Learning about Climate Friendly Meat

Posted on Tuesday, 8 December 2020 under Stories

Livestock farming and meat consumption are central to climate debates, as cattle are often to blame for high GHG emissions in agriculture. While it is important to acknowledge their impacts on the climate, livestock are an integral part of the Earth’s diverse ecosystems and play a key role in the sustainability of a farm. Well-managed livestock sequesters more carbon in the soil, increases biodiversity, regenerates land, and builds healthier soil for the future. The 2019 National Farmers Union report, ‘Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis, a detailed transformation strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems’ suggests, “The Earth’s grazing lands could sequester billions of tonnes of carbon in the coming decades.” Regenerative livestock agriculture aims to restore land during the farming process through actions such as; plant and animal diversity, little or no chemical inputs, and reduced or zero tillage.

Regenerative livestock farming means that the animals are restoring the land in the farming process, rather than degrading it. Managed grazing matches livestock nutrient needs with available plant growth. This practice improves soil quality and provides the soil nutrients with urine and manure. Healthy soil retains nutrients and water, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. Disturbances from feeding cows ultimately increase the organic matter in the soil. The key is to balance this properly for maximum carbon sequestration. Gillian Watt, owner and farmer at Holmwood Farm, program coordinator of the sustainable ranching program at TRU, and FFCF board member, believes,

There are plenty of ways eaters can ensure their meat is climate-friendly. Learn where it comes from by building relationships with farmers and meat suppliers. Get to know your meat by shopping at your local farmers market and ask questions about how their animals impact the land. Ask if their farming practices build healthy soil and increase biodiversity.

Meatme is a delivery service that partners with environmentally conscious farmers to distribute quality meats across BC. Applicants undergo an in-depth interview process and farm visit before they are approved. James Lau, Managing Director of Meatme, explains, “It’s a combination of animal welfare, the environment, sustainability, and at the end of the day, we need a good product. It’s a pretty extensive process but that’s how we try to maintain the quality and the brand.”

Meatme delivers on behalf of farmers who want to further reduce their impact. Lau says they offer this service to farms close to their headquarters and central market in order to minimize travel. A large component of Meatme’s platform is to bring awareness to climate-friendly farming. Lau explains, “People want to do their part, but when you do your research the first thing that comes up is, ‘give up meat’. It’s a little unfair, not just to consumers but also to farmers; these farmers have been doing this for generations. We are trying to do our part because there is a middle ground and we’re trying to be that middle ground. That’s what makes Meatme different. For customers to support Meatme and support local farmers, they’re also doing their part and at the same time helping these farmers. Eat meat where you know where it’s coming from and you know that these farmers are doing their part in trying to reverse climate change and doing their part in this whole climate situation.”

David Semmelink, Lentelus Farms, echoes this sentiment. Semmelink grows vegetable crops for sale, and grain for pigs he raises. He sells his meat through a number of channels, including Meatme. Semmelink says, “We try to take a holistic approach to farming or full circle farming where we use our own inputs, creating our own compost and adding back to the soil, not bringing in materials from elsewhere.”

Buying from producers who are adopting strategies to mitigate climate change positively impacts entire production systems. Tristan Banwell from Spray Creek Ranch stresses, “The impact of someone’s choice and where they spend their food dollars doesn’t only impact the farm that they buy it from, it impacts the other suppliers that that farm is using. We all have inputs, that ripple in the pond goes out more layers.” Spray Creek Ranch is certified organic, animal welfare approved, and their cattle are certified grassfed. Banwell says, “We could not do what we are doing without customers. It is the strong, unwavering support of the customers who are purchasing food from us that enables us to improve this land and to implement regenerative practices and to take risks.” Banwell continues, “We have enough uncontrollable, unmitigated risks to deal with in our production systems. A lot of farmers are really dependent on what the weather and climate are doing and it makes it really difficult to take risks and make changes in your production system.” Buying from producers who work hard at mitigating climate change supports the farmer but also the entire chain of conscious businesses that the farmer relies on.

Regulations hold many small farmers back from expanding their operations and implementing regenerative practices. Support and demand from consumers can influence change in regulations for the future. Banwell stresses, “People don’t realize how challenging the regulatory environment is in BC or Canada for small scale producers. The government needs to change things if you want to see changes in the food system. We have regulations that are hobbling producers. We have other challenges in processing and accessing farm supplies. There’s a lot of geographical, marketing, and distribution challenges. But if people demand these products and ask why they don’t have access to these products, and ask how they can support the people that are producing these products, we will see change.” Lastly, Banwell wants consumers to know, “You don’t need to feel vilified when you have to make compromises. We do it as well in the way that we’re farming. You have to make the best decisions with the tools and resources that you have available at that time.” He continues, “I think that it’s important to learn as much as possible about what those supply chains actually look like. But then, not to beat yourself up if you’re not always at the pinnacle of what you see as the best possible choice.”

Visit our Holmwood Farm, Lentelus Farms, and Spray Creek Ranch farmer profiles to learn more about some of the farmers you can support.

Get a Meatme discount: MEATMEWELCOME10 gives $10 off any order over our minimum of $100.