Farm to College: Spotlight on Purdy & Sons

I am not allowed to take pictures from the cutting floor - this is from Purdy's website.
I am not allowed to take pictures from the cutting floor - this is from Purdy's website.

To reach Purdy & Sons, you sashay on small roads over the mountains, wiggle next to small streams, and pass by boarded up hotels and peeling porch paint. Eventually, marveling at the bucolic grandeur of New York, you arrive to a small road about 100 miles W of Albany, 200 miles NW of NYC, or 50 miles SE of Syracuse. As you enter the parking area, you are greeted by apple trees, ducks, an old farmhouse on the right, and a medium building in front of you.

Vicki and Dan Purdy live in the small farmhouse with their children, the office and the processing plant is housed in the medium building. These buildings have been used in this capacity by the Purdy family since Dan’s grandfather built on this location in 1974. Dan’s family has been in the butchery business since 1927 when his great grandfather started in Long Island. In 2000 Vicki and Dan purchased the family business to continue the legacy - as a processing facility for meat as well as a distribution hub for vegetables, eggs, dairy, etc.

There are a total of 15 people who work with Vickie & Dan. They process 100 pigs, 1000 lbs of grass fed ground beef, and 1500 lbs of chickens a week. (To compare, Smithfield in 2012 employed 46,050 US workers and in 2007 processed 114,300 pigs a day.)

About-us_14
About-us_14

The medium building is cozy. There is a small office space, with a designated desk for the regular hellos of the USDA inspector(s), a cutting floor, a smoking area, a packing area, a loading area, and cold storage facilities. As we walk through the active cutting floor, the smell of blood is thick and the floor is wet.  There are large saws, grinders for meat, a smoker for their nitrate/nitrite free sausages, a vacuum pack machine for the portioned hamburger patties - everyone is wearing large aprons and hair nets - and yes, I did see a tattoo of a pig on a forearm. Dan has a kind word for everyone we see, “That one [a gentleman scraping bone dust off of freshly sawn chops] has worked for my father and now me his whole life; he loves it. He is the best butcher I know.“

Purdy & Sons is a NYS certified WOBE - Women Owned Business Enterprise, Vicki is the captain and Dan is her talkative first mate. They are dedicated to highlighting the best of New York state bounty. To that end, they visit local farmers and try to talk them into growing more or raising more with the hopes that Dan and Vicki can find customers willing to pay the premium for locally raised meat and locally grown produce. They juggle regulations for themselves and the farmers as well as educating their customers about what they are doing.

Here are some highlights from our conversation.

About-us_56
About-us_56

As a USDA regulated meat HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) facility, the Purdy’s facility is closely watched.

They are here everyday, sometimes his superior, sometimes his superior’s superior. Sometimes there are three guys here all at once. Regulations like regulations regulations regulations. You have got people saying, “Forget it. I am just not going to do this, I can’t do this.” I have a full time guy that does HACCP and third party audits and I am just a small company.

As I said, we are doing things cutting edge and the minute they don’t what it is they will say, “Stop, you can’t do this until we figure out what the hell you are doing. Or we prove that it is okay.” We had to utilize Penn State to verify our nitrate/nitrite policy - we are the only ones in the state not doing it. And they just could not figure it out. We were following all of the policies and all of the regulations and they are saying, “We don’t care, we have never seen this before, the onus is on you to prove it is okay.” It was horrible. Meanwhile, we’ve got Williams Sonoma waiting for our product! The same product we have been doing for decades! It is tough, tough.

Dan Purdy in one of the meat lockers.
Dan Purdy in one of the meat lockers.

Dan goes to visit local farmers to entice them to join his distribution network and sometimes that can be a difficult conversation too.

This one farm I wanted to work with they needed to have an over a million dollar insurance policy and I couldn’t accept them without it. I practically said that I would pay for it! But the farmer didn’t want to take it on. So that is one of the struggles that we have.

Both Dan and Vicki joined in to share their dismay that so many people, even in the food industry, don’t understand the logistics of working with whole animals.

Dan - Conceptually a chef has never dealt with the whole animal before. They did 40 years ago or 50 years ago, but now they don’t get it.

Vicki - Last year we had a large school call us and ask us for 200 local flank steaks. That is 100 cows! What are we going to do with the rest of the cows?

Dan Purdy
Dan Purdy

Dan - And we were the bum for not being able to help them. You see it is a concept that people have to get their head around. Let me tell you my vision. I want the client, the Sodexo groups, the Compass groups, and myself to get together and say look - how many schools do we have in this area? Let’s go with 15 hogs. You can get this part, you can get these parts, and then the next week you can rotate, and the next week you can rotate again. Because at the moment the chef or the director in the college, he doesn’t live that world - he has never lived that world. They are confused about a lot of things. We have something right now where they wanted to increase their ground beef. “We need more tomorrow.” Well it doesn’t work that way.

Vicki - We need a week to source them, get them slaughtered, do the processing…

Dan - I’ve got to go to the farms and say “Hey, could you give me a couple more cows a week? When can that happen?” So see, they really don’t understand - so we are really trying to work hard on the education process - and we are really trying to build our own infrastructure to make this happen.

The Real Food Challenge defines local as within 250 miles - Dan prefers a NYS focus instead of a rigid mileage demarcation.

I look at this as a statewide initiative. There are things down south that you can’t get in the north and then things in the north that you can’t get in the south - so it is a collage of different expertise throughout the state of different farms that are creating high quality goods in different areas. There are also items that are coming now from China and Uruguay. So having a New York State focus and being able to get a larger variety and a higher quality of product throughout our state sure does beat bringing stuff all the way from California or China.

Vicki Purdy
Vicki Purdy

Purdy & Sons works with dozens of NYS Farms. They have implemented a Whole Hog program to help educate chefs on utilizing all parts of an animal. As Dan shares, “We came up with three pigs/week for Bard based on the 6 butts and the quantity of bellies that Chef Chris wanted. So three pigs matched most of what he wanted - so we give him the loins and then we supplement with New York state manufactured loins.” Chicken, onions, and potatoes come to Bard as well via Purdy & Sons. The New School loves Purdy's nitrate free bacon.

Despite the challenges of their business reality, Dan and Vicki’s passion, energy, and drive are palpable. They are cheerful, dedicated, and highly invested in changing the logistics and infrastructure for local food. As Dan says, “we should expect that our foods come from our neighbors.”

Cheers to knowing where our food comes from!

Farm to School is a series that highlights the sourcing of Bard College and The New School. These are written as part of my role as the Food Sustainability Advocate with Chartwells.