Market for locally raised meat grows

Livestock for sale and slaughter is a growing market on the Kenai Peninsula.

The interest in organically grown, healthy meat is a national trend that locals are picking up on, said Heidi Chay, district manager for the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District.

“They are healthier products, you know how it was raised and you get to know the farmer,” Chay said. “There is the freshness factor; they haven’t been on a truck for weeks or months.”

The Conservation District’s Local Food Directory, which lists the various small-scale farms and gardens where the public can buy pork, beef and poultry products and byproducts and produce, has more than doubled since 2011, Chay said.

Chay said community operations are better for the environment and facilitate economic diversification.

Much of the agricultural products grown on the Kenai Peninsula are cultivated with organic methods, but are officially advertised as non-certified organic because there is no entity that can hand out those certifications in Alaska, she said.

“It’s actually much more challenging and expensive to raise meat organically than to raise vegetables, because everything you feed the animals has to be certified organic,” Chay said.

Sarah Donchi, owner of Kenai Feed & Supply, has been raising livestock on the Kenai Peninsula for nearly two decades, and selling it for five years. Her business provides cut, homegrown meat, and live animals for those who want to butcher personally, she said.

Annually, Feed & Supply sells 15 cows, 700 chickens and 25 pigs, Donchi said.

“The animals are pretty much sold as fast as we can grow them,” Donchi said. “People want to have fresh and healthy local animals.”

Donchi said that livestock raised in sanitary conditions where they are well cared for are much healthier than “factory farms,” where hundreds of animals are killed each day. Even though the processed meat is doused in ammonia multiple times, consumers frequently become ill from commercially sold meat, she said.

Amy Seitz, who co-owns and operates Lancashire Farms, has been expanding her sheep herd since 2010. It now tops out at nearly 70 animals. She started with Southdown sheep and eventually bred them with Hampshire sheep to bring “different blood and different breeds into the state.”

This year the farm will slaughter and sell three sets of 150 chickens, Seitz said. If she is killing less than 1,000 animals sales regulations are less rigid, she said.

Longterm, Seitz hopes to expand her operation into larger commercial sales, but there is an absence of easily accessible, certified processing facilities.

Unless the producer is selling in restaurants or stores, a certification through the United States Department of Agriculture is not necessary, said USDA Alaska Director Danny Consenstein. Regulations are to ensure there is no unsafe meat being sold to the public, he said.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.