This is a conversation about local food, transparency, scaling up the right way, and navigating what's allowed. It is part of the "Food is complicated. And it should be." thinking. I want you to be a part of that.
Bison farmer Liz Riffle was featured on Talk Farm to Me. She and her husband are navy veterans. Her husband Jimmie is serving this year in Cuba away from Liz and their two young sons while LIz carries on the bison farm on her own. Liz is also an active member of For Farmers, providing her perspectives and energy to help other farmers.
Hey there, I’m Liz Riffle, and I own a bison farm in Terra Alta, WV. We believe in humanely harvesting our grass-fed and finished bison for a product that is good for the body, soul, and land. I have recently been given heat from the community farmer's markets we attend due to some questions about our product locality. Mind you, I sell at markets in WV, MD, and VA, so locality in and of itself is a term that might need to be redefined or replaced as we see farmer's markets grow throughout the nation. The meat industry is a hard one to manage right now due to the lack of processing facilities (slaughterhouses) and most facilities currently have wait times six, eight, and 12 months out. It’s a tough business to navigate when you raise live animals but sell dead ones! We have been fortunate enough to field harvest our bison with a local WV processor for the past few years, but he closed down in November. We are currently partnering with a passionate family of bison graziers up in WI who custom graze some animals for us, and we are then able to use their local processors. We are beginning to build our own bison processing facility that will be WV inspected, but it will not be completed until late 2024. Building these working relationships has opened my eyes to what might be necessary to scale profitable small farming ventures of the future. Most of us getting into the industry did not come from generational farms where the land, animals, and/or facilities were handed down, thereby offsetting huge amounts of start-up costs. In a perfect world, we would all be raising and processing our meat animals from calves to steaks at a profitable scale; brownie points for those who currently can and do that all locally. There are growth steps required to head in that ultimate direction; we at Riffle Farms want to grow and process all of our own bison on our farm in WV, but we have to grow smartly and hope the local community will support us in that endeavor. I believe the ultimate goal is to help local farmers stay in our communities and provide our communities with food that is good for us and the land. Not every community can offer all of the services necessary for their farmers to do this, hence the relationships and co-ops that have been popping up to lend a helping hand. Can a farmer do what they do more locally? Are their hearts and minds focused on a shared end goal? What does “local” really mean to you?
Some food for thought ;) Liz
Recently, it seems every time I turn on NPR in the truck, there's a show talking about farming. Today was no different. Tangentially. Listen here if you want to hear more about Bison farming, the history of Bison, and what's going on now. Fascinating. xo fg