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Next time you head to the meat counter at your grocery store, consider this. It would probably be a whole lot cheaper per pound to just buy a whole animal directly from the farmer. Cut out the middleman. But where would you store all of that meat? Most people do not have enough freezer space. I certainly don't. A group in upstate New York, though, wants to overcome that hurdle by reviving an old practice, the meat locker. Solvejg Wastvedt from member station WSKG has this story.
SOLVEJG WASTVEDT, BYLINE: 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. 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.
KERRI BARTLETT: And what we'll do is 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.
WASTVEDT: Bartlett works with the Cooperative Extension at Cornell University. 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.
DAWN BREWER: Mind you she was raised in the '40s and '50s, and at that time frame, they didn't have freezer space at home.
WASTVEDT: Brewer says her family rented space to preserve meats and vegetables. 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. Kerri Bartlett says that's because all kinds of people are interested in saving money.
BARTLETT: 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.
WASTVEDT: Affordability is what brought Ray Towner here to the opening. Towner is retired with fixed income. He and his girlfriend have six kids. He says he'd rather share space than run his own freezer at home.
RAY TOWNER: Yeah, 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.
WASTVEDT: And Towner's used to buying meat in bulk. That's how he grew up eating.
TOWNER: You ought to kind of listen to the older generation. And yeah, you save a lot of money just in gas, running back and forth to the store.
WASTVEDT: You save a lot of space, too, by not having a large freezer at home. Kerri 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. For NPR News, I'm Solvejg Wastvedt.
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