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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Lu Arnold, promotions director for Utah Pork Producers, dishes up samples of portobello pork chops during a cooking demonstration on how consumers can save money on meat.

Utah's farmers want to tell you that buying locally raised food is good for you; it's nutritious, it supports rural Utah and it supports local agriculture.

And it tastes pretty good, as invited media found out last Thursday at a celebration for National Agriculture Day at the Utah State Fairpark.

Representatives from different agricultural associations underscored their message by firing up the grills and frying pans to offer a home-grown taste of Utah. They also shared new developments with their products.

Utah has 16,700 farms on 11 million acres, according to Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Many of these farms have been family-owned for several generations.

Contrary to what some people might assume, last year's roller coaster of food prices didn't make farmers rich, said Lewis.

"The prices at the grocery stores aren't shared with the farms. The farmer gets about 19 cents for every retail food dollar."

Farmers have also coped with rising prices in energy and transportation, animal feed and fertilizers, said Matt Hargreaves of the Utah Farm Bureau, pointing out that many dairies have operated at a loss the past couple of years.

"We have such an abundance in this country that it's hard to understand that the food security we enjoy is fragile," said Randy Parker of the Utah Farm Bureau. "We don't want to become reliant on Mexico or China for our food supply. These other countries don't meet the same safety standards that we have come to expect in this country."

Roberts Family Farms shared Dutch oven-baked potatoes that included onions from the Layton farm. The family sells its produce at five farmers markets.

"Eat local vegetables," was Ruth Roberts' mantra. "It supports local producers, saves energy expenses because it's not shipped hundreds of miles, and it tastes better because it's fresh."

Sheep meat may catch on as an alternative to more expensive lamb.

"Sheep meat" comes from animals older than one year, according to William Goring of the Utah Wool Growers Association. Also known as "mutton," it's had a bit of an image problem because it can be tougher and have a stronger flavor.

"But you can get around that by the way you prepare it," said Goring, who served marinated "sheep meat" kabobs that were, indeed, flavorful and tender. The meat can be ordered from MB Meat Packing in Tremonton, said Goring, who operates the Goring Ranch in Deweyville.

Aussie Lamb Pies, made by Salt Lake City's Morrison Meat Pie Company, contain meat from Morgan Valley Lamb and are available in Associated Foods grocery and convenience stores.

"We're trying to get people to try lamb and like it," said Jamie Gillmor, owner of of Morgan Valley Lamb.

Although the price of eggs has gone up in the past couple of years, "they are still the cheapest and best source of protein you can get," said Cliff Lillywhite of Oakdell Eggs. "A yolk can keep a baby chicken alive for 21 days, so there are obviously some very good things in there for us."

Rocky Mountain Eggs offers cage-free, organic eggs, said Craig Hauser, in the company's marketing division. The company has operations in Erda and Spanish Fork.

"We call turkey the perfect protein, because it's versatile and affordable," said Kent Barton, president of Moroni Feed Co., which markets its turkeys under the Norbest label.

The company showcased turkey in a thigh pot roast and grilled turkey breast, and pointed out that ground turkey can be used in all kinds of entrees. In the future, consumers may be able to buy a "sweetheart" turkey breast in their grocery stores. It's 5-8 pounds of prime white breast meat that can be put in the oven from the frozen state.

Now is a great time to buy beef, because prices are lower than they've been in years, said Jacob Schmidt of the Utah Beef Council. He was cooking a beef tenderloin that now costs $6.39 per pound.

"A year ago, it would have been $10 a pound," he said. "So if you are looking to stock up your freezer, meat prices are down."

"Today's pork is not your parents' pork," said Lu Arnold, of the Utah Pork Producers. As a result of better feed, better environment and better genetics, some cuts of pork are as low in fat as chicken breasts.

People often overcook pork due to fears of trichinosis, which is caused by an organism that used to be more common in pork. Thorough cooking was necessary in order to kill the organism. But due to better feeding and environmental practices, trichinosis no longer a big threat. According to USDA guidelines, pork only needs to be cooked to 160 degrees, which leaves it with a hint of pink inside.

Parker pointed out that most Utah consumers seem to be heeding the message about the value of local products. He said that farmers' markets have grown in popularity year after year, with new ones springing up every summer.

Also, community-supported agriculture has grown. With a CSA, members buy "shares" of the farms, which entitle them to some of the produce during the growing season.

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