Agriculture jobs are making a comeback in Houghton County, and thanks to the efforts of three local farm owners, the Copper Country now has an outlet for locally produced foods that have nothing to do with statewide or national food shortages or skyrocketing meat prices caused by U.S. beef exports to more lucrative markets such as Asian countries.
The Frozen Farms Company, located at 320 Fifth Street, has only been open for a month and is already busy selling meat grown by three Houghton County farms, all of which are working toward the common goal of selling their beef, lamb, pork, and other farm-fresh products, as well as locally inspired products.
To reduce local reliance on national food distribution, the new venture will make products that are not tied to national markets or agricultural futures. It will encourage the expansion of local agricultural production to create a sustainable, healthy food supply that will also 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 jobs 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 “When it comes to beef imports, China has overtaken the United States in 2018, with 1.4 million tonnes worth of beef ($4.8 billion) imported that year, and an additional 2.8 million tonnes worth of beef ($10.2 billion) imported in 2020. In 2021, China’s imports of 1.3 million mt cwe ($4.6 billion) are expected to reach a new record. China’s demand for beef from the U.S. to increase by more than 30 percent over the next decade, which bodes well for future beef exports.” explaining, in part, the skyrocketing cost of beef in stores, to prices some people can no longer afford.
When it comes to expanding local agricultural products, the Frozen Farms Company is just one more example of new economic life coming to Calumet Village, which is currently enjoying an increasing array of new businesses that are either already open or will be short, while expanding sustainable agriculture in northern Houghton County. Local customers will no longer be forced to rely on U.S. beef imports as long as a sufficient local supply is available.
This is one of three family farms that provide USDA-approved items for the new venture, which is currently focusing on meat, according to Jean and Nathan McParlan of St. Johns Creek Farm in Hancock Township, Michigan. According to McParlan, the beef is sourced from farms within a 10-mile radius of the Fifth Street store. According to her, it’s packaged at Rainbow Packing in Escanaba because there isn’t a nearby facility, and all products sold must be USDA certified. “This explains why some of our labels say Rainbow Packing,” she remarked.
“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.”
According to her, the company purchased a Houghton County fair pig to promote local youth growers, and it will be available later this month. The acquisition of the pig is another indication that increased agricultural production is possible. Other foods, she claims, are made in the United States but are not indigenous to the area. Hopefully, an increase in local agriculture, as well as an increase in USDA-certified facilities, will correct this. Dried seasonings, spices, and other similar commodities make up the majority of non-local items.
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 fewer additives and ingredients than most. A lot of our mixes are salt-free, sugar-free, but are not certified organic.”
McParlan said the store would 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 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 in Toch Lake Township’s Traprock Valley. According to McParlan, the store is also growing the number of local CSAs that provide local vegetables. According to the USDA website, CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” which “consists of a group of people who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
Many growers maintain a presence at the Calumet Farmers’ Market, which Leah Polzien, Executive Director of Main Street Calumet, has established into a weekly market that has come to set the standard for farmers’ markets in surrounding communities, are expected to participate. The business is now only open for a few hours, but there are plans to expand its hours.
Source & Image Credits: Daily Mining Gazette