What questions, if any, should I be asking of this farm? I've seen the pictures of the farm, read their blog, exchange pleasantries with the owners and they seem to be quite lovely people with some lovely, albeit expensive, meat. They are basically sold out for the season but were kind enough to offer me a 10lb box of mixed beef, 10lb box of pork and some REAL bacon (this was sold out but they were nice enough to throw some in for me). They are only about 35-40 minutes away from me so I will get a chance to see the place should I order. I'd really like to establish a relationship with a local farm for the future and this is very close to me. Plus the people just seem awesome and very friendly. Being that they are basically sold out, I need to tell them if I want the meat asap. As this would be an expensive leap of faith is there anything else I should be asking them?
That they are happy to have you come visit means a lot. I would take the meat. It has to be better than feedlot meat no matter what they supplement on top of their pasture feed. You'll have a chance to go visit the farm. You'll get to eat the product and if it's good, you'll know whether to place an order when they're taking large orders again.
Please note that depending on where you live, having 100% grass-fed might not actually be practical or even the best thing for the animals. Where I live, natural grass is seasonal. What will the cows eat when there is no grass? We have two local farms and one feeds the cows oats. The other irrigates to grow grass and uses chickens to fertilize the grass. Using natural rangeland and supplementing with oats is more natural for our local environment, but still involves growing a grain crop somewhere and shipping it. But irrigation and growing a crop of grass isn't perfectly natural either. I think either option produces a good product that is better than feedlot cattle eating cement dust and newspaper.
Female, 5'3", 49, Starting weight: 163lbs. Current weight: 135 (more or less).
Starting squat: 45lbs. Heaviest squat: 180 x 2. Heaviest Deadlift: 230 x 2
Don't ask the farmers. Ask the meat. I love the suggestion of spending a week on the farm.
Let's start a movement. We can call it: Meet your meat.
Paleo Newbie guide to buying grassfed beef direct @ Paleononpaleo.com
I'm with the others that have posted. Ask how much they eat is grass and how much/what is supplimented.
If I'm a farmer, and you're staying on my farm for a week, your ass is going to work. And by work, I mean from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Have you folks actually gone out to farms and talked to your farmers? Do you realize how hard they work? Most of the farmers I have spoken to are glad to show off what they do and welcome an hour or two out of their day to meet consumers - as one farmer I met put it, it's the only vacation time he gets all year round.
Just ask for a tour of the farm and inquire whether they supplement pasture with grains at all. If so, do they do so in winter when grass is scarce? Do they do part silage, part grain in winter? Do they grain-finish for flavor (and in so doing, lose most of the grass-fed benefits)? Do they use managed intensive grazing (regular rotation of paddocks), or do they just turn the cows loose? What kinds of grasses do they plant (one beef farmer called himself a grass farmer, since most of his job entailed having a good mix of grasses and ensuring that the paddocks were always at the right stage for grazing)? Does the farmer raise other pastured animals? If so, does he use them synchronistically a la Salatin (chickens and turkeys following the herd to feed on larva from the droppings, hogs rooting for scraps as a way to "plow" plots of land, e.g.)? What breed(s) are raised and why were those selected? Definitely ask about who does the slaughtering (registered organic? small family operation?), and how the beef is aged (wet or dry) and for how long.
Sometimes you don't need to have a "right" answer, but rather a gateway question to allow the farmer to explain his philosophy. The farmers I've dealt with over the past decade have been family farmers, retired engineers (two of them!), ex-hippies, and ex-white collar folks who just wanted to ditch their lives and get their feet in the dirt, literally. They are some of the best folks I've had the pleasure to know - they are knowledgeable, they work harder than anyone I can think of, and they are committed to the welfare of their animals, the quality of their product, and the concerns of their customers.
Oh, and one thing about pastured farms is that when you visit them in person, you rarely smell shit. I'm serious. Feedlot farms and CAFOs have sewage systems that smell as awful as you would expect, but grass farms rarely smell at all unless you just stepped in something. So farms have to literally pass the smell test for me.