But when an Amish guy in a straw hat and one of those mustache-free beards told me he was selling grass-fed beef raised without antibiotics or added hormones on a Lancaster County farm, I quite literally bought it. When I was done reporting at Baltimore's new Amish market, I happily shelled out for some ground beef and flank steak for home.
Only later, when I prepared to write a story on the market for The Sun's Taste section, did I bother to Google the farm where the meat guy said the beef had been raised. John F. Martin & Sons wasn't bragging about any grass-fed beef on its website, so I called. The owner told me the company only processes and distributes beef -- all of it raised in conventional feedlots around the country.
I like a good gotcha story as well as the next reporter, but I honestly felt sick about calling up an Amish guy -- even an Amish guy with a cell phone -- to ask if he'd lied to me. I told Meat Guy what the Martin's owner had said. He said that was news to him, and that he'd have to talk to Martin's. Meat Guy called back shortly thereafter to say he'd been deceived about his meat. But then he went on to say how the price of land in Lancaster County was such that no one was raising beef there, at least not on the scale required to supply his three-day market.
Another vendor at the market made no bones about where his chicken came from.
"Sysco," J.R. Beiler reported cheerfully.
As I write in the story, the Amish have as much right as anyone else to sell Sysco chicken and factory-farmed beef. The question is whether someone shopping at an Amish market would assume — even without the sort of assurances Meat Guy initially offered — that the products come from Amish growers, not some international food distributor.
I asked Meat Guy what was particularly Amish about selling meats raised on industrial farms far from Amish country.
"I don't know," he said. "I guess it's a million-dollar question."
He added, after a moment's reflection, "We are Lancaster County, and we are coming down here."
Meat Guy, aka isaac Esh, with his daughter, Cynthia Joy, at the market. Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron