By Kaitlin Ohlinger, Foodable Contributor
A true food community has the unique ability to practice what it preaches. The Pacific Northwest is a rich agricultural area, ripe for change when it comes to community-supported agriculture and forging pathways to connect local producers. One of its newest members is Let um Eat, based in West Salem, Oregon. The natural cynic in all of us may be tempted to shrug off the Let um Eat crew, but once you catch a breath of these six individuals' shared ideals, mission and zeal, you’ll find yourself proudly carrying their torch. They offer an especially unique perspective on the buzz phrase “nose-to-tail" — which, if you’ve been living under a rock since 2010, is the culinary use of every part of an animal. When raising an animal for food, making use of all available product is something of a no brainier. Here’s a look at Let um Eat’s real-life journey into this trendy arena.
Let um Eat was born out of the shared vision of six long-time friends: A couple of chefs, a chef-turned-farmer, the former director of Outstanding in the Field, a corporate tech nerd, and a college graduate. “We came together at a moment we refer to as ‘The Universe Smash’ and realized that we all shared a serious passion to reconnect people to their food and tell the stories of all the amazing people in their communities who are currently out there fighting the good fight to grow, cook, and eat good food.”
Currently they accomplish this goal in a multitude of ways. First, by building a network, aka “the Collective,” that they’ve dubbed “Seeders, Feeders & Eaters,” a way for seeders (farmers), feeders (chefs and artisan producers), and people that love to eat (eaters) to come together in support of each other. The Collective members are showcased at local “Takeover” dinners that take place in anywhere from a restaurant, a grain distillery or a brewery.
“Our Culinary team sources its ingredients from our farm and from other local members of the Let um Eat Collective. They are family-style with open seating and based on the idea that people will be able to have dinner with other seeders, feeders, and eaters in their area and form new relationships as well.”
Take Two: Animals 101
Recently, Let um Eat has also ventured into the raising of animals. Just a month ago, their first litter of piglets was born on the farm: 80 tiny Gloucestershire Old Spot/Large Black cross babies. “We got the sow from a farm in Bend called Piggyback Ranch. Greg at Piggyback Ranch has also been a great mentor for us. In the past year and a half, we have raised a number of other pigs that we got as weaners from other farms, including GOS’s and some Berkshire/Duroc crosses. We also currently have two American Guinea Hogs, which are our first of that breed.” This past year, they’ve also raised seven lambs and a variety of different chickens on the property.
Farming anything, be it four-legged or plant-based, puts you at the mercy of a multitude of unforeseen circumstances. But for those with a culinary background, it’s a fairly natural extension of food appreciation. “Given Karl, Jimmy, and Cory’s experience in restaurants and kitchens, they’ve always sourced humanely raised pork and meats and so that’s what we wanted to do on the farm. We really don’t know any other way than to raise the animals outside and on pasture. Of course we also consider the cost, but it’s important to us that the animals are raised well. We raise the animals with the final product in mind. The feed we use is non-GMO from Mosaic Farms in Philomath (about 40 min from our farm). They source everything from within 25 miles of them (as much as they can) and it is milled on site. We also supplement with spent grain from a local brewery.”
Reality Check: Costs & Challenges
Common sense would, of course, suggest to us that raising animals yourselves and utilizing everything available will help cut down on costs. But as you’re dealing with living things, there are of course hidden costs that are built in. “There’s a lot that goes into raising the animals: feed, water, fencing, loss of animals, and vet visits/antibiotics if one of the animals is sick. Then there’s of course the incalculable cost: labor.” One very large advantage Let um Eat has is being able to break down their animals themselves. “The USDA slaughter fees are about $50-$70 per animal (lamb & pigs). We don’t have a lot of options in our area and some slaughter houses are starting to charge more and/or shutting down or not accepting small orders like ours.”
Is there a “secret” cut of any particular animal that is a cost-saving weapon leading to through the roof profit margins? “For us, it’s important to not have a favorite cut of meat — we try to make the most of every part of the animal including the head, the ears, the tongue and the offal, in addition to the belly, the loins, etc. Each cut is valuable in different ways as far as how you can use it and how it can be served. Knowing how to use the whole animal is a big part of us being able to get the most profit out of it. We treat the meat in a variety of ways: cured, aged, smoked, etc.” According to chef Karl Holl, it’s just hard to pick favorites when it comes to pork.
What’s next for this group? Be on the lookout in early 2016 for a mobile app to connect Seeders, Feeders & Eaters. “Again, we feel really fortunate to have made some awesome connections and have a great network of people we can use as resources when we run into issues or have questions. That’s what Let um Eat and The Collective is all about! We continue to learn something new every day. Having the new piglets on the farm has definitely made sure of that recently!”