The president of Sonoma Direct Sustainable Meats since 2005, Marissa Guggiana is curating the charcuterie section of Slow Food Nation.

Meat middleman

Turning a global business into a local one

July 23, 2008

When my parents bought Sonoma Direct in 2005, I felt more like an innocent bystander than a CEO. The meat business was far from any vision I had of a better tomorrow. I had imagined myself less as a meat maven than as an expat playwright, bringing theatre into a new golden age in my hometown.

Mom and Dad had bought the business from a Dutch man with a metronomic sense of profit and expenses. Meat was the measure of exchange, but it could have been anything. Cheap, imported meat came in by the truckload and was exported as smaller, more expensive pieces of meat.

The carrier boats arriving with our meat from New Zealand could be carrying the work of 1,000 ranchers with unknowable standards and beliefs. Well, who were our producers?

We sold thousands of pounds of Veal Marengo. But what array of scraps went into Veal Marengo, exactly?

marissa guggiana
A playwright goes into the meat business.

Our orders were delivered via a trucking company and container ships to hotels in cities far, far away. So who were our customers?

For a numbers person who happened to be in the meat business, it may have worked. But for a playwright who happened into the meat business, it was a tragedy without a story.

I realized, about six months into my new job, that I was surrounded by fields filled with lamb. So I went in search of it. To get to lamb, you have to go through ranchers, and so I began to meet them.

The first rancher I met was Joe Pozzi. I presented Joe with a hazy plan: Lamb raised in Sonoma County gets processed in Sonoma County and then sold in Sonoma County. Not bought elsewhere, shipped from elsewhere, and shipped elsewhere again.

Joe and I have been working out the details since. And that feels, at last, like the beginning of a story, not just a tragedy.

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by Rebecca T. on Jul 25, 2008 at 11:24 AM PDT

Thank you Marissa for beginning this transformation of your company. Why is it that California stores and restaurants are full of New Zealand lamb when a short drive into the country almost anywhere in California will have you stumbling across a field of grazing sheep? It continues to boggle my mind with the price of gas and the value of foreign currencies that we can get meat cheaper from New Zealand or South America. Get to know your local ranchers, help revive independent abattoirs that are on the verge of shuttering, and reduce your carbon footprint by buying from California livestock producers.

2. by Ashiffman on Jul 30, 2008 at 12:41 PM PDT

So glad to see your contribution to Culinate--and so happy that you are doing what you love--Your meat is the best!!!!Alice Shiffman, Mill Valley

3. by Marissa Guggiana on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:05 AM PDT

i wish, i wish, i wish that we could provide lamb at a cost comparable to new zealand. of course, there is less fuel but the other factors are overwhelming:
-land prices
-labor prices
-processing charges
-economy of scale (new zealand produces SO much more lamb than us).
my response to this is that we have to look at the long term costs of outsourcing food production and understand that ranchers hold a value in california: they are open space place holders. lamb ranching is very gentle to the environment and keeps agricultural land plentiful and healthy.
in short, we live in this amazing, special strip of land and the value of that makes everything more expensive. but if all these ranches turn into pinot vineyards we are going to be in big trouble, environmentally and economically.

4. by Marissa Guggiana on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:14 AM PDT

thanks alice!!

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