Biological Farming and Human Scale Meat

Black Earth Meats

In Edible-Alpha® Podcast Episode #8, Part 1, Tera talks with with Bartlett Durand of Conscious Carnivore, a whole animal butcher shop in Madison, WI. The store was the first retail outlet for Black Earth Meats (Black Earth, Wisconsin), the first humane certified, USDA processor in the area.  Much of Tera’s conversation with Bartlett centers around the moral and spiritual dilemmas and imperatives around how we treat animals and the earth when building profitable food businesses, as well as the constant struggle to achieve the right scale for profitability.

Bartlett’s father-in-law, Gary Zimmer, founded Midwestern BioAg and wrote the first book about biological farming.  In biological farming, promoting soil health is the key to profitability and sustainability.  Bartlett and Gary utilized biological farming concepts when they launched Otter Creek Farm, working with a local cheese maker to make a delicious, truly seasonal cheddar cheese.  The balance of what the cows eat, how much they move around, and their weight changes with the seasons. This affects the flavor of their milk and subsequently the cheese.  Otter Creek produced too much milk to sell only to farmers’ markets and artisan cheese shops locally, but experienced difficulty during the Great Recession in finding grocery stores that were willing to try a seasonal cheddar or that had a comparable scale.

Bartlett saw huge demand for local/organic meats in his work with Otter Creek. However, there wasn’t consistent throughput and quality to properly serve consumers and restaurants. Rather than scaling up to compete with large-scale industrialized meat processors or launching a direct to consumer farm of his own to meet this demand, Bartlett began aggregating meat from existing local farms under the brand Black Earth Meats.  This provided the right scale to serve local market demand efficiently while supporting local farmers and maintaining supply chain transparency/traceability that consumers demanded.

In Part 2, Bartlett talks more about how Black Earth Meats evolved into Conscious Carnivore and his current legal practice helping distressed businesses.  Stay tuned…