Chris Curro, manager of the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market, had a customer come into the store after buying a locally produced chicken.
The customer told him he had been eating chicken for 80 years and the chicken he had bought from a local farm was the best he had ever eaten. He hasn't been the only one.
That, according to Curro, is one of the advantages to eating locally produced meats. The co-op sells beef, chicken, pork, veal, lamb, goat, elk and buffalo that are produced in the region.
Chris Curro, manager of the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, places selections of various meats into a freezer at the co-op Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The trend of eating locally produced foods, meat included, has been growing throughout the country.
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of "local foods," whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That's a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.
"We've watched the sale of locally produced ground beef go up," Curro said.
While there's plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local. The USDA report included sales to intermediaries, such as local grocers and restaurants, as well as directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and the like.
It found that farm sales to people have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. The much bigger $4.8 billion figure came when sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors were added in.
"Think of it as expanding what the picture looks like," said Stephen Vogel, who helped do the study for the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service. "What this report does is say, 'Look, this market is bigger than you thought.'"
The Crum Creek Farm in Fort Plain is one of the co-op's suppliers.
According to its website, it is a "collaborative effort of a few farmers all operating small family farms, working together to give [customers] a wide selection of locally raised, high-quality, healthy meats."
In addition to supplying the co-op, it sells directly to customers. Some of the options include selling six-month shares, 20-pound bundles and bulk orders. The farm raises and sells pasteurized elk, beef, pork, chicken lamb and eggs.
Longmeadow Farm in Fonda is a grass-fed beef producer, while the Dutch Barn Farm in Stone Arabia is a chicken producer.
However, meat producers are not the majority in the local-foods market nationally.
The market is dominated by fruit and vegetable growers. While only 5 percent of U.S. farms sell their products in local and regional markets, 40 percent of vegetable, fruit and nut farms do.
Consumers tend to assume that the produce they are buying at these markets are fresher, made with fewer chemicals and grown by smaller, less corporate farms. That may be true in some cases and not in others.
"Local" also doesn't necessarily mean "organic," a label that carries strict requirements for growers and is overseen by the Agriculture Department. But the word still carries plenty of cache with consumers who see shopping at farmers markets as a ripe opportunity to get to know the growers and what went into the stuff they're selling.
Curro said there are many advantages to eating meat produced in the region.
He said a pound of ground beef produced in an industrial processing plant might have meat coming from five or seven different cows.
"We have assurances that animals were raised ethically and no hormones were added," Curro said. "One way it's been put by people is that the animals live a very good life; they just have one bad day."
Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.