If you’re at all interested in food sourcing, you’ve probably heard people tout the value of knowing your farmer. And maybe a time or two you’ve asked yourself why that’s so important. Is shaking someone’s hand at a farmers’ market going to make the food they raise more healthful and delicious? Obviously not. But if you’re concerned about nutrition, animal welfare, environmental impact, or any of the other issues surrounding modern agriculture, you may have trouble getting the answers you’re looking for about production systems if you don’t have any information about the actual people behind the scenes.

To “know” your farmer doesn’t have to mean that you exchange her a birthday cards every year (do people even still do that?) or text each other photos of your breakfast—though, maybe you do have that kind of relationship, it can happen. But, really, the idea is that you understand enough about her farming methods so that you can evaluate whether her values fit with yours. With big brands, this can be tricky. Sometimes, it’s hard to even tell whether or not the food was raised on a farm or in a factory.  This is the primary reason why—when it comes to access to information about what you’re eating—sourcing from small-scale farmers is the way to go.  Looking for a few other reasons to support the little guys? Here are a few more.

They Taste Better.

When you consider differences in the quality of life for the animals, really, it’s no surprise that pasture-raised meat has a superior flavor compared to that of large-scale feedlot or chicken house operations. But do you know why? Mostly it’s because animals raised outdoors have a lot of variety diet—given that they are allowed to roam and graze on a diverse array of forage. This gives their meat a richer, more complex flavor.

They’re More Nutritious.

You know the old adage, “You are what you eat.” And, when it comes to meat, you are what you eat eats. Did you know that grass-fed beef has fewer calories than grain fed? It also has more omega-3 fatty acids and beneficial minerals and nutrients that can prevent heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even depression. On most pasture based farms, meat is not treated to added hormones or antibiotics, so you’re not putting those chemicals into your body either.


They’re Safer.

Corporations focus on quantity, not quality, which means animals that become sick often go without treatment. And—since they are kept in small quarters—other animals are more easily infected. Industrial slaughterhouses are designed for rapid production, meaning that the animals are handled by machines, rather than humans. Since there’s a greater volume of meat flowing through, there’s a higher likelihood that it contains borne illnesses. (Think E-coli, salmonella.) Most small-scale farms use small-scale processors. Their size means that they can be dedicated to ensuring meat is processed and packaged in a sterile environment and that it is free of any contamination.  

They’re Environmentally Sound.

Large-scale farms rely on lots of infrastructure. These facilities are resource intensive, and their bi-products are released into the air, groundwater, surface water, and even the soil. Small-scale, pasture-based farms raise animals outdoors. Manure is the only major bi-product, and since it is returned to the soil slowly and in small amounts, it actually benefits the land. It contains a great deal of minerals and nutrients that enrich the earth, and carbon is actually pulled from the atmosphere, which slows global warming.

Your Purchase Supports People.

When you buy meat from small-scale farmer, you’re putting money directly in his or her pocket. The USDA estimates that approximately $0.15 of every dollar spent on domestically produced food is actually returned to the farmer who raised it. If you buy directly from a farmer, that number is much, much higher. All Grass Roots farmers receive between $0.70 and $0.75 of every food dollar spent with the co-op. And returning income to the hard working folks who raise your food means they are able to earn a fair wage and to better contribute to the communities around them. Win, win, win!