Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Meat with a Story"

The Boise Farmers Market is a four-block long party that shuts down streets and reroutes city buses every Saturday from April toChristmas. On the north side of Idaho Street a knot of shoppers gathers each week at the Malheur River Meats booth, where Rob Stokes presides.

Sporting a Marine's haircut and a marathon runner's build, Rob displays the quiet calm of a seasoned school teacher and the helpfulness of an older brother. The label on each package of his beef, pork, chicken, and turkey says, “Natural meat with a story.” He tells that story every Saturday. When he is not pulling packages of frozen meat or cartons of eggs out of ice chests, he is the lone participant in a quiz show where an ever-changing audience asks the questions.

I stopped a few times to listen to Rob’s story and ask him some questions. Then I visited him and Michelle, his wife and business partner, who operates the Malheur River Meats booth at the Nampa Farmers Market down the road. I learned that the couple did not grow up on ranches, but were early innovators in the natural meat business. I saw that they raise animals using techniques that my parents remember from their childhoods. But my parents left farms for cushier lives in teaching, the profession you can always fall back on. Michelle and Rob chose to work on the
land and are using old-fashioned techniques to meet new consumer demands.

Read more in my my December, 2011 column in Rangelands.