DOAG: LOCAL CONNECTICUT MEATS TASTE GREAT ON THE GRILL



July 3, 2019

LOCAL CONNECTICUT MEATS TASTE GREAT ON THE GRILL

Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Conservation

 

The summer months are great for grilling. Make your next barbeque a success by serving local Connecticut meats.

Connecticut is home to a growing beef agricultural industry. According to the USDA Census of Agricultural, sales of Connecticut Grown beef increased 20% from 2012 to 2017 with more than $11,700,000 of sales in 2017.

Many of Connecticut’s beef producers sell grass-fed or pasture-raised beef. Some Connecticut producers offer weekly or monthly “farm shares” of beef for sale at a set price, and some even offer delivery.

A list of Connecticut beef producers is available on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) website at https://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?q=412836. Connecticut producers of chicken, lamb, pork, and goat are also listed.

One Connecticut producer who has taken it to the next level by offering fully cooked meals made from their own Connecticut Grown beef, chicken, and pork products is Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, CT.

Fred and Stacia Monahan founded Stone Gardens Farm in 1998, after expanding from a roadside vegetable stand where they sold vegetables and flowers. The couple steadily grew their business, planting more varieties of vegetables on mostly leased land.

Today, the Monahan’s grow a variety of seasonal produce as well as raise grass-fed beef, pork, and poultry, which are processed and sold directly to customers.

The farm also runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where customers pay for a share of the farm’s produce harvest at the beginning of the year in exchange for a weekly box of veggies throughout the growing season.

In 2018, the Monahan’s were awarded a $45,000 DoAg Farm Transition Grant to pay for a portion of the cost associated with a project to construct a commercial kitchen and craft butchery on their farm.

The DoAg grant funded project is part of a larger project that has transformed the Monahan’s farm business from a roadside stand into a full service market that offers hot and cold foods prepared by a chef in the new commercial kitchen, using meats and vegetables grown on the farm.

One of the reasons the Monahan’s decided to expand their farm business was to close the gap between the raw foods they produced and the prepared food foods their customers wanted.

“People are so busy these days. I was hearing from customers they don’t have enough time to prepare a meal,” said Stacia. “Now they can get our farm fresh food and we can process it for them.”

The farm stand at Stone Gardens Farm is part of a new 4,000 square-foot, barn-style building that also includes a produce wash area, walk-in cooler, root-crop storage area, and the DoAg grant funded commercial kitchen and craft butchery.

“If we didn’t get that grant we probably wouldn’t have finished the kitchen,” said Fred. “We bring stuff in right here into the wash area from the field and into the retail stand, coolers, or kitchen and people love it.”

Stone Gardens Farm’s Chef Matthew Gallo said he likes working with the fresh meats and produce.

“If you start with good product, especially the stocks, it comes out really great,” said Matthew.

Like all good things, the bone broth takes time.

“A couple hours for chicken broth, four hours for pork. You can let a beef broth go almost all night, twelve hours,” said Matthew. “That’s what people like.”

“Matty makes the best bone broth, because we have quality to work with,” said Fred. “We make real strong stuff.”

In addition to Chef Gallo, the Monahan’s hired a butcher, and a food quality officer as part of their farm business expansion.

Having complete control over the processing of their meats and vegetables—from the time the animal is born and seed planted to the time it’s ready to eat—allows the Monahan’s greater control over the quality of the final product.

“We worked with other people, but came to the realization that partners are for dancing only,” said Stacia. “It’s really difficult to have that same vision and quality control.”

Controlling the process also gives the Monahan’s the opportunity to reduce waste to a minimum.

“We grow the vegetables and the meat. What we can’t sell and don’t use goes to the pigs,” said Stacia. “We take their manure to grow the vegetables. There’s no waste.”

The Monahan’s grow about 60 acres of vegetables and raise about 50 beef cows, and 30 pigs. They have been selling farm raised thanksgiving turkeys for 18 years and sell chicken.

Another reason the Monahan’s decided to expand was to keep the farm viable for the next generation.

“Our kids were growing up and they actually wanted to stay in the family business,” said Stacia. “But with the little farm stand shack we couldn’t sell the volume needed.”

Fred and Stacia’s son, Tommy recently graduated from high school and now works on the farm full-time. Tommy has been working with DoAg to obtain a license to operate a small poultry slaughter facility at the farm under the Connecticut Small Poultry Processor Inspection Program.

Stone Gardens Farm now processes 50-150 chickens per week which are sold whole at the farm store and through a chicken CSA.

Tommy said he likes working on the farm despite the 60-70 hour work weeks. “It keeps you out of trouble,” said Tommy.