Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Apr

Small, and Not So Small, Farms You Can Trust

farmersmarketShortly after writing the cold cuts post, in which I gave Applegate Farms some praise for being “one of the good ones,” I received an email from a perceptive reader who had a slightly different appraisal of the situation. Applegate Farms, it turns out, doesn’t raise any animals themselves. There’s no farm to visit. They source all their animals from outside farms. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sourcing meat from outside sources, especially when you make a concerted effort to procure good meat from well-raised animals, but I’ll admit that this does change things a bit for me. My idea of the ideal meat producer, however romantic, outdated, or unrealistic it might be, is one that handles every single aspect of the business in house: from raising the animals to feeding them feed grown on site, to tending their pastures, to slaughtering them (or, as the law requires, having them slaughtered at a USDA-inspected “harvesting site”), all the way to curing, slicing, and distributing the meat and related products. I like shaking the hand that castrated the calf, scratched the pig’s snout, and collected the egg, as the other slides me a vacuum-sealed package of short ribs at the Saturday morning farmers’ market.

Am I being overly romantic about a messy, bloody process? Perhaps. Unimportant in the big scheme of things? Maybe the farming practices responsible for your burger don’t matter on some cosmic scale, especially next to wars, poverty, unemployment, or even your mortgage, but on a personal level they certainly do. Unrealistic, on a wide scale? For now, yes, but without customers demanding it become more common, it will remain so indefinitely. That means it’s on you and it’s on me to make it realistic.

There are also solid, less “idealist” reasons for supporting farms that do it all. For one, you know what you’re getting. Or, to be more accurate, they know what they’re selling. As much as a company pledges to maintain strict standards of quality and care, if they aren’t personally caring for, observing, and raising the animals, there is room for error. And as business grows and they’re forced to draw on more sources to maintain supply, things get dicier. Corners may be cut. That one ranch might feed grain on the sly to get weight up in time for slaughter. Or it might be that the truly grass-fed farmers simply can’t keep up with the demands of the distributor. Whole Foods just doubled their grass-fed hot dog orders for next month; what if the Uruguayan beef isn’t available in time? As one Paleohacks user noted, his package of Applegate Farms roast beef via Trader Joe’s was discreetly labeled “Vegetarian Grain-Fed,” contrary to their website’s strong implication that all Applegate Farms beef is grass-fed. He sent some emails and made some calls, eventually speaking to someone who confirmed that sometimes they will release grain-fed when grass-fed “is not available.” It’s a little odd that they push the grass-fed thing on the website only to discard it in practice. Well, maybe not odd, exactly, but it’s too bad that grass-fed isn’t always available. Ultimately, money wins out.

The reader who alerted me thought I could, and should, have focused on those meat producers that were really doing it the right way. I’m inclined to agree, with a caveat. Applegate Farms is serving a valuable purpose. They’re offering (mostly) grass-fed beef products and various other animal products (the sources of which vary in quality and pedigree) to large markets, and that’s a good thing. When the kids want to BBQ hot dogs, I like that grass-fed dogs are widely available. That said, let’s look at some producers who keep things in house. Surprisingly, they aren’t always tiny family farms with a distribution composed solely of high-end restaurants and farmers’ markets.

Like Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, located in the Sierra foothills and run by the same family that’s run it since 1949. While young turkeys are kept penned in for their own safety, after six weeks the turkeys live on the range, using shrubs and trees for roosting and shelter. In fact, the Diestels coined their own term – “range grown” – to differentiate their methods from “free range,” a term that frankly doesn’t mean a whole lot at this point. They’re fed a “vegetarian diet,” but I doubt the birds turn up their waddles at the delicious grubby bugs sharing the range with them. Diestel processes hundreds of thousands of turkeys. They raise them all. They process them all using their own facilities. This is a massive operation, but it’s run like a smaller farm. They distribute the whole turkeys themselves, make deli products from the meat, and distribute that, too. I’ve purchased whole turkeys (delicious), cases of frozen turkey hearts (Buddha’s favorite snack), and used their deli meat (wrapped around a slab of aged cheddar and some young goat cheese is the way to do it). In case you’re skeptical a massive operation can maintain quality while keeping everything in house, consider that when a Sacramento food co-op (think patchouli, a preponderance of vegetarians, smugness, and awesome bulk grain bins!) looked into Diestel’s practices (PDF), they left very impressed. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Diestel farms so I reached out to them to be a sponsor of PrimalCon. They’re donating meat to this year’s event.)

Fork in the Road Foods is an example of the Applegate Farms-esque model done right. CA-based, they’re a bunch of chefs, foodies, and farmers who obtain only pasture-raised beef, heirloom pork, and pasture-raised chicken and turkey from small family farms and turn it all into delicious hot dogs, sausages, and deli meat. I’ve run across their miniature pastured wieners at Whole Foods before, marveled at the novelty of a grass-fed Vienna sausage lookalike, and was forced to make the purchase. I’m glad I did. It’s quality stuff. Knowing that they only work with real stewards of the land helps, too. Of course, they remain pretty small and agile, and if they reach Applegate Farms proportions, things might change. But maybe not. We’ll never know unless we keep supporting small operations like Fork in the Road Foods. To see if they distribute to your area, enter your zip and find out.

Going even more local, I wanted to give some love to one of my favorite beef and pork farms. It’s Rocky Canyon Farms, located in Atascadero, CA, so old-school that they don’t even have a web presence yet (if ever). They sell mainly at SoCal farmers’ markets and to high-end restaurants. The owner, Greg, is a husky, friendly farmer who feeds his cattle grass and leftover veggies and lets his pigs roam. His main representative at the Santa Monica market is a slightly crazy, extremely enthusiastic dude named Mike. Mike will often toss in some melons (they grow several varieties), squash (again, many varieties), tomatoes, or sweet potatoes with my meat for free. Mike will also eat sweet potatoes raw. Seriously, if you’re ever at the Saturday morning SM farmers’ market, look for the lanky dude with a sleeveless T and wild eyes hawking meat, fruit, and juice. If he’s selling sweet potatoes that day, casually mention that you heard some people actually “eat these things raw.” That should be enough of a cue to get him to chomp down on one, skin and all. It’s a sight that must be beheld before you die. As for the actual meat, highlights include pork breakfast sausage (buy it in bulk, rather than pre-made patties), chuck steaks (economical, flavorful, fatty, tendony cut), bacon (arrive early for this, cause it sells out fast), various jerkies, beef tongue, ground beef w/bacon, and the various roasts. The prices are really quite reasonable, especially compared to a place like Whole Foods, and you’re cutting out the middle man. The money goes directly to the guy who raised the meat.

Anyway, those are three examples from California. One’s a massive operation with national distribution that manages to retain its autonomy. Another is an up and coming confederation of idealistic farmers, chefs, and eaters who want to make food the right way with the right ingredients, while the last is a hyper-local entity that will probably never see wide-scale distribution but who likes it that way. All take personal responsibility for the quality of the product, from beginning to end. All are to be admired (and supported). These work for me, in my neck of the woods. If you don’t yet have your own go-to farmer, visit EatWild to search and find one today.

Now tell me about your area. Where do you get your meat? Your eggs? Whose bloodstained (in the best way possible!) hand do you shake? Is there a larger operation in your neck of the woods that you trust and can look to with pride and say, “Those guys are doing it right in a big way”? Tell me – tell us – all about it in the comment section, so others can support them, too.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Awesome site. I used the eat wild site to find a local farm close to me in VA to do a cowshare program and get some of my own raw milk.

    Gary Deagle wrote on April 13th, 2011
  2. WOW! Just ate a raw sweet potato…skin and all…WILD! (gums are a little sore though…forgot to wash it first…hate when that happens). Will get an apple next time for sure. GREAT post! thanx :)

    Jesselyn wrote on April 13th, 2011
  3. I live in Phoenix, and buy from A Bar H Farms (AZ ranchers). Awesome lamb, beef, chickens, and eggs. I’m encouraging them to start with goats, and I think they’re going to….would love a goat source!

    Diane wrote on April 13th, 2011
    • Hi Diane! I live in Phoenix as well. We’ve been looking for a local source for lamb. How is it? We get our beef from Date Creek Ranch in Wickenburg. Very good beef and very nice people!

      Nice to see primal folks in the desert!:)

      Desert Caveman wrote on April 13th, 2011
  4. Hi!
    I live up in Bellingham, WA and this is a great place to get lots of local treats! I’ve been buying my chicken eggs from Misty Meadows Farm and have now fallen in love with heritage duck eggs from Laurel Country Gardens Organic Farm! The farmer’s market up here is another great place to get local stuff. Or, if you’re super lucky, you might know someone with a connection to a local/family farm and can buy in bulk!!!

    Melissa Szabo wrote on April 13th, 2011
  5. WOW! Just ate a RAW sweet potato …skin and all. WILD! Gums are a little sore though. Forgot to wash it first. Hate when that happens. Will definately get an apple next time though. GREAT post Mark. thanx.

    Jesselyn wrote on April 13th, 2011
  6. Admittedly, I really like Applegate Farms. While their deli meats and the like don’t make up any significant calories in my diet, it’s great to have occasionally.

    My husband and I recently purchased a 1/4 side of beef from Rhodemont Farms; we live in Rhode Island and they have a farm here as well as in Vermont which is where they raise their beef. The meat is absolutely delicious. We asked a lot of questions before purchasing their meat and they were so enthusiastic to answer our questions. Fantastic experience & quality beef.

    Samantha wrote on April 13th, 2011
  7. In you live in the Chicago area….
    Wallace Farms of Keystone IA, brings pastured beef, poultry, lamb and wild fish and seafood through buying clubs several times per month and has a permanent warehouse location in Naperville. The clubs meet once a month at each location, Wauconda, IL and downtown Chicago. Go to Wallacefarms.com for more information.
    The beef is really superior quality and not horrendously expensive, if you don’t buy fancy cuts.

    Lila wrote on April 13th, 2011
  8. You make a good point. Farms like applegate are a bridge between the ideal farm (does everything themselves) and the modern farm (maximum efficiency; i.e. outsourcing tasks). I think its great that we are seeing more farms like this as I think it means higher quality food will be available at a cheaper price.

    Jeremy Priestner wrote on April 13th, 2011
  9. Get rid of the triple posts pleeease! LOL! sorry.

    Jesselyn wrote on April 13th, 2011
  10. I live in Atlanta, GA and we get delicious high quality grass fed meat and pasture eggs from Carlton Farms. Chad Carlton, our farmer is incredibly progressive and dedicated to bringing his customers quality locally produced food including cheeses, honey, fruits and vegetables and raw milk. He makes deliveries to several suburbs of Atlanta once a week. He has a website with order forms and information about his products. I have actually visited the farm with my husband and children and we were all quite impressed with the operation. When Chad is out of meat, we shop for local grass fed meat at Whole Foods which is good but much more
    expensive.

    Sabrina wrote on April 13th, 2011
  11. There is a grass-fed beef place near me here in Kansas. I just emailed them and I am going to go check it out.

    Chapman Creek Farms near Abilene.

    NoSurf wrote on April 13th, 2011
  12. Has anyone in MA/New England tried Red Fire Farm? I was looking into their CSA because it delivers close to my place.

    Alisha wrote on April 13th, 2011
  13. Here’s another place in GA stokesfarm.com
    Buying my first 1/4 and my eggs in April.

    TH wrote on April 13th, 2011
  14. US Wellness has an excellent variety of grassfed beef, as well as grok-safe chicken, pork, and salmon. We order from them every 2 weeks Here is a (affiliate) link to their website:
    http://bit.ly/grassfed_selection

    findchris wrote on April 13th, 2011
  15. Mark, the simple fact of the matter is we would all like to eat range-free, grass fed meat, and non-toxic produce all the time. However, it is obvious that there simply isn’t enough grass available in the U.S. to feed everyone range-free, grass fed meats. So, I do the best I can and eat what is available, and try to insure it is as clean as it can be. We can’t always get pure non-toxic foods all the time, but we can do it when available, and lessen the toxic effects on our bodies by proper sleep exercise and eating as clean as we can when the pure stuff isn’t readily available. I look at it kind of like your 80-20 philosophy. If I am adhering to a good clean regimen 80% of the time, the 20% doesn’t hurt me that much.

    Bull wrote on April 13th, 2011
  16. I live in Philadelphia. I get my unpasteurized milk and fresh from the farm unpasteurized eggs and meat(frozen) from The Reading Terminal. There is a Farm Fresh stand there…this week they had these huge beautiful blue eggs that were the size of a little football…I did not buy them but the color was georgous. The prices are higher than the crap in the regular markets. LOVE THIS PLACE.

    deborah wrote on April 13th, 2011
  17. The Eat Wild website is a good resource for finding grass-fed meats, raw milk and cheeses, etc.

    http://www.eatwild.com/products/index.html

    Just plug in your state and look down the list. I am fortunate to live in Pennsylvania where there is a plethora of small farms who raise things the right way.

    Laurie D. wrote on April 13th, 2011
  18. Amen – another great post! I grew up on a farm and we raised our animals from birth to slaughter (done by us) – with plenty of nose scratching and feather fluffing in between.

    I whole-heartedly agree in knowing exactly where your meat (and produce) comes from. However, we have to roll with the punches sometimes and do what we can – for example my family just moved across several states and have been staying with in-laws for a few months while looking for a place of our own. We ran out of our own hunted meat in the deep freeze during this time, and not knowing for sure where we would end up, yes, meat has come from I’m not sure where (though I try to source as responsibly as I can – Whole Foods, etc.).

    We will soon be in our own place and I have sourced a CSA for this spring/summer/fall, and also put a deposit on two halves of beef for summer and fall (from a local ranch where I can see the animals as they grow). Yay! Also there may be elk hunting this fall – big YAY!

    Dawn wrote on April 13th, 2011
  19. Huge ups to Jericho Settlers’ Farm in northern Vermont! They really are leading the way in grass-fed beef and pastured lamb, pork, and chicken, as well as loads of veggies.

    Chickadee wrote on April 13th, 2011
  20. Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm, right outside Carrboro, NC. Great grassfed beef, plus pork, lamb, and chicken. My fingers are still greasy from eating one of their marrow bones for dinner…

    Margaret wrote on April 13th, 2011
  21. Moonshine Meats – Athens and Atlanta, GA. I get grass fed liver and heart from them.

    Carter wrote on April 13th, 2011
  22. For anyone in the Denver/Boulder, Colorado area I’d recommend RockyPlains up in Dacono. I drove over to their ranch and store in Dacono and had a great conversation with the owner. Took pictures of the Bison for my daughter, bought a bunch of meat, and even tasted raw cow’s milk and raw goat’s milk. I’m not big into dairy, but that stuff has me reconsidering. I felt like I had a flashback like the food critic in the kids movie Ratatouille when I tasted the raw milk. Unlike anything I’ve ever had and am considering a goat or cow share so I can get some more of that stuff. Sorry, not Primal, but that stuff was good!

    Bob Connors wrote on April 13th, 2011
  23. I get heritage chickens, pastured eggs, bacon, hamburger, steaks, etc. from http://wholefarmcoop.com/ This is a cooperative of about 30 producers based in Long Prairie, MN. They deliver once a month to churches around the Twin Cities metro area. It’s pretty fantastic and I get sad if I run out of eggs early because even the supposedly free-range organic eggs in the store are no comparison. They have a customer meeting once a year where you can go and ask questions, find out what some of the current issues are (why costs are going up), and meet some of the producers. There is a producer that makes personal care products (her name is Patty) and she is fantastic. She sources her ingredients locally as much as possible (unfortunately some things just don’t grow well in MN) and will even take special requests. I absolutely love it. We also have several cooperative grocery stores in the metro where various local farms will sell some of their products.

    Renae wrote on April 13th, 2011
  24. In northwest Connecticut, I go to Stuart Family Farm for all natural, pastured, grass fed beef, pork, chicken and eggs; http://www.stuartfamilyfarm.com.

    Jls2rt wrote on April 13th, 2011
  25. I live in Phoenix, AZ and we get our meat from a local ranch in Wickenburg called Date Creek Ranch. http://www.datecreekranch.com/ They are very friendly and allow tours of their ranch. If anyone lives in the Phoenix area and is looking for some grass fed beef, talk to these guys! They also have an organic orchard which you can visit and pick your own apples. Awsome!

    Desert Caveman wrote on April 13th, 2011
  26. We raise chickens and pigs for ourselves and a few close friends and family… if you have even a small plot of land a group of 3 hens is a great way to get closer to the food you eat. Eggs are a great food source and the hens require such little effort to be happy and healthy. Here in upstate ny we enjoy our birds both in the yard and on the table.

    MM wrote on April 13th, 2011
  27. In San Diego, I use Green Beef CSA. Every month I pickup a share of different cuts. The cows are 100% grassfed and finished on their farm in Missouri. They are also Welfare Approved, meaning humanely slaughtered. It works out to $8 a pound and tastes bueno.

    Kevin wrote on April 13th, 2011
  28. Oh how I wish we lived in a time in which we could all grow our own food. But not all of us have the ability to do so, nor do we want to, which is perfectly fine. That being said, the reality is that we don’t know what we’re eating unless we raise it ourselves, or get to be very good friends with our farmer neighbors. For those of you in western Montana, check out http://www.homegrownmontana.org for trusted food. For those of you on the eastern side of the state, contact me or the Bozeman co-op, which is the closest quality provider. Thank you again Mark for the awesome post, and thank you for the wonderful comments everyone!

    Sara wrote on April 13th, 2011
  29. US Wellness Meats rocks when it comes to chicken, beef, and pork. I am lucky enough to fish for my salmon, halibut, and crab off of the Pacific Coast. Eggs come from two different farm girls whom I work with! Life is Good!!!

    grokella wrote on April 13th, 2011
  30. I get eggs from my 20 hens — can’t get fresher than that. I feed them, so I know exactly what they eat. I let them out to wander about for bugs and grass, and I wash and refill their water jugs and add a spoonful of apple cider vinegar. I give them yogurt or cottage cheese from time to time for a treat. I count them as I shut them in the coop for the night.
    We buy meat from local farmers. THE best bacon ever came from Lovers Lane Farm in Ukiah, CA, and we specified that it be unsmoked. We baked the 1-pound slabs at 250 until they firmed up enough to slice, then fully cooked each slice just before using. Oh, pork crack to die for.

    Jeanmarie wrote on April 13th, 2011
  31. Full Circle Bison Ranch in southern Oregon is awesome with their grass-fed bison and pastured pork. They ship! fullcirclebisonranch.com

    I feel like a broken record, but we are so fortunate here to have so many local, conscientious farmers and ranchers. I can safely buy pork, bison, beef, rabbit, goat, eggs, and I’ve even occasionally been able to buy a corn- and soy-free chicken.

    Karen P. wrote on April 13th, 2011
  32. I like the farmers market here in Stillwater Oklahoma. The lamb guy, Nathan, beats the supermarkets prices and sells fresh eggs any size that you like. Plus at the market you can buy sandwich bags full of fresh herbs like, rosemary, bay leafs, oregano, and thyme for only a buck. And if you are guilty of sometimes straying from the primal fare Leah makes brownies from stone ground Mexican chocolate topped with pine nuts. So if your every by Oklahoma State, stop at Strickland Park every Wednesday and Saturday from 8 to 1.

    Kenneth wrote on April 13th, 2011
  33. I have so far never seen grass-fed beef anywhere in Germany. The health-food stores seem to hate to sell meat in the first place, and if they have it, it is corn-fed, just the corn was organic…

    Jill wrote on April 13th, 2011
  34. We live in the Washington DC suburbs (Maryland) and I get weekly delivery from South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, MD (yes it’s dairy). They produce their own grass-fed milk products, butter, heavy cream etc.. I also get eggs, lard, and a bunch of other local items delivered from them. I buy beef from Hedgeapple Farm in Buckeystown, MD – all free range grass-fed. Also, my best friend from high school has a 13 acre “farmette” where they raise some animals. Last year she raise a pig for us, so we have our own pork for the year – we’ll get another one this summer. These are local places that we’ve visited many times so it’s easy to see how they run the operation.

    Tammy wrote on April 14th, 2011
  35. A long way from California, for sure; but in the deep South,we are fortunate to get our beef from Hodge Ranch. (hodgeranch.com). Sure beats getting it at WalMart!

    Cristie wrote on April 14th, 2011
  36. I get my beef from my neighbor. They’re grass fed organic. This summer I’m buying a half freezer portion. I’ve already seen which animal it will probably be.

    I get eggs from my back yard.

    Other meats come from various local farmers or from one of several local food markets in my area. A few stores have opened up in the past couple of years which are pretty much permanent farmers markets. They all have info about each product and the farm they came from.

    I also have bison, venison and elk farms within a ten minute drive and a fish shop which sells fresh catch from the lake (Huron).

    I’m pretty lucky here. The local small farm economy is already great here and is growing like crazy.

    Nettle wrote on April 14th, 2011
  37. I live in Naples FL.. havent found anything close so I have been ordering from Slankers Grassfed Meat… google them and check them out.. Great product, nice people! Pastured Chicken, pigs, turkey.. Grassfed Lamb, bison, beef, butter, wild caught fish etc!!

    Nick wrote on April 14th, 2011
  38. I live in Iowa and have tried to find a good local farm that raises grass fed and finished beef. Unfortunately, when I’ve spoken with them, I am either A. not convinced that the cattle are grass fed/finished or B. disappointed in their prices compared to what I buy over the internet right now. The best place in terms of prices I’ve found anywhere is Slankers Grass Fed Meat. He is over the top focused on grass fed and that’s why I trust that what I am getting is the real thing. I’ve found that whenever someone beats his prices, after I talk with them, I feel unsure as to whether it’s 100% grass fed. And if it’s not, I’m not gonna spend the extra money!

    Steven wrote on April 14th, 2011
  39. For readers in the upper-midwest, I recommend Grass Run Farm. Their policies and their products are fantastic.

    http://www.grassrunfarm.com/

    A Reader wrote on April 14th, 2011
  40. Oh great, not even U S Wellness Meats can be trusted. Dammit.

    Phocion Timon wrote on April 14th, 2011

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