider Stebbins Bardwell founded the first cheese-making co-op in Vermont. The farm eventually moved away from its roots, but roughly a century later partners Angela Miller, Russell Glover, and Chris Gray rediscovered the farm’s potential.

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In 2011, Heritage Foods began working with Consider Bardwell and several other local dairy farms in Vermont for our No Goat Left Behind project. We work with these farms to provide a sustainable end market for their male dairy goats and to introduce diners to wonderful flavors goat can offer.

Stay tuned for more information in October…or as we call it Goatober!

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 More on Consider Bardwell Farm

http://www.considerbardwellfarm.com/

Heritage Foods Loyalty Program

One year ago we launched our Heritage Foods USA Loyalty Program to thank you (the Enlightened Meat Buyer!) for your continued support! We are proud to keep it going for another year!

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Receive a certificate for $20 off your 2nd order.


Included with every 5th order you place (5, 10, 15, etc.), receive a free dinner for two or four: 5-Rib Pork Chop Rack or Two 14-oz Ribeye or NY Strip Steaks.


Following a 25th order (25, 50, 75, etc.), receive a free dinner for eight along with gifts from our farmers.


With your 30th order, you become a member of Heritage Foods USA’s Rare Breed Club. For more information contact Catherine.

Not Sure How Many Orders You Have Placed?

E-mail us or call us!
Tel: (718) 389-0985

*The benefits of this program do not apply to past orders, but your number of orders to date will be counted towards future benefits.

Labeling GMOs

By Janani Lee

Recently, a study was released reporting that pigs fed GM grains had more inflamed stomachs than those fed non-GM grain. This is one of the many red flags that have been raised about the unknown consequences and potential dangers of GMO in recent years.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been in our food supply for nearly two decades and have been controversial for just as long. This is a vast and complicated subject that touches global hunger, the power structures in the food system, and our favorite – genetic diversity. It does not seem right to completely shun a new technology with great potential, but it also does not seem right to assume that seeds patented by corporations like Monsanto that we do not know the long term ecological effects of have the potential to feed our growing global population. This debate deserves is important and should not be shied away from – it needs to be the topic of work place and dinner table conversations around the country and the world.

Back to the issue at hand – we now have some scientific evidence that GM feed is not the best for pigs. Over the past week customers have called in asking if our pigs are GMO free. Though we strive for this ideal, only 100% organic feed grain is guaranteed free of GMOs, but often this is out of our farmer’s price range or difficult for them to get an adequate supply of. We are aware of this issue and working to see what can be done about it.

For now we are supporting policy measures to label GMOs. More public awareness of how prevalent GMOs are in our food supply would lead to greater demands for change and more support for alternate supply chains. A greater demand would lead to a bigger market and more access to better products.

We know that this is a sensitive and divisive issue and welcome your feedback. Genetic diversity is one of the issues closest to our hearts and we will continue to find ways to support it as best we can.

Heritage Radio Reports on Bristol Bay Salmon

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Here at Heritage Foods USA, we are luck enough to work closely with Heritage Radio Network. Both organizations were founded by Patrick Martins and both share the philosophy of promoting a healthy and sustainable food system and celebrating food culture. Part of this blog will feature stories from Heritage Radio Network reporting on issues, foods, farmers, and events.

Our first feature comes from an April episode of the Community Session featuring Christopher Nicolson of the Iliamna Fish Company talking about mining, fishing, and conservation in Bristol Bay in Alaska.

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From HRN:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to release the second draft detailing the environmental effects of a copper mine planned to be constructed in Bristol Bay, Alaska. In this HRN Community Session, Nathaniel Coburn sits down with Christopher Nicolson, vitner at Red Hook Winery, and Sockeye Salmon fisherman up in Bristol Bay. Find out how byproducts of mining, such as roadways, settling ponds, and heavy metals will endanger not only the Sockeye population, but the native bird populations and other fish species. How do indigenous Alaskan people feel about the potential of a mine coming to their homeland? Learn how consumers can vote with their fork concerning this environmental threat.

Listen here: http://www.heritageradionetwork.org/episodes/4028-Bristol-Bay-with-Christopher-Nicolson

Meat in Mexico (Sheep Slaughter and Pig Processing)

By Janani Lee

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Last year I visited Puebla, Mexico and had the opportunity to visit several farms, both industrial scale and independent. Meat is a cornerstone in Mexican cuisine, and though many families have difficulty affording it, it is still a strong cultural symbol in Mexican communities. During my trip I observed two radically different methods of raising and processing meat. The first was the sheep that was slaughtered for barbacoa in Tlaxcala, where we were witnessed the slaughter and breakdown of a sheep that was cooked using the traditional Mexican barbacoa methods. Seeing an animal transition from alive to meat and then raw meat to cooked meat all in the same location and at the hands of a few people is a rarity. The flock this sheep came from grazed in the hills surrounding the hacienda, eating local grasses and herbs that gave the meat its particular flavor. The sheep they choose to slaughter are between six months and two years old. I watched as the workers’ practiced hands held the sheep and pulled the knife through its throat and its blood drained into a pitcher. The animal was then strung up by its back legs; its skin, head, and front legs removed; and in less than twenty minutes it bore a closer resemblance to a piece of meat than a living animal. All parts of the animal were set aside for use – the head would go into the soup pot at the bottom of the barbacoa oven, the intestine that could be used for sausage casing, and even the blood would be cooked down or given to the dogs.

A few days later I visited the farm and processing facility of one of Mexico’s largest pork producers. The visit could not have contrasted more with the sheep slaughter I had just witnessed. The company’s vertical integration covers the milling of their pigs feed, breeding, raising, slaughter, processing, and selling in retail locations. Thousands of pigs live on the farm and are separated according to their function – breeding or fattening. There is a much greater detachment between the animals and the workers, and even though it is evident that the workers care about the health of the animals, the volume of pigs they are dealing with makes an individual connection impossible. Though I was prepared to witness the factory farm horrors I had read about in the past, I was surprised to find that the farm facilities looked clean and well maintained. The pigs were packed in tight, the sides of the feeding sheds rolled up and they got plenty of sunlight and ventilation.

After the pigs have gone through four successive stages of fattening, they are moved to a slaughterhouse, then their carcasses are moved to the processing facility which they leave in the packaged form that is a familiar sight in supermarkets. These facilities were also clean and well maintained, but I don’t know if I can ever forget the sight of hundreds of pigs flying in on conveyer belts as dozens of workers hacked at them with saws and butchers knives. The whole process look mechanically efficient and it was difficult to connect these carcasses with the living animals I had seen on the farm.

Though one company is overseeing this whole process, it is interesting to compare the number of times their pigs are moved throughout their lives and deaths and the number of hands involved in their slaughters and processing compared to the two workers that killed and prepared the sheep in Tlaxcala. The industrial, vertical system is what makes meat affordable in Mexico, but it also removes any personal connection with the animals.

Though there are multiple differences between the Mexican meat industries, it is important to think about the difference between industrial meat and farm-raised meat. It is important to think about the number of times something you eat has changed hands and been shipped from place to place. Shortening those supply chains makes for a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Heritage Chicken Tour Takes Flight!

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Heritage Foods USA is proud to announce our historic effort to revive 24 rare, heritage chicken lines and create an alternative market for non-industrially bred chicken.  We are partnering with Frank Reese, the country’s preeminent poultry farmer, to show our customers what real chicken tastes like.

Heritage Foods USA will offer a rotation of 24 heritage chicken varieties every 3 months starting immediately.  Numerous heritage breeds of chicken are on the brink of extinction and we must create a market for them by eating them. Heritage Foods USA is the only place you can taste these special heritage birds today.

Heritage chickens are breeds that have been around since before the industrial era.  Their genetic lineage has been preserved from genetic modification.  Heritage birds grow at a healthy rate, while industry chickens are genetically manipulated to grow at an unnaturally fast rate that is harmful to the skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the bird.  Industrial chickens are bred as dead end animals that cannot reproduce or survive on their own. 

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Mr. Reese explains, “It is not the antibiotics. It is not the hormones. It is not the feed. It is the genetically engineered animal” that makes the difference in the poultry industry.  If we focus on animal welfare while ignoring the genetics of these birds, we are not changing a thing. 

Mr. Reese’s poultry not only look and taste different from commodity poultry; his birds have double the protein and half the fat.  He told us, “The skinnier the bird, the longer the leg, the darker the meat, the higher the nutrition. The bigger and fatter and plumper it is, the more worthless the meat is.”

Our inaugural breed is the Wyandotte of the Columbian variety.  This very old American breed of chicken was first exhibited in 1890 at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago.  There are fewer than four breeders in America who raise the Columbian Wyandotte to the true old standards, and most have fewer than 25 hens. We hope you will support our commitment to revive heritage chickens and establish an alternative poultry market.

The Chicken of Tomorrow needs to be the Chicken of Yesterday

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By Janani Lee

“The better the breeding, the better the eating,” Frank Perdue declares in an old commercial from Perdue chicken. He walks us through the breeds of chicken the Perdue company has raised throughout its history, listing the relative merits and drawbacks of the Barred Plymouth Rock through the Rhode Island Red, None of them, he claims, are up to his standards of “tender meat, plump breasts, [and] well turned legs.” So he had to develop his own. It is telling that a generation later, the breeds of these chickens are not nearly recognizable enough to be used in a television advertisement. In fact, the general pubic does not distinguish one breed of chicken from the next because they rarely encounter chicken that is not ready to cook or eat. The broiler industry came to rely on uniformity in size, growth rate, and behavior of its chickens in order to maintain a consistent supply for the consumer, and a bird was needed that could meet those specifications.

            Beginning in the late 1940’s, A&P Groceries sponsored the “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest for the “development of superior meat-type chickens.” The growing chicken industry sought ways to maintain and expand upon this boom by developing a chicken that would appeal to the consumer’s demands. The purpose of the contest was to find a “broader breasted bird with bigger drumsticks, plumper thighs, and layers of white meat,” which grew quickly with a high feed-to-weight conversion – a contrast to the slower growing, leaner hens that had been used mostly as laying hens in years past.

The chicken to come out of the contest victorious was a Cornish and White Rock cross-breed, which has been further refined by the broiler industry over the past few decades for “rapid growth, efficient feed conversion, broad- breastedness, limited feathering (for ease of plucking) and other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement.” Most commercial and pasture raised chickens today are Cornish crosses, with breeding companies (many of them vertically integrated into meat producers) cross breeding to produce specific traits in male and female lines whose offspring is an ideal meat chicken. This crossbreeding also means that the offspring of the resulting chicks will not be true to either parent, protecting the breeding companies’ genetic research. While these crosses serve the meat industry well, they are far from the optimal breed of chicken.

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Commercial chickens reach market weight of five pounds live in four to seven weeks; compared to the sixteen weeks it took in the 1950s. The physiological changes include the distribution of muscle mass (most of their weight is now located in their breasts) and the digestive and nervous system shift to give the birds “an insatiable appetite.” This bulky, hungry bird is highly susceptible to stress, cardiovascular failure, skeletal problems, and poor reproductive capabilities. One study showed that a modern chicken’s heart muscle was less developed than a heritage breed chicken of the same age and hypothesized that the “modern selection has diverted resources originally destined to maintain balanced heart growth into increased breast muscle mass.” The same study goes on to link the early development of the chickens’ livers and the increased length of their intestines to their need to metabolize feed quickly.Because these chickens are slaughtered at an early age, most of these health issues pose only a limited problem, but when other farmers raise the birds on pasture, the weak hearts and legs become more apparent since it takes longer to bring them to market weight. These farmers are showing a renewed interest in purchasing heritage breed chicks that are more suited to be raised on pasture.

       Heritage chickens are defined by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as recognized Standard breeds of chicken that are “naturally mating, long lived, and slow growing.” Standard breeds are not crossbred and the offspring breeds are true to the parents, allowing farmers to maintain the genetic lines of their own flocks. Breeds like the Jersey Giant or Columbian Wyandotte can reach market weight in sixteen weeks, while some slower growing birds can take up to 24 weeks. Most of these breeds are also adequate egg producers and will live for up to seven years. They have healthier immune systems and are adapted to life on pasture, including the ability to forage for insects. While they are not as efficient at converting feed to muscle, their hearts grow at a proportional rate to their bodies and their skeletal structures are strong enough to support them.

            It is necessary to preserve heritage chickens that are not being farmed by the poultry industry for the same reasons that advocates work to preserve heirloom seeds: biodiversity. Industrial broiler chickens have been bred to grow quickly and efficiently and not do much else. They do not breed, lay, brood, care for their offspring, forage, or grow like chickens have since they were domesticated 8000 years ago. They lack the genetic diversity that would allow them to adapt to a change in their environment. Unlike plants, however, the genes that dictate these traits cannot be preserved inertly in a seed bank. They survive only in living birds and the only way to ensure their continued existence is for farmers raising them. These heritage breeds require increased feed and a longer growing period, meaning that farmers either need government incentives or increased market demand to ensure that they remain economically viable. There is a niche market for heritage chickens and they can sell for a higher price, but that market needs to be expanded. Increasing market demand also brings up a culinary aspect of chicken – as the biodiversity of chicken breeds narrows, we loose variations in chicken flavors. While this loss is unquantifiable, cultural history gets lost when flavors are no longer valued and when chemical additives in fast food replace natural variations in flavor. The philosophical question also needs to be considered: what we view the chicken itself as – an easy source of animal protein for humans or an animal in its own right. Though humans have been subtly altering chicken’s genetics for centuries through domestication and hybridization, it is only in the past few decades that this has resulted in the vast dominance of birds that are not healthy past eight weeks old.

Patrick Martins, Founder & President

It’s the Meat…

Want a hot recipe? Here’s one: choose a lovely, well-sourced piece of meat — from a merchant that you trust, sourced from a farm that you know, and a breed you have come to love, and add fire. Et voila! There’s your recipe. Just remember, the fire is the constant, the meat is the variable. And don’t forget where it came from, so you can do it again.

Chinese Buyouts and American Pork

By Janani Lee

The American pork company Smithfield is in talks to be bought out by Chinese corporation Shuanghui International. Shuanghui’s purchase would open the Chinese market to American pork, likely leading to increased domestic production for export. This news has raised concerns about food safety, pollution, American farmers, animal welfare, international corporations, and the American and Chinese economies. These are all legitimate worries since they are all facets of the same broken food system and the merger between America’s largest pork producer and a huge Chinese meat company shines a light on just how broken it is.

Smithfield (like many American and international meat producers) is a vertically integrated company that controls all aspects of their pigs, from genetics to feed to slaughter to distribution. The emphasis is on efficiency and profit – breeding the fastest growing pigs at the lowest cost. These savings are passed on to consumers, but so are detrimental effects like massive lagoons of waste outside of feedlots and antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are allowed to thrive with the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. Does the benefit of cheap animal protein really outweigh the cost of damage to our environment and health? It is not a stretch to speculate that increased pork production for the Chinese market will only make these problems worse.

What hasn’t really been talked about yet is the effect something like this will have on the farmers and animals we work with here at Heritage Foods. The farmers we work with are independent – they make their own decisions about what breeds to grow, how much time outdoors their pigs get, and when to bring them in for processing. The breeds our farmers work with have not been bred for efficiency and profit, but have instead been farmed for their flavor and their cultural value. Breeds like Red Wattle, Berkshire, and Duroc have long histories that are part of American agricultural history. Heritage breeds are also vital if we want to maintain a genetic diversity in our food supply, which is key to long-term food security.

When large pork producers become even larger and open up to new markets they can continue to drop their prices lower and lower. This means that smaller farms with motives other than pure profit continue to get squeezed and the vital work they do to preserve our culture and environment becomes a rarer and rarer thing. This is something that all meat-eaters and all Americans should be worried about.

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