March 26, 2012

Close to home: Neighborhood butcher has new appeal

Buying meat and produce locally doesn't guarantee they're any safer, but there's comfort in knowing the food source is near at hand.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Butcher Jarrod Spangler grinds a batch of ground beef in the walk-in cooler at Rosemont Market’s Brighton Avenue store in Portland recently. Spangler, who trained in Italy, hand-butchers locally raised, mostly organic, pasture-raised animals. Buying local attracts customers who want to know where their food is coming from, how safely and humanely it was prepared, and what the environmental impact of getting their food to market entails.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

At the meat counter, Jarrod Spangler chats with Rosemont Market customers recently. “Those are the kinds of interactions I think customers appreciate more than just going to the supermarket and looking at a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic wrap,” the butcher said.

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Butchers, consumers 'Meat Up' to create sense of community

Farmers' Gate Market has started new micro-local buying clubs throughout Portland and midcoast Maine where neighbors or co-workers can gather to sample meats and buy right on the spot.

They're called Meat Ups.

At a Meat Up, there's no meat counter acting as a barrier to conversation. One host turns the event into a party; at another, Farmers' Gate co-owner Ben Slayton just hangs out in the driveway as people pick up their meat, and answers any questions they may have. Farmers' Gate will show up at your door once a year at the holidays, or six to eight times a year.

The groups started as a way to access new markets for Farmers' Gate meats. The first Meat Up, in Yarmouth, came about when Slayton was taking packages of meat to his mother-in-law, and she began asking for extras for her neighbors and friends.

"We were thinking, well, this is just a way to get meat to people we wouldn't otherwise sell to," Slayton said. "And when we showed up that day, people showed up with little red wagons and wheelbarrows.

"We started to see that there's something else going on here," he said. "In addition to just getting them product, we're also creating a bit of a food community and changing the way people get their meat. Instead of going to the grocery store, where you don't talk to anyone and you just kind of read packaging, we're giving people the opportunity to talk to each other about recipes and talk to the butchers and farmers about farming practices and where different cuts of meat come from."

- Meredith Goad

And then there's taste and selection.

At Rosemont Market on Brighton Avenue, alongside the usual cuts of beef, you'll find pork belly, housemade sujuk (a spicy Turkish sausage), lamb necks and housemade smoked kielbasa.

Spangler hand-butchers and hand-grinds whole, locally raised goats, lambs, pigs, rabbits, chickens, geese and ducks from local farms such as Mainely Poultry in Warren, Caldwell Family Farm in Turner, Valley View Farm in Auburn and Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick.

Every week Spangler breaks down a cow, two lambs and two or three pigs.

Quality local products come at a premium price. A pound of ground beef from Caldwell Farm costs $5.99 at Rosemont. At Hannaford, ground beef ranges from $1.99 to $4.89 a pound for Angus ground beef.

"The system has been set up over the last 50 to 60 years to remove the customer from the source of their meat -- from all of their food, in a lot of ways," Slayton said. "And that allows for efficiencies and economies of scale to take over, and therefore costs come down. Our case is that if you need to look for a deal, you're better off looking for a deal on an automobile. You shouldn't take those kind of chances on the food you eat."

Graf said she and her husband have sacrificed quantity for quality.

"We tend to eat less meat, period, the last few years," she said. "But I have quality. I have something absolutely delicious."

Buying local is also about making a connection between the customer and the butcher, Spangler said.

"Those are the kinds of interactions I think customers appreciate more than just going to the supermarket and looking at a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic wrap," he said. "There's very few people who are just willing to walk up to the butcher counter and ask them to custom cut things. Most people will walk through the prepackaged stuff because they don't want to talk to anybody."

For the butcher, buying local takes away anonymity.

"You're going to take good care when you know the people you're taking care of," Slayton said. "It's easier to slip by a little bit when you're handling meat that is going to go somewhere, you don't know where, to someone you don't know at all."

"It doesn't happen like that when you look people square in the eye, and you're the one who cut the meat and put it through the grinder and packaged it and handed it to them. It's why we want more smaller scale local food systems, because that accountability is built right into it."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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