“The Other Gray Meat” is beginning to make inroads in the consumer market, ending the scurrilous scourge of back counter dark alley smuggling of the delectable and tasty opossum.
Long known for their lush, thick coats in the clothing industry, opossums have been farm raised for shearing and skinning since the early part of the 20th century. But the value of their meat has been in dispute for some time.
“Yeah, not much like possum meat, nor should there be,” Vern Agnopolis of Velvet Ridge told me on a recent visit to his sweet potato stand along Highway 167. “Greasy, tough and all around inedible. But they make a fine fur coat, that’s for damn sure.”
But if that’s the case, why has opossum been popping up all over Arkansas on restaurant menus? To learn more, I quietly made contact with several local eateries, and received a bit of information on an anonymous basis. What I discovered was disconcerting: opossum roasts and chops brought in under cover of darkness for creamed possum and possum jerky;
high grade rendered possum fat ordered from “overseas” locations for use in the eponymous Ozark dish of Possum Pie, even opossum ribs secreted by former moonshine runners to big industry for use in a popular sandwich assumedly made from pork.
But those days of hiding the secret ingredient to some of Arkansas’ favorite foods are over. Through a special mandate by the Arkansas Agriculture Department, a new initiative is spurring on Arkansas farmers to seek government funding and become the first in what’s hoped to be a new wave of opossum farming.
Carly-Ann Webster of Possum Grape couldn’t be more thrilled. The 27-year old first time farmer recently inherited a plum orchard that, with the help of the Department, will be used to facilitate a new opossum crop. “Chicken houses are way too smelly, and you have to get down to scoop them up and put them on the truck. With possums, I can literally just pluck them out of the trees and throw them in a basket. Better than picking apples!”
Webster’s ready-to-start land is expected to do well in the raising of opossum crops. But for others without tree-littered land, new forms of opossum hanging has to be found. Enter companies such as Piddly’s Pre-School Playground Equipment. Hurt by a stalled economy that’s keeping tax dollars down and pre-schools from ordering up swing sets and see-saws,
Piddly’s is entering the agricultural field by building monkey bars, or in this case opossum bars, across fields throughout the Arkansas Delta. The metal structures will be painted green and brown to resemble trees. Duke Piddly of Piddly’s Pre-School Playground Equipment says it’s serendipity. “Them possums, they don’t know anyhow a tree from a hole in a barn attic. Come night, it ain’t like they can see anyway.”
Harvest locations are already accepting new opossum deliveries, and the first commercially packed opossum products are expected to hit shelves in the next seven weeks.
Yet still, there are detractors from the idea of consuming our long-tailed friends. PETA (Possum Eatin’ To Anarchy) says it will oppose the new opossum harvesting by setting up monkey bar frames in urban centers for near-naked protestors to emulate opossums upon, to bring awareness of these urban marsupials to light. No word yet on how the protestors will emulate opposum tales.
Will commercial applications change the minds of all Arkansans? “You have to be out of your ever-loving’ mind to eat one of them things,” Vern Agnopolis tells us. “I’d rather eat gar or earthworms.”
But for farmers like Carly-Ann Webster, opossum farming may be the path to prosperous living. “I can’t wait to see all those little eyes when I flash a light out the back door this summer!”
Postscript: Of course, this was written tongue-in-cheek for April Fool's Day. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is indeed a bit of research going in this direction. Perhaps I'll have updates soon.