Next time you go to the grocery store to buy meat, consider this: It would probably be much cheaper per pound to buy a whole animal directly from a farmer, eliminating the middleman.
But storage can be a problem. Most people don't have enough freezer space for all that meat. A group in upstate New York wants to overcome that hurdle with an old concept: They've brought back the meat locker.
If a meat locker sounds gruesome, don't worry. It's really just a big walk-in freezer. Anybody who needs extra storage space can rent part of it.
The new meat locker in Corning, N.Y., which opened last week, is in the basement of a building near downtown. It's stocked with rows of plastic bins. Rent the large ones for $8 a month, or the small ones for $5. On the locker's opening day, Kerri Bartlett shows a potential renter the inside.
"And what we'll do is we'll bring the bin out to you, and you can take out what you want from your bin, and then we put it back in. They're all labeled," she explains.
Bartlett works with the cooperative extension at Cornell University, which previously opened a meat locker in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2014. The Ithaca meat locker has proved so popular, it now has a waiting list.
Meat lockers were common in the 1950s. Dawn Brewer is here to get some information about renting. She says her grandmother knew all about the communal freezers. "Mind you, she was raised in the '40s and '50s, and in that time frame they didn't have freezer space at home," Brewer says.
Brewer says her family rented space to preserve meats and vegetables. But when home freezers became popular, meat lockers disappeared. These days, even buying meat in bulk is a little unusual. Most people just go to the grocery store. So you might think a meat locker would only appeal to a narrow group of food-savvy customers.
But the crowd at the Corning opening is surprisingly varied. Bartlett says that's because all kinds of people are interested in saving money.
"By buying in bulk, you'll save over $200 buying, you know, a quarter of a beef versus buying it by the cut in the store," Bartlett says.
Affordability is what brought Ray Towner here to the opening. Towner is retired with a fixed income. He and his girlfriend have six kids. He says he'd rather share space than run his own freezer at home. "I figure by the time you run a refrigerator and a freezer both, it's costing you more than $8 a month just to run them," Towner says.
And Towner is used to buying meat in bulk — that's how he grew up eating.
"You ought to kind of listen to the older generation," he says. "Yeah, you save a lot of money — just in gas, running back and forth to the store."
You save a lot of space, too, by not having a large freezer at home. Bartlett says that's a major selling point, because more people these days live in small city apartments.
The Corning project has generated some interest in cities around the region. Bartlett's group is working with several that want to bring back their own versions of the meat locker.