When many people think of fresh beef, they think of walking into a grocery store stocked with all the finest cuts of meat. Some, however, think of a cattle farm in Chuckey, Tennessee.
SideLine Farms is a seventh-generation cattle farm that was founded in 1858 by Thomas Collette and has remained in the family ever since. Currently operated by Amy and Kevin Collette and their children, the farm is home to a plethora of cattle that are sold straight to the consumer.
Unfortunately, many farmers throughout the Appalachia region are underappreciated. This can be shown by the decrease of 858,858 acres in farmland throughout Appalachia from the Agriculture and Food Systems Trends in the Appalachia Region. Most often the forfeiture of farmland is due to the financial risk that comes along with operating a farm. Farmers rely on their consumers to purchase the meats that they produce, and the volume of sales is lacking with large box grocery chains offering cheaper varieties.
“Only 2% of the population is farmers,” said Amy Collette. “This day in time most people are at least two generations removed from the farm. If you don’t have connections to a farm, it’s hard to understand what it is like.”
Farming today looks different than it did many generations ago. In earlier generations, individuals dedicated their lives to the upkeeping of their farms, but due to the underappreciation and low volume of sales across farms in Appalachia, many farmers are now forced to hold second jobs to allow for the upkeep of the farm. This causes many farmers to pack their things and get out of the agriculture industry.
“A lot of people just don’t realize where their food comes from,” said Mary Beth Collette, daughter of Amy Collette. “And if they don’t understand it, how can they appreciate it?”
Additives that grocery stores use to preserve their meat, such as carrageenan, phosphates and propyl gallate, are things that you typically would not ingest daily if they were alone, but because many consumers are buying meats from grocery stores, they are blindly consuming these things. Many consumers do not realize that what they are eating is more harmful than the flavor is worth.
Underappreciation is not the only issue looming on the doorsteps of Appalachian farmers. Farmers also must worry about what is next for their farms. This is thought to be an easy process where the farmer hands down the farm to their children and they keep the farm in the family. With the decline of straight-to-consumer sales, many young farmers fear the success of their farms within the next generation.
“It’s up to them (children) to come home and make sure that all the animals have feed,” said Amy Collette. “Especially before the time change when it gets dark earlier.”
For some children, the responsibilities of running a farm can seem like a daunting task that they do not want to handle for the rest of their lives. Many children within the next generation will give up their family’s farmland to pursue other careers and dreams, while other children will keep the family farms and turn to a more organic growing base over the coming years.
Every day consumers purchase meat they have a choice to invest in the future of agriculture throughout the Appalachia region. By making an informed purchase from a local farm, consumers are not only helping put a meal on the table for a family of farmers but also showing that they appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into producing fresh meat.