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Buying local / humane meat?

I'm about half-way through The Omnivore's Dilemma right now and the whole concept of "humanely raised" meat (beef and chicken in particular) really resonates with me. I'd like to start adding more meat from humane sources into our diet but I have no idea where to start looking for such a thing in the GTA.

Does anyone have any suggestions for places to buy meat that hasn't been produced using industrial food production practices (mega farms, etc.)?

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  1. you might want to check out this discussion - i opened the topic just after i had read the Omnivore's Dilemma. the discussion provided lots of help!


    1. healthy butcher carries meat from a number of farms, some of whom use traditional methods. one of those is dingo farms - all the animals are raised on pasture, and longer than conventional beef (pastured cows take a lot longer to get to the sellable size, which explainspartly the extra cost). ask at healthy butcher for products from dingo farms (i'm sure there are other sources there that share their philosophy but this is just one farm i know for sure does).

      1. My "dilemma" with this is the hellish premium paid to self-righteous middle men. Margaret Webb has run some interesting articles in the G&M recently about Ontario Mennonite markets and "old-school" pigs. Many in the GTA are unable--but as often unwilling--to track these products down outside of their local meat boutique. Pardon the cynicism but finding these products at fair prices takes a bit work. Try here, too:

        8 Replies
        1. re: Kagemusha

          My favourite source for naturally raised beef, pork, and lamb is Twin Creek Farms near Owen Sound. The farmer, Gerald, is at the Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market every Tuesday between 3pm and 7pm.

          His meat is excellent. I don't mind paying more for it, although I'm not sure that it is more expensive than other comparable purveyors. Beef tenderloin medallions, for example, are $18.50 per pound, which is definitely less expensive than Cumbrae and Healthy Butcher. Pork loin chops are $8.50 per pound which I think is very reasonable. I've been taking the loin off the bone, brining the loin, pounding it a bit, breading with flour, egg, and panko, and making some pretty amazing tonkatsu.

          The higher fat content of the pork (and the brining) yields super juicy and tender tonkatsu. Also, I've read that the meat contains more of the healthy kinds of fat, higher omega 3, CLA, and vitamin E content, as is the case with pasture-raised meats.

          I love beef that tastes like beef and pork that is tender and has mega flavour. He has heritage breeds that don't have all the fat bred out of them.

          Buying from a farmer, especially one like Gerald, just feels right. I would pay double for it (I hope he's not reading this).

          Check them out at http://www.twincreeksfarm.ca

          I've read the Omnivore's Dilemma too and loved it. I've also read his more recent book, In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Also loved it. I These books really had an impact on me.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            if one has the time to travel further away to actually meet face-to-face with the farmers, then that's great. i'm not sure though why a local butcher who pays a fair price to the farmers offends so much. i would bet that the supermarket's profit is much higher on the same cut of meat, even if the consumer doesn't notice it due to the overall lower price of the cheaper product. not to mention, it is the ethics of the 'self-righteous' butcher like healthy butcher that allows the farmer to survive by buying the whole animal.
            in addition, i do buy some of my meat from my CSA farm directly, and their prices, which i trust allow for the farm to survive and its producers to make a decent living, are not substantially lower than healthy butchers.

            the cynicism seems to be misplaced here.

            1. re: Kasia

              Hardly. Boutique meat involves overhead, realty taxes, wages, utilities and shareholder salaries that I'd frankly like to pay once--to a farmer. Supermarket meat isn't the topic. "Better" for a DT butcher isn't necessarily "better" for you; he survives on his mark-up and may not always buy the quality you think you're paying for. I've got access to farmgate meat and that's what I'll buy--better for less without the arbitrage works for me.

              1. re: Kasia

                was curious about the "whole animal" purchasing of healthy butcher, could anyone clarify a bit?

                i spoke to them about offal and they considered it a special order. in part because they get different animals during different days in the week but it also seemed like they just didn't carry it much. now if they purchase the whole animal.. shouldn't the innard goodies come with it as well? or are they selling it all to restaurants? or are some animals not bought whole hog, so to speak?

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  In my experience Whole Animal does not include the Offal... just the carcass..

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    If you have an animal slaughtered, the offal ( liver, kidneys, tongue, etc). must be saved immediately, usually frozen asap. The rest of the carcass is usually hung for a few weeks to age. Any commercial meat business will have trouble keeping the innards together with the specific animal because of this time difference.

                2. re: Kagemusha

                  Yes. I know a farmer who raises his own meat and says that the middle man (retail op) makes much more than the farmer. I have ethical issues with that. Look at the rate which these stores are opening a second and third location. I am going to try and shop from the farmer direct, hopefully, I can find some.

                3. For red meat, humanely raised pretty much describes fully pastured, grassfed animals. For the record, my preference is bison over beef. For the last decade I have been buying farmgate product (whole, halves, individual cuts) from Ontario farmers that I've learned to know and trust. If I buy a whole or half animal, then I have to contract an abattoir to age, cut and package the meat. None of this is cheap in cost or time. Now starting adding up the farmgate price, your fuel costs and time spent, and then the eventual storage once you finally receive the processed meat. I've lost thousands of dollars due to farmers being less than truthful about their products and also using an abattoir that failed to age or package properly. A retail establishment also has far more costs than I do since they must pay rent/mortgage, salaries, license fees, insurance, advertising, etc. I want cheap food too, but if it's to be humanely raised and slaughtered there's a price to pay. Buying from a retailer like the Healthy Butcher means that you are getting a great product without any of the risks of doing it yourself. I hope to continue 'doing it myself' but it really is about to bankrupt me.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: torontovore

                    I think that the consumer buying retail has a much better chance of being fooled than a retailer buying from a farmer.

                    1. re: torontovore

                      More producers are obviously alive to the presence of a growing direct market and are taking steps to satisfy the demand. I'm sure the boutique meat shops sell nice stuff but I can get as good or better without the sort of diseconomies you suffered. People blow big bucks on gas shopping for fluff, so a few bucks on gas for a major food buy doesn't seem extreme. If I wanted "cheap" I'd shop the flyers and rush in for bargain industrial pork chops; but I don't, so I'll research where to get the best quality/cost quotient on ethical/humanely raised livestock. Healthy Butcher and their ilk aren't philanthropists.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        To survive economically no business can be philanthropic. Middle men provide an essential service and are not automatically suspect. The knowledge and butchering skills that the Healthy Butcher adds to their products has significant value. Maybe you have the 'few bucks' for those day long trips to local farms (at least 4 hours of driving time from and then back to the city) that's necessary to visit and correctly evaluate each farmgate producer, but most people don't. You can't believe everything you read during your Internet research. Also remember that when you buy the whole animal, as Healthy Butcher does, you either find a way to sell hearts, liver, bones, etc. or you dump it and compensate by upping the price of the fancy steaks to offset the loss.

                        1. re: torontovore

                          I find the place's hauteur to be annoying. Scoping out meat sources isn't costly for me and I'll happily share the results. I'm also not lacking in critical abilities or executive function, so "Internet research" isn't especially risky or stress-laden, either. Start with retailers to learn the ropes but DIY provisioning isn't terribly difficult. Lots of ways to do this!

                          1. re: Kagemusha

                            Looking forward to the sharing of your methods and results. Where to go and what to buy, as a practical, cost-effective alternative to urban retail 'boutique' butcher shops.

                            1. re: torontovore

                              Try here. That's the sort of thing I'm working on now.


                              Good links here, too.

                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                Thanks for sharing Kage, I'm trying to sort this whole thing out too and just keep coming up with new questions...so far my only resolution is: Gasparro's sells the same free run chickens as Cumbrae's, but for much less, $2.89/lb when buying whole birds (ie: 6 lb bird cost around $16)...

                                1. re: Recyclor

                                  Most meat chickens in Ontario are raised in large open floor barns, and are therefore "free run". Laying chickens are raised in cages, unless the eggs are labelled otherwise. So, if a chicken in a store is labelled as free run, that does not mean that it has ever seen the sun or green grass. If you want pastured chicken, it should be labelled as such, or something similar. There are so many labels that we need to know the definitions of. For example, "organic chicken" does not mean pastured, or "pastured" does not necessarily mean organic.

                                  1. re: earthygoat

                                    Ya, I know, the standards are so loose and undefined, even free-range can mean the birds were out and about but not for any predetermined length of time, might be a 10 min walk only...but, the stamp of approval from Cumbrae's does hold up...

                                    1. re: earthygoat

                                      There is no question that I would rather eat a chicken or egg that is pastured and not organic than the opposite.

                                      1. re: acd123

                                        I'm happy to here that i'm not the only one that feels the same about the jargon that's used. I'm hoping to find some insight on exactly what to look for when buying local or organic or grass fed or free range or natural or whatever

                            2. re: torontovore

                              what bothers me about the healthy butcher is that their markups are unreasonable - i went in when they first opened and they were charging $8.50 for the exact same organic butter that was $6.50 at the organic market down the street (queen near ossington - i forget what it is called). i have not been back since!

                              last year the farmers' market at trinity bellwoods had a couple of mennonite farmers selling meat - most will sell you a half or a quarter if you talk to them. i bought a quarter of organic grass-fed beef (butchered) from a family farm in eastern ontario for $5.50 a pound (i think? don't remember exactly) last year. soup bones were thrown in free. well worth it! i plan on doing that again this fall and maybe getting a half a lamb as well.

                              eta: here is a link to their website: http://www.dunbrae.ca/organicfarmers/...

                        2. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma, I've been buying my meat from Beretta Farms--they sell at some local farmer's market, but also deliver themselves, thus cutting out the middle man. The grass-fed beef is very tasty, reminds me of what I used to eat when I was a kid. www.berettaorganics.com

                          1. Grass fed beef is fine from April to October, but in colder months the animals eat hay and grains, and they will need extra feed in the cooler months of spring and fall. So, it is a misnomer to provide grass fed beef, anywhere in Canada.
                            Having said that, I buy most of my beef and pork from www.beefconnections.ca where I can talk to the farmers who deliver, and visit the farms (Mt. Forest, Walkerton, central Ont.,) and make sure I get heritage breeds, thick cut steaks, smoked hams, and marbled roasts they are glad to provide. A half Duroc hog, cut to my specs, was $2/lb delivered, last year.
                            You can order a small box of ground beef, to see the qualty level provided, for $30/ 10lb delivered to several GTA locations. It safe to cook it rare.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: jayt90

                              Yes, I agree that fully pastured meat is a seasonal product in Southern Ontario. Without supplemental grain feeding you would have no fresh local meat available over the winter. I prefer to freeze and store the seasonal product for winter meals.

                              1. re: jayt90

                                My Irish Dexter cattle graze on lush grass all summer and eat hay all winter. Hay is dried grass and they get no grain. Most grass based farms do the same thing. They key here is to use a breed like the irish dexter that doesn't require extra carbs to keep warm.

                                1. Very often, farmers would love to sell directly to consumers to cut out the middle man. Unfortunately, they just don't have the time while full time farming to make enough connections to support themselves and their families. Therefore, finding a conscientious "middle man" can work for both sides. Check out http://www.rowefarms.ca/ made up of farmers who got together to sell their products.

                                  I agree that most grassfed livestock can't be pastured year round in Canada. However, there is a big difference between stockyard/feedlot cattle and overwintered livestock on green hay and a bit of grain. There are still many (but dropping) farms in Ontario that do not send their cattle to feedlots to fatten. Talk to farmers at markets and check out county websites that link to "eat local" farms and stores.

                                  14 Replies
                                  1. re: earthygoat

                                    There is definitely a happy medium with places like Rowe Farms. Their mission statements are on their web site and posted in their stores.

                                    I was able to get reading material about the Animal Welfare Association at the Leslieville store, proving their practices are approved.

                                    1. re: LvilleLocal

                                      One thing I don't understand with Rowe Farms is the situation with their eggs, sold in grocery stores. I noticed recently that the Rowe Farms eggs I have been purchasing were labelled as from "regular caged product". I never thought that was an option under the Rowe Farms label, given their emphasis on conscience... I now look more closely at the packaging and don't assume that, because it's Rowe Farms, it's not caged.

                                      1. re: LvilleLocal

                                        I disagree strongly. Rowe Farms does not represent a "happy medium". They are an investment fund looking to profit from what seemed to be a booming market for organic and "natural" foods. However, careful reading of their website and other promotional materials showed that their products were not necessarily either "organic" or natural". They are all about image, and their quality is nothing special.

                                        Given today's economic realities, it will be interesting to see how things evolve for them. Full tummy's post about Rowe eggs says it all.

                                        Some Loblaw stores are now carrying Beretta Farms organic meats, and much of it ends up getting dumped at half price. Niman Ranch in the US, probably the best known producer of high quality organic meats, never made a profit and recently went bankrupt. The new owners have already downgraded their animal husbandry and finishing practices. Rowe was there first.

                                        1. re: embee

                                          embee, do you know anything about Kerr Farms? I've been trying to get a handle on what they're all about. Kerr Farms meats are becoming more readily available (and I've been told it's the brand behind Sobeys' "natural" meats label) around town. www.kerrfarms.ca/index.html.

                                          1. re: Tatai

                                            Embee can aswer about the meat, but I have two things to say about Kerr Farms.
                                            1. They got into organic farming for the higher prices.
                                            2. They have a wonderful farm on the banks of the the Thames River, Chatham Ont., where they grow organic tomatoes, and they are the sole supplier of this type of plum tomato to

                                            Thomas Utopia brands and

                                            Eden Organic Tomatoes

                                            Both are available in Loblaw organic sections, and worth trying.

                                            Kerr Angus meat comes from a co-op of Ontario growers.

                                            1. re: jayt90

                                              Thanks, jayt90. I knew about their being the growers of the tomatoes for Thomas Utopia (had no idea about Eden Organics -- a U.S. company -- though), which is my favourite brand of canned tomatoes.

                                              I'm more curious about their meat, which isn't certified organic.

                                              1. re: Tatai

                                                Eden is just across the border, north of Detroit, and they have sourced their organic tomatoes from Thomas (Essex county) for several years.

                                                I have been amused to see Eden cans and Thomas Utopia side by side in Loblaw, at $4 and $2 respectively, from the same Chatham source.

                                            2. re: Tatai

                                              I hate to disappoint, but I don't really know anything about Kerr Farms. Sorry.

                                              1. re: Tatai

                                                From what I can determine, Bob Kerr of Chaham Ont. has Angus beef raised in Northern Ontario (Algoma, Rainy River), shipped south for finishing on corn (everything organic) and processed for supermarkets and butcher shops as a premium brand. It is worth buying if it is 'AAA' grade and well marbled.

                                                The business has grown, and Kerr gets beef from other Ontario farmers now.

                                                Recently they have introduced frozen foods based on Angus: strip loins, burgers, and ready to eat trays. And they remain a supplier to Thomas Utopia canned tomatoes.

                                                1. re: jayt90

                                                  Thanks, jayt90. And thanks for letting me know about the connection to Eden Organics. It's even mentioned on Eden's website that their tomatoes are coming from Ontario (although it doesn't mention the name of the farm):

                                                  "What's so good about Eden Tomatoes?
                                                  Eden Tomatoes are organically grown on a third generation family farm in the Thames River Delta of southern Ontario, Canada. We use only the finest tomatoes ripened to redness by Nature alone. Immediately after harvesting they are taken to our processor just 45 miles away, where they are cleaned, uniformly small cut (referred to as fancy cut), and cooked within hours of harvest to capture their garden fresh flavor. The Canadian Inspector/Grader for canned tomatoes had this to say about Eden Organic Tomatoes, "The nicest tomatoes I've ever seen.'" "

                                                  jayt90, do you know whether Thomas is doing the canning for Eden, as well?

                                                  1. re: Tatai

                                                    Yes, I saw that on their website. What I don't know is whether the Thomas Utopia cans are free of plastic contaminants, as Eden claims to be.

                                                    1. re: jayt90

                                                      I would think that'd be something they'd surely promote, no? It would be plain stupid not to.

                                                      1. re: Tatai

                                                        Thomas is not really a good promoter, but I don't know why they would run a premium line over and above their own. I e mailed Thomas about plastic contaminants a year ago, but there was no response.

                                                  2. re: jayt90

                                                    Kerr Farms nearly went broke last year. Right now i understand that the company owes Ontario farmers half a million dollars and bob kerr the founder is no longer with the company. I don't think the beef is fed organic feed though.

                                          2. If you are able to drive a bit the answer is simple. Club with friends if you don't consume much, and then search out a small, rural abbatoir within reasonable driving distance.

                                            They are licensened, inspected processors. Local and specialty producers MUST deal with one before their stock can be retailed, They kill and cut. On "killing day" you can get anything you want, anyway you want. They retail the very best meat in your area because they supply it.

                                            These are small, family-run operations who can get you what you want locally and meet your needs within reason.

                                            Sorry, I can't provide any recos in the GTA.

                                            1. Thanks everyone for the great discussion and resources! I've been away from the computer for a bit so I missed out on most of the talk here, but there are a lot of good starting points for me to investigate.

                                              A ways back when I graduated from technical college I worked in a very large meat packing plant automating their chicken processing system (very long story). The plant handled beef, pork, and chicken, and after three months of working there I swore off meat and went vegetarian for about 10 years.

                                              I've started moving back to meat a couple of years ago but always remembered that experience, and reading Pollan's book really brought it back to the forefront. I'll definitely check out some of the resources here.

                                              Here's a thought: Has anyone ever thought about forming a Chow food buying group? We could as a group research and find sources for stuff that isn't currently handled by other groups (such as meat - I know there are a lot of options for veg and fruit) and pool our buy to possibly save a bit of cash and make buying direct a bit more workable.

                                              Stupid idea? Or could this be workable?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: neilio

                                                Definitely not a stupid idea Neilio. I would in on that too.


                                              2. Don't where you are in the GTA but we've bought beef, pork, chicken, and eggs from Howard Farms for many years. The farm is located in the Newmarket /Sharon area (about 5 minutes for Hwy 404 and GreenLane) and they also have booths at Aurora and Newmarket farmer's markets. We usually buy by the side or quarters. Don't know how to provide the link for previous threads regarding this but search Howard Farms on this board and you see previous postings. It's probably worth a call to confirm what their practices are.

                                                For about 8 years I didn't eat red meat because of the aptly titled omnivore's dilemma so I know what you're facing. And then for me there's feeding a family on a budget that needs to be factored in. I feel more comfortable with the meat that we purchase at Howard's then what's offered in grocery stores.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: dory

                                                  I saw this in the Hamilton Spectator last week. I'm familiar with the farm, having worked there a little on weekends a few years ago. They take a lot of care in how they treat and raise their animals. I have not had the beef, but have had plenty of the lamb they sell, and it is fantastic.


                                                  1. I don't know if there's much interest in this still, but I deal with a great little company out of Hamilton called The Clean Food Connection. They're an all natural and organic grocery delivery service. They source local meat all year and local produce during the season, and also sell 1/2 and 1/4 animals. The pasture fed beef is absolutely outstanding, and the owner, Bob, really cares about what he's doing and even raises some of the beef on his own farm in Mount Albert.

                                                    They deliver to Toronto on Wednesdays and Fridays, and can get you just about anything you might want in terms of bulk quantity or smaller orders.

                                                    I strongly recommend it.


                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: mochapj

                                                      Where can you find out how to order from this company? Looks great but I can't find a link to order!

                                                    2. Check out these places!

                                                      It's always better to buy from a farmer! I've tried these places:


                                                      Toronto Life also put out a good article on it last year:


                                                      Click on the different links towards the bottom of the page. There's tonnes of farmers with great products!

                                                      Culinarium also has a CSA and artisan share program:


                                                      1. I've read through these posts and related threads. I really can't drive to Owen Sound or Simcoe County to meet with a farmer. I know there are no farms in Toronto. I want to buy organic chicken directly from the farmer. Are there any farms, perhaps in Markham/Aurora-ish, or elsewhere within 30 minutes of the City that I can buy from a farmer?

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: stonewall36

                                                          You don't have to drive to Owen Sounds or Simcoe. You can buy from these farmers at farmer's markets in Toronto, of which there are many.

                                                          1. re: acd123

                                                            Wondering whether the farmers' market conceit will fall into the deepening retail crater as consumers put value first.

                                                            1. re: acd123

                                                              I thought those are only in the Summer (except at SLM)

                                                              1. re: stonewall36

                                                                Several of the farmers do drop-offs in the City in the winter months.

                                                                1. re: stonewall36

                                                                  There are numerous farmers' markets throughout Ontario that are open year-round. Google "year round farmers' markets in Ontario" and you'll come up with some sites.

                                                                  1. re: stonewall36

                                                                    there is a weekly one at Bathurst & 16th, Saturday mornings....


                                                                    1. re: stonewall36

                                                                      Dufferin Grove Park has a year round market on Thursdays!

                                                                2. I checked out a new organic place on Bayview (north of Steeles & north of John st.) called Planet Organic, they are apparently a fairly large chain. They had a good deli selection, but I was really disappointed with the uncooked meat selection. I went on Sunday of the Victoria day long weekend, has anyone else been on other days and found that they had better selection?

                                                                  1. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma too we decided we wanted to buy straight from the farm. Even turned veggie husband back into an omnivore.

                                                                    We are CSA members of Whole Circle Farms in Acton. It is definitely worth the drive to Acton. The farmer does not have time to sell meat, you just write what you took out of the freezer and leave your money/cheque in a jar. Against traffic you might be able to make it there in 40 minutes or so and stock up, a little closer they are at the Georgetown Farmer's Market which runs June to October. You can talk directly to the farmers about their practices and if you are at the farm you can visit with the animals yourself. The chicken is limited - apparently they are only allowed to raise a certain number of roasting chickens per year and they keep many for themselves. They only sell whole birds, frozen, so you have to be a bit of a planner to defrost and use a whole bird. The beef, pork and lamb are abundant, and the eggs are phenomenal - unlike any grocery store egg I've ever eaten.

                                                                    No, I don't get paid for doing pr for them!

                                                                    1. The alarm raised by Pollan does not apply to Canada. There are vast differences between the the two countries agricultural practices, and you should investigate this.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: jayt90

                                                                        I think the onus on you to provide details/evidence as you're posting this. I'm interested in learning more about how Canadian practices are different.

                                                                        1. re: rehan252

                                                                          No, the onus is on you, to visit and observe in rural Ontario rather than kvetching.
                                                                          You will not find megabarns, or vast feedlots with sick animals as in the midwest. We are not dependent on politically subsidized corn, and we actually feed animals barley, wheat, soy, oats and rye. Our steers and lambs actually eat grass.
                                                                          Our veterinarians are not posted 24 hours in feedlots trying to keep diseased steers alive as they gorge on corn for finishing.
                                                                          Just travel out of the city, and you will learn.

                                                                          1. re: jayt90

                                                                            Maybe not all Canadian farms practice farming this way but there are many that do. And even one factory farm is one too many. There are still politically driven agendas that are influencing the way Canadians raise their meats, and due to high demand and artificially lowered prices of meat, it's almost inevitable that a farmer must reduce their costs in order to make a profit. How does one reduce costs? By factory farming. Also, Canadian markets strongly mimic American trends and if there aren't numerous factory farms in Canada yet (which I highly doubt), there will be soon. Actually, CTV did a documentary on this subject and it's a Canadian perspective: http://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/undercover-i...

                                                                            Being a public health official, I've witnessed firsthand the way our livestock is treated in some areas of this country. We have minimal legislation in this area, and lack enforcement that ensures the welfare of farm animals. This is issue is far from just one person "kvetching". It's a discussion that needs to be had with many Canadians on political, economic, and social fronts.

                                                                            1. re: rehan252

                                                                              There are new pen size recommendations for pigs and poultry, based on European standards. This applies to Canada, not the U.S.

                                                                      2. If one hunts or raises it, kills it, cleans it, butchers it, and eats it all, their is no dilemma.

                                                                        BTW, K had it right back in 2008, the real problem is with the profiteering middle man between the farmer and the consumer.