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Sustainable Growth On The Farm

Sustainable Growth On The FarmATufts Veterinary School program is helping regional farmers takefulladvantage of their resources in ways that are both humane andeconomicallybeneficial. No.Grafton, Mass.

No. Grafton, Mass. [02.11.05] Amid a downturn in the milk market, dairy farmers lookingfor a boost turned to Tufts livestock expert Dr.George Saperstein. His idea – allowing humanely keptveal calves to graze on pasture and suckle milk from dairy cows– enhances farm animal welfare while providing local farmerswith new profit streams and conserving natural resources.

"It'sin the best interests of everyone to conserve land in New England,"Saperstein told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette."We need viable livestock operations in New England. Ourgoal was to develop alternative, easily adoptable income streamsto keep farmers farming."

The Connecticutfarmers with whom Saperstein first discussed the idea were reluctantto embrace it, especially given some consumers’ aversionto the ways in which some milk-fed veal calves are traditionallybred.

"Theywere lukewarm at best," Saperstein – chairman of thedepartmentof environmental and population health at TuftsSchool of Veterinary Medicine – told the Telegramand Gazette. "Farmers don't adapt to change very well.And veal is a dirty word. I was asking them to do something different,and telling them we'd get a good price. With no proof."

But the planmoved forward, with Tufts last year receiving a $480,000 grantfrom the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help introduce localdairy farmers to ways of raising veal calves and chickens whilepreserving the environment. The USDA recently awarded Tufts another$480,000 grant for the project.

Farmers areanxious to find new ways to supplement their incomes. To focuson their dairy enterprise, farmers have scaled back productionof other food products like sausage, syrup and eggs – makingthem more vulnerable to the vagaries of milk prices.

Sapersteinlaunched the program by raising 13 calves on pasture and milkfrom four so-called “cull cows,” and 100 free-rangeAmericauna chicks, the Telegram and Gazette reported.

The methodsused to raise the calves and chicks are derived from principlesof sustainable agriculture. The calves were not treated with drugsor hormones or kept caged, and they were slaughtered humanelyin accordance with European Union standards.

Saperstein’splan aimed to sell the veal at a premium to chefs at high endrestaurants who are looking to buy locally-raised, humanely-treatedfood products, resulting in profits for the farmers.

“Restaurateursare serving an enlightened new market, and they know people areconcerned with the way animals are raised and food is produced,”he said.

In additionto selling the concept to farmers, another challenge was marketingthe veal to restaurants and their diners. Saperstein worked inconjunction with culinary staff at Johnson & Wales Universityin Providence to develop uses for the meat.

"We said,'Start cookin','" Saperstein told the Telegram and Gazette.Veal piccata, veal chops and braised veal shanks were preparedwith the meat, which is darker and more flavorful than standardveal.

Marketed underthe brand name Azuluna, Saperstein tested the meat with focusgroups and distributed it to four restaurants across Massachusettsand Rhode Island. The eateries quickly sold out of the veal andrequested more.

Besides thefree-range veal, the Azuluna eggs – featuring a bluish shell– are expected to present an attractive option to consumersby virtue of their humane cultivation and flavorful taste.

“Theseeggs will be rich and tasty because of the old-fashioned way theyare being raised,” according to Saperstein. “The chickensin this program are raised outdoors in a free-range fashion sothey can scratch around in the grass during the day, and sleepsafe and sound in the barn at night.”

“Wecouldn’t have accomplished any of this without tremendousteamwork between staff at our Grafton and Woodstock campuses,”Saperstein said. “Credit should go to Dr.Karl Andrutis, who oversaw the veal and chicken projects;Scott Brundage and Jim Phillips, who raised the veal calves andchickens; Dr.Gene White, who explained the process to local farmers; andDr. Lara Weaver, who provided excellent veterinary care to thecalves.”

Sapersteinhas moved the program off the Veterinary School’s Graftoncampus and onto a Mendon farm, with hopes for further expansion– he is pitching the benefits of raising Azuluna calvesto 80 area dairy farmers. In time, Saperstein hopes, enough farmerswill sign on to the program to produce more veal for more restaurantsand band together to manage the Azuluna brand and expand its success.

"Thisis a win-win proposition," Dr. Andrew Rowan, chief of staffof the Humane Society of the United States, told the Telegramand Gazette. "The farmers can look for higher incomefrom a still small but rapidly growing niche market. The New Englandenvironment of small towns and surrounding farmland will be supportedby this income, and the animals will have a lifestyle that ismuch more closely suited to their needs."










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