Educating Consumers About Local, Sustainable Produced Meat

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $23,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,400.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Derek Vernon Lee
Wisconsin Pasturelands (formerly Healthy Meats!)
Margaret Krome
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration


    The goal of this project was to educate consumers in Madison, Wisconsin about the way meat is produced using sustainable agriculture practices. The premise was that consumers who are thus informed would, for a variety of reasons, be interested in purchasing meat directly from local meat producers who raise their animals using sustainable agriculture practices. This project helped eight local farmers, none of whom individually could make sufficient consumer contacts, to do so collectively in a direct marketing group formally calling themselves Healthy Meats! (HM!) During the year, we assisted the development of direct markets for local owner-operated farms and increased local support for buying sustainably raised meat. We accomplished these goals by generating media articles, conducting consumer events, developing a brochure, and establishing a booth at the Dane County Farmers Market.

    Generating media attention was an effective way of making our presence known in the Madison area. We published several articles in Madison’s mainstream press and several others in newsletters and weeklies. While we were successful at generating news articles, and while they generated considerable interest among consumers, that interest did not result in a significant increase in sales, for reasons we give below. Articles published in newsletters, specifically a home schooling newsletter, and weeklies generated more sales than did our mainstream press articles. We also penetrated local and public radio markets achieving similar results.

    The coordinator developed a brochure that included the names and contact information of the farmers involved in the project, as well as the various meats for sale and their farming philosophy. The brochure was made available at all HM! events and was mailed to interested consumers after media hits and public presentations. While the brochure described the production methods of individual farmers, it failed to generate the number of sales we expected. One reason may be that HM! farmers decided early on not to include prices in the brochure so as not to compete with each other which may have failed to give busy consumers the information and impetus they needed to call the farmers directly. Other barriers to sales were consumer preferences for convenience, a perception of the need to buy large quantities, the desire to see the meat and the farmer before they purchase an item, and general questions regarding food safety.

    Consumer events were a very effective way of familiarizing the public with HM! Meat tastings, chef demonstrations, and a hamburger stand all helped create interest. Perhaps the most compelling example of the effectiveness of consumer events was a food festival organized by our organizer and REAP, a local food group. The famous chef Odessa Piper, also a member of Chef’s Collaborative 2000, gave an hour demonstration on preparing and cooking HM! meat. Three hundred and fifty brochures were handed out that day.

    Ultimately, two of the eight farmers participating in the project sold completely out of their inventory by early November. They attribute their success primarily to their presence at the Dane County Farmers Market as well as their participation in the HM! project. While many of the farmers have seen and increase in calls and an increase in recent months, their success has been anything but instantaneous and has demanded much persistence, patience, and hard work.


    We began our efforts by pushing to generate press in the Madison area newspapers. We were successfully interviewed on WORT, a community owned radio station by food critic, Leah Zeldin and later participated in a discussion on WORT with a proponent of biotechnology. We also successfully published articles in the Shopper Stopper, a consumer weekly distributed throughout the state and an environmental newspaper that reaches roughly 10,000 members. An article was also distributed to several hundred people by the Center For Integrated Agricultural Systems.

    Given that Madison boasts one of the largest farmer’s markets in the country, with roughly 20,000 people attending each weekend, the coordinator created a booth at the Dane County Farmers market complete with pictures of HM! farms and farmers and proceeded to hand out the HM! brochure. Derek Lee, the project coordinator, set up the booth at 12 farmers markets during the summer and early fall. Derek spoke at length with hundreds of consumers at the farmers market and handed out between fifty to one hundred brochures each weekend.

    Derek also met with Paulette Hardin, Executive Director of SHARE, a low-income food distribution organization. After several visits out to the farms, SHARE purchased 2,000 pounds of ground beef that was distributed to two hundred and seventy five low-income drop off sites throughout Wisconsin.

    Derek met with several community groups during the course of the grant period. He met several times with REAP, a local food action group, local Lions clubs, eco-teams, neighborhood organizations that are set up to reduce their impacts on the environment. Derek also met with Dona Campos, who heads up a small home school network. She enthusiastically supported our efforts sent brochures to members and included a story in her newsletter that generated several calls to HM! farmers.

    Derek organized an event with an environmental organization and their members out at the Dick Cates farm. The event was an attempt to link environmentally friendly consumers with sustainable farmers. A postcard was sent to the members of the Environmental Decade inviting them to the event and giving them the option to buy sustainably raised meats direct from HM! farmers. One hundred Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade members attended.

    The final event Derek organized was a food tasting and grilling event during the Food For Thought Festival. Derek was able to get Odessa Piper to cook various meats up under a tent. The event drew hundreds of consumers who took roughly three hundred and fifty brochures. Derek also manned a booth along with HM! farmers who sold grilled meats to the crowd.

    Project objectives:

    1. Conduct at least 13 meetings and create 5 media contacts per year to educate middle-to-upper middle income Madison, Wisconsin area consumers about the prevailing meat industry and buying locally produced meat.

    2. Conduct at least 5 meetings per year to educate low-income consumers, including members of certain ethnic groups in the Madison area about buying meat from Healthy Meats! farmers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.