New Calumet business offers local response to meat shortages
CALUMET — Agriculture is making a comeback in Houghton County, and through the efforts of three local farm owners, the Copper Country now has an outlet for locally produced foods that are in no way related to statewide or national food shortages, or skyrocketing meat prices due to U.S. beef exports to the more lucrative markets such as Asian countries.
The Frozen Farms Company, located at 320 Fifth Street, opened for just a month, is already busy and selling meat grown by three Houghton County farms, working toward the common goal of selling their beef, lamb, pork and other farm-fresh products, along with locally inspired products.
The ultimate goal of the new venture is two-fold: to reduce local reliance on national food distribution by making available products not tied in any way to national markets or agricultural futures; and to encourage the expansion of local agricultural production to create a sustainable, healthy, food availability that will also positively benefit the local economy.
“COVID showed us, and a lot of other people, just how our food supply chain can be disrupted and (placed) out of the consumers’ control,” said Trevor Hodges, one of the growers involved. “We are trying to provide healthy, locally-sourced products.”
While national news media has been reporting U.S. beef shortages on store shelves, because of COVID-related restrictions on meat packing facilities, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service reported on July 15 that “China overtook the United States as the largest beef importer by volume in the world in 2018 with imports totaling 1.4 million mt cwe ($4.8 billion) that year and 2.8 million mt cwe ($10.2 billion) in 2020. As demand remains firm, China is on pace to set another record in 2021 with imports in the first five months of 2021 at 1.3 million mt cwe ($4.6 billion). The potential for growth in U.S. beef exports is strong in future years as Chinese import demand is expected to grow more than 30% during the next decade,” explaining, in part, the skyrocketing cost of beef in stores, to prices some people can no longer afford.
The Frozen Farms Company, while providing a positive outlet for expanding local agricultural products from USDA approved facilities, is one more example of new economic life coming to Calumet Village, which currently is enjoying an increasing array of new businesses, either now open, or opening soon, while expanding sustainable agriculture within northern Houghton County. At the same time, it is also demonstrating the fact that local consumers no longer have to rely on U.S. beef imports while an adequate local supply is available.
Jean and Nathan McParlan, owners of the St. Johns Creek Farm, in Hancock Township are one of three family farms providing USDA-approved products for the new enterprise, right now, focusing on meat.
The beef is all locally grown, said McParlan, coming from farms located within 10 miles of the Fifth Street store. Because there is no closer facility, it is packaged at Rainbow Packing, in Escanaba, she said, as all products sold must be USDA certified. This, she said, explains why some of the company’s labeling reads Rainbow Packing.
“We have all the different cuts of beef,” McParlan said. “We do have some ground lamb, and lamb sticks. We will have pork and lamb products, either at the end of December or the beginning of January, and we’ll have a good amount.”
The company purchased a Houghton County fair pig, she said, to support the local youth growers, and that will be available sometime this month. The purchase of the pig is a further statement that there is, indeed, room for more agricultural production.
Other food items, she said, while produced in the United States, are not local. Hopefully, an expansion of local agriculture, along with an expansion of USDA-certified facilities, will remedy that. Non-local items are mostly comprised of dried seasonings, spices and similar products.
The major setback to selling local products, as McParlan already pointed out, is the need for processing in USDA certified kitchens and facilities.
“The other food items are not local. We would like more local, but things need to be made in a certified kitchen for us to sell,” she said. “Ideally, we would like that, but all the food products are made in the U.S., they are — I don’t want to say all-natural, but they have less additives and ingredients than most. A lot of our mixes are salt-free, sugar-free, but are not certified organic.”
McParlan said the store will soon add locally produced, raw honey from the St. Johns Creek Farm to its offerings. It will be minimally filtered, but not heated.
“We want to have more local. Our syrup is local, from Circle Back in Lake Linden. We just need people to make things in a (USDA)-certified kitchen, then we can sell it.”
The second farm is located in Calumet Township, and the third is located in the Traprock Valley, in Toch Lake Township.
The store is also increasing the number of local CSAs who provide local produce, as well, said McParlan. CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, states the USDA website, “consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
“Right now, we have some Boersma farm produce,” she said. “We’ll be working on getting more local produce in here, but we have some peppers, onions and Kale, because that fits well with the meats, for soups or stews or whatever.”
The store also carries Skinny Pete’s Bagels n’ Bakery products.
“He does sourdough bagels, bread, English muffins; he’s in Lake Linden.”
There are plans to involve many growers who maintain a presence at the Calumet Farmers’ Market, a venue Executive Director of Main Street Calumet, Leah Polzien has built into a weekly market that has come to set the standard for farmers’ markets in surrounding communities.
Currently the store operates on limited hours, but plans include expanding open times.