Firsthand Foods Connects the Dots in our Local Food System

Going Straight to the Source: Two of our DCM staff took a field trip with Firsthand Foods to visit Neil Frank’s farm in Rougemont, where he raises beef cattle on pasture.

pictured above: Dawn (DCM Meat Specialist), Neil (farmer) and Jennifer (Firsthand Foods) gaze out over pasture where cows graze.

For those of us trying to be conscious meat-eaters, there’s a lot to be conscious of, and the stakes are high. We want what’s best for the animal, the environment, our own health, the well-being of the farmer, and the well-being of our local economy. But it’s often hard to tell what’s best just by looking at a label – there are so many terms to research and remember and know how to prioritize! How do we know what’s best?

This question becomes easier to answer when you can go directly to the source, and have an actual conversation with a farmer who lives nearby. Thanks to our partners at Firsthand Foods, that’s exactly what we did – last month, two of our DCM staff members took a field trip to visit Neil Frank’s farm in Rougemont, one of the very local farms that provides Firsthand Foods with pasture-raised beef. Our trip reminded us that the most important ingredient in a healthy food system is relationships – to the people who grow our food, and the actual land where it’s grown.

from left to right: Jennifer (Firsthand Foods), Neil (farmer), and Dawn (DCM Meat Specialist) taking a tour of the farm.

Neil Frank raises about 40 cows on 150 acres of pasture. The cows are outside on pasture all year round, getting access to bales of hay in the months when pasture is lowest. Neil uses rotational grazing methods as a form of regenerative agriculture – this means that cows are moved strategically to new portions of pasture daily, allowing the land to be fertilized evenly and have time to regrow into healthy pasture between each grazing. Neil also has 15 acres of wooded grazing area, known as silvopasture – an exciting, environmentally beneficial farming technique that sequesters carbon by growing trees in livestock pastures.

It turns out that when you get down to it, the answers at the heart of our most pressing questions are less about memorizing the right key words on a label, and more about putting our trust back in the land where we actually live and the people who tend it. We spent a morning touring the farm and hearing directly from Neil about the nitty-gritty details of the type of pasture he is cultivating (cows will move onto rotationally-grazed fields of fescue in winter), why Red Angus cows are a better breed for the south than Black Angus (they are less hot during the summer months under our brutal southern sun), and his techniques for making sure their cows experience as little stress as possible during their entire lifetime on the farm.

All of Firsthand Foods’ providers are farmers from right here in North Carolina. Firsthand Foods has a relationship with each farmer, all of whom follow the highest standards for raising their animals. It’s rare and special service they provide, connecting us directly to farmers, and allowing small farms to thrive in a food system that is dominated by HUGE corporations. You can learn more about Firsthand Foods and their standards and values here.

As your neighborhood Co-op, we want you to trust us to provide you with good food within your values and your budget. And there’s no partner we trust more than Firsthand Foods. They earn our trust by building relationships directly with North Carolina farmers, who have direct relationships with their land and their animals.

Thank you to Neil Frank and Firsthand Foods for all of your good work, and for hosting us on the farm!

from left to right: Dawn, Neil and Meredith strike a casual pose in front of a sweet tractor.