Judging by what those who sell locally produced meats report and by the lengthy wait times to get animals butchered at area facilities, the demand for locally raised meat seems to be at an all-time high. Beth Tharp, one of the owners of LT Farm Meats in Putnam County, Ind., agrees. She operates the business with her husband, Nick, and parents, Mark and Phyllis Legan.
The Legans and Tharps also operate Legan Livestock and Grain Inc., producing pigs that are finished out by two other partnering families in Indiana. A couple of years ago, they decided to enter the locally produced meat business. They raise hogs, lambs and chickens. By partnering with another local producer, they also offer beef cuts.
Here is Indiana Prairie Farmer’s exclusive interview with Beth Tharp, exploring the current situation regarding locally produced meats and what the future might hold:
Were you seeing increased demand for local produced meats before the COVID-19 pandemic? Yes. We’ve been watching the local meat trend for several years, and it seems like it’s here to stay. That drove us to dip our toes into it. You see, even at the corporate level, that traceability is a big thing.
People want to know where their food comes from and how it is raised. It appears that if they can have a relationship with the farmer, even at a very limited level, for some, it is worth a premium.
Are you seeing a bigger push in demand since COVID-19? Absolutely! People have seen empty shelves and meat cases and are wanting to procure meat for themselves during this uncertain time. We have several people daily contacting us, looking for butcher hogs. If you try to find a new freezer, there’s a good chance they’re on back order.
Is this a one-time extra spike in demand, or will it continue? It’s hard to speculate about what happens after the pandemic subsides. On one hand, it seems there will be no returning to normal after this crisis, if there was a normal. I imagine consumer purchasing habits will be deeply impacted.
The opposite line of thinking is that if the economy isn’t able to recover, not as many people may be willing to pay the premium. That could happen, even though spending on food for the U.S. consumer as a percentage of their total expenditures is extremely low.
Are your products picked up at the farm, or do you offer delivery? We sell via our website, ltfarmmeats.com. We don’t ship meat or deliver at this time. At the start of 2020, my plan was to start deliveries by spring, but as it is, we can’t keep up with demand for pickup. We sell product at our farm, a partner’s farm and through a local orchard’s retail shop.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 experience? It’s been an interesting four to five months. Before the pandemic, the livestock industry was trying to digest the fake meat trend. After what we’ve just experienced, it’s pretty clear to me, at least in the community where we live, that people want animal protein.