The Foodie Farmer

All Hat No Cattle

It takes a decent breeding herd, fertile land, fencing, drinking water delivery works , expertise (luck too) and most of all;  time ( 6-12 months more than grain-fed) to produce a quality true grass- fed beef.

It’s not about just jockeying random maybe-grass-fed cattle between a convenient “sale barn”  and processor. Nor is it waylaying opportunistically-purchased cattle in some greenish chunk of pasture a few weeks.  It takes 2-4 acres of good pasture per finishing head to support that generation of cattle and the upcoming younger generations-for a whole growing season.

Beware of large sellers using Hot Hanging Weight (HHW) based pricing. It’s a likely cover for brokering from multiple unidentified herds with unverifiable practices.

Make sure you are getting what you pay for . Ask questions. Make a farm visit. Mystery Meat of ambiguous origins is way-cheaper in the supermarket. Don’t simply go along with crowd-think.


 

The (Down) Under Side of Cheap Imported Grass Fed Ground Beef

 

Bos Indicus cattle

There’s a region of the world where large-scale beef production is  relatively new and “grass fed” remains a disparaging term: the equatorial lands of Brazil and Australia where only Bos Indicus cattle breeds like Zebu can endure high heat, humidity, insect pressure and drought cycles to gain some very lean, tough weight over a 3-4 year harvest interval. Australia exported 2.5 million metric tonnes -predominately this type of beef- valued at $8.285 billion in 2015/2016. That works out to $1.19 USD per pound.

Here’s what they have to say about its quality and destined usage: “Australia’s beef exports are globally competitive, but are generally low-value exports (grass fed for ground beef) rather than high-value products (grain-fed for high value sale). According to Meat & Livestock Australia, in 2016, 75% of Australian beef exports to the US were low-value manufacturing or hamburger beef (MLA). The US cattle herd has been near historic lows, fueling increased demand for imported beef.”

With the US as it’s major export destination a whole bunch of this beef most likely makes it’s way into the head of the fast food industry pipeline via Lopez Foods in Oklahoma, distributed as preformed, precooked, frozen patties.

Brazil’s deforested Amazon basin is a much larger producer of this type of beef but is barred from export to the US due to Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks. They also have a long history of being demonized for rainforest destruction so are compromised in the arena of health food marketing.

Some of this ground beef marketed in retail packages is labeled USDA Organic- a label whose meaning is being increasingly challenged such as in this Dec 2017 Washington Post story:  “What was the organic movement has lost control of the National Organic Program (NOP)- the pirates have taken over the ship,” said Dave Chapman, a Vermont farmer who has farmed organically for 37 years.”

At it’s essence Organic is only the certified absence of forbidden synthesized inputs: fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and drugs. Even that basic requirement is somehow overlooked by current administration of the NOP according to audit results. Virtuous, feel-good niceties like holism, species diversity, integrated pest management, etc. are relegated to window dressing by the caveat “where possible”.  Perversely, it is possible to merely deplete a natural environment  with the Organic blessing (UNCTAD p24).  Organic or not, rough, dry-land ranching has always been a brutal business with no lack of adversaries; real (drought) and perceived : kangaroo

 

I bought a couple pound bricks of Australian (AU) grass fed ground beef to try out for eating quality.  Cooked them “sous vide” for 60 minutes (sealed in zip lock plastic bag and immersed in temperature-controlled circulating water bath) in quarter pound segments cut direct from the  brick alongside the same of my own Hay Creek ground beef.  The samples cooked ‘”rare” (126 deg F) had the most pronounced difference with the AU sample have a chewy texture like  rubber bands that slowly disappeared as chewing progressed. The “medium” (142 deg F) and “medium well” (157 deg F) AU samples were also more rubbery-chewy but not so distinctly as the “rare”. Flavor was comparable between my own and the AU samples. Samples of both presented to farm dogs were wolfed down so quickly that the hundredth-second stopwatch differential could easily be attributed to operator reaction time.

This is not a bad quality product but why the completely opaque source labeling with only a whole huge continent  of widely varying climate and environment as the “country of origin”?  No state or territory or farm name. The USDA labeling laws don’t preclude more information but they do help obscure those that desire to remain so.

Don’t be reeled-in by colorful, cheery labels with no real information. Can you tell if you are buying from small farms or mysterious corporate entities or brokers?  Where -as in on the map-is the beef raised?  Practically speaking Organic means different things in different settings and practices, particularly when imported.  In tropical native grassland grazing it can mean next to nothing or even be a force for land clearing or other forms of  environmental degradation.  

Reinforcing this madness; cheap ($38USD/acre), raw, previously un-farmed land is actually favored by the NOP in that it does not require the 3 year transition to Organic of lands with a history of conventional farming.


 

 

Soup Bones (Meaty) , Suet, Liver

Quarter orders are normally eligible to receive 2 packages each of soup bones, suet and liver for an up-charge of only $0.50 per pound- of these items- to cover both extra handling and delivery. Halves are eligible for double these quantities in addition to one (1) of the following: heart, tongue or oxtail. You must request w/order: not automatically included.

 

Oxtail Stew: takes the chill off the coldest day

 

This recipe has evolved over the years from an old “Joy of Cooking” version. Better, easier and more healthy.

Begin by browning 3-4 pounds of thawed Oxtail or Soup Bones (pictured) in a skillet w/lard or tallow.  Rotate each piece at least twice until browned on meaty surfaces. Transfer to a 5 quart lidded pot , fill to cover w/water and add peppercorns (10-20 each), bay leaves (3-4),  and salt( 1-2 tsp). While pot is heating , saute until translucent/beginning to caramelize 1-2 cups coarsely chopped onion. Add onion to pot, bring to simmer, cover and stew for 4 hours. You can either remove bones at this point or leave them in. Meat should separate easily from bone.

When stewing time is up add 1/3 cup quick or medium pearled barley, 16 oz stewed or crushed tomatoes (or 2T tomato paste if you prefer a thicker, more sauce-like broth), 1-2 cups coarsely chopped red cabbage, 3 sliced carrots, 1-2 T dried parsley, and 1 tsp each marjoram, thyme,basil and sage. Bring to a low boil and cook uncovered another 30 minutes or until reduced to desired consistency. Serve w/ course salt and pepper and a good sourdough.


 

good stuff

My Foodie Background

 

Disclaimer on “foodie” in that it’s prob’ly been overused to the point of meaninglessness but it seems to still possess instant recognition. Paradoxical in that hardly any modern farmers-those folks closest to the origins of the food supply-would call themselves or be considered foodies.  Most of them I know consider the Sysco-supplied stuff in the local cafe/ roadhouse or the stuff off the Schwanns truck to be good food. Lots of reasons for this “dumbing down” of the traditional farm table: the specialization of modern farms cuts selection of home-grown foods on hand for cooking; tight profit margins mean the farm wife no longer cooks but instead does shift work at a local manufacturer; aging-out of the remaining farmers mean reduced appetites, fewer children, and less energy.

Been in the food business continuously in one way or another since starting at Pillsbury R&D’s fledgling frozen foods group in 1976 as a process technician. Put together and operated a low-budget, skunk-works pilot plant for process experiments on a new Totino’s pizza concept. The engineering came naturally. Learned the basics of cooking , baking and food safety practices from food scientists . Left there in late 80’s- after attaining a mechanical engineering degree and process engineer title- during one of a series of takeovers and downsizing that culminated later in purchase by General Mills.

Went on to Food Engineering , a small fabricator of specialty equipment primarily for the prepared cereal industry. Lots of time spent in vast processing plants starting-up new lines, new products or diagnosing malfunctions. Spent an overnight in a South Korean instant ramen  soup plant  to get the kimchi drying quality they expected out of a new conveyor-type dryer with 3 temperature zones and 5 conveyor levels that required 6 hours retention time.

Quit engineering to take up beef farming/ranching in ’98 while the kids still young enough (10 and 12) to be excited about the prospect.

Stumbled into low-carb nutrition by the back door after a spring and summer of eating old-timey (fat/flavorful) pork out of their 2 Hampshire-ish sows and a stubby, round, spotted gift- boar. The family bought a half pig from them and ate pork a least  4 times a week , believing pork only had a 6 month freezer life. So much pork to eat we hardly had the appetite for carbs beyond that from vegetables. That fall, at my 30th high school re-union, I was lighter in weight (165 pounds) than any point since high school.  Don’t recall exactly how I pieced together cause and effect but I’ve been a low-carb advocate since. Always find reason to regret falling for high glycemic foods.