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Urban Digs Farm turns a high-volume, low-end meat processing plant into an artisanal butcher shop.
In the high-end, sustainable meat game, it’s all about quality over quantity.That’s why the new artisan butcher shop, Beasty Shop, has opened its doors in Vancouver’s deep southwest neighbourhood with just one butcher—Felipe, formerly a stockbroker in his native Brazil— and a self-imposed limit to how much bacon patrons can make off with each week.“You can’t in fact buy more than a pound of bacon, because everybody wants bacon,” says the shop’s co-owner, Julia Smith. “I only get two bellies per pig, so y’all got to eat the rest of the pig before there’s going to be any more bacon.”This may seem like tough love, but it’s all part of a bigger philosophy.“Eat less, more better,” says Smith’s Beasty Shop partner, Rory Holland. “We’ve all been schooled on cheap food—we think it’s inexpensive and it’s not,” he says. It’s not sufficient to compare the price of certified organic chicken breast to its standard grocery-store counterparts. According to Holland, a low price of 47 chicken thighs for $5.99 doesn’t take into account the true costs of such food, to the environment, to the animals and to your health. Instead he suggests consumers eat less, more better by opting for a smaller amount of high quality meat. “You can buy a pound of bacon and make it last,” says Holland.The good news is Beasty Shop makes bacon out of the loin and shoulder too (try the delightfully spicy and nitrate-free coppa bacon, the butcher’s version of capicola ham).Smith is also the owner of Urban Digs Farm in Burnaby, which has been a pioneer of heritage-breed pastured pork for years. She never had access to high-quality butchering until she started up Beasty Shop in late June.
“I couldn’t get my pigs cut the way I wanted in any kind of timely fashion, and we were up at 3 a.m. at whatever butcher shop we could get in, you know, cutting whenever we could—there’s no way to run a business like that,” explains Smith. “With the demand for sustainable meat growing, we decided to unclog that bottle neck.”Even before the duo had an operating permit for Beasty Shop, the phone was ringing off the hook from other small-scale producers.“We’ve actually been having trouble getting our own pigs in because everybody’s been so excited, they’ve been holding off sending their pigs into slaughter because they’ve been waiting for us to open,” says Smith.As for Urban Digs Farm pigs, they’re raised locally in the Lower Mainland and subsist on as little commercial feed as is possible. Smith said they eat things like spent brewery grains from local microbreweries, weigh from local cheese makers and donated food waste like pineapples, bananas and strawberries. Something butcher Felipe Carballo swears contributes hints of fruit to the pork’s flavour.Discerning meat lovers can order online and get goods delivered or pick up orders at the Beasty Shop (9247 Shaughnessy St., Vancouver—open by appointment only) or Urban Digs Farm (4992 Byrne Rd., Burnaby). Fun Fact: They love to make home deliveries.“We have this very strong, strong connection with people who eat our food, which is both a tremendous sense of responsibility, but also it makes you feel really good,” says Holland.They even sell something called a ‘Beasty Box,’ which is a nose-to-tail butchery box with locally produced meat from small-scale farms, including Urban Digs Farm, that practice sustainable farming methods. You’ll find everything from pastured pork chops to whole organic chicken breasts and more for $175.“I really think we’re positioned to not just benefit our own farm, but there’s no competition with this industry at this point,” says Smith. “So to just be able to offer this to everybody is just wonderful for us.”
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