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 My idea of the ideal meat producer, however romantic, outdated, or unrealistic it might be, is one that handles every single aspect of the business in house: from raising the animals to feeding them feed grown on site, to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. Mark, I know you’re from Maine, are you familiar with Bisson’s in Topsham? It’s a family owned farm that has been around since the 30’s, raises their own livestock in large grassy pastures and sells their product right there from their own butcher shop on property. It’s ridiculously good, grass fed, locally raised stuff that is actually more affordable than my local grocery store, to speak nothing of the quality itself. I’m very lucky to have them 10 minutes from my house and since I found them 8-9 months ago, I’ve probably purchased under 5 pounds of meat from other sources. They’re so old school, they don’t have a website to share, but they can be “friended” on Facebook for anyone in Maine who wants to learn more.

    Eric E wrote on April 14th, 2011
  2. In Canada buying meat or milk from a farmer is like a drug deal. You have to ask around, make connections, when you finally find the farmer, you have to trust them, and they have to trust you. I’m lucky because my illegal dairy farmer (for the past 15 years) just married an organic pork farmer, and now I can get both! Here is my farmers website…but it’s all legal stuff, not much about food. http://www.glencoltonfarms.com/

    Rhonda wrote on April 14th, 2011
    • I’m in Canada (Ontario) and have no problem buying meat from farmers. Not only can I easily get it from the farm itself but they sell in farmers markets and through local food stores. There’s even a specific meat market in a nearby town that sells lots of local small farm meat and products. There’s little restrictions on them selling if it’s butchered in a certified place. Farm butchered meat is another thing though and of course raw milk. Getting raw milk is more like a drug deal.

      Egg regs are a pain as well. I can sell my chicken eggs legally from my property but it’s a no go at markets or off property if they haven’t been graded first. Technically just transporting them to a friend is illegal. No restrictions on selling my ducks eggs at markets though which is good but kinda silly.

      Nettle wrote on April 14th, 2011
      • Where are you located?

        Rhonda wrote on April 14th, 2011
    • ” I’m lucky because my illegal dairy farmer just married an organic pork farmer,..” LMAO

      THAT made me laugh! :)

      Suvetar wrote on April 14th, 2011
      • It’s even more funny cause it’s true!

        Rhonda wrote on April 14th, 2011
  3. In my neck of the woods, Orlando. FL. I get my local grass-fed and pastured farm foods from http://www.farmfreshdirect2u.com. A bit pricey but worth it to get stuff my local farmers. They’ve got raw dairy, grass-fed beef, pastured pork and what I really love is the fresh cream.

    Amasi wrote on April 14th, 2011
  4. This is great. Check out my blog at girlsinthegym.com

    Nicole Perrault wrote on April 14th, 2011
  5. Not seen any comments from England so here’s mine.. I’ve started getting most of my meat from http://www.parsonage-farm.co.uk/ which is only 8 or so miles from where I live – but the best bit is they have a stall at the monthly farmers market in my village which means a ~300 yard walk up the road.

    At the same market there’s usually someone selling game (rabbits, pheasants, venison) – The other month he had some Muntjac venison which I couldn’t resist. Muntjacs are officially classified as vermin in this country as an introduced species.. We get muntjacs in our garden and I class them as really beautiful creatures to see snuffling about underneath the bird feeders – sometimes with a young fawn(?) – very Bambi like. But when the haunch came out of the oven, I classed it as delicious…

    I get my eggs from the (Tesco) Supermarket which has a few decent brands – e.g. http://www.thehappyegg.co.uk/

    It’s dinner time soon – Rabbit Stew in the oven.. Cheers, Phil.

    Phil_J wrote on April 14th, 2011
  6. We live in Austin, TX and buy all of our meat from Richardson Farms (http://www.richardsonfarms.com/). Their meat is all delicious and we recently purchased a side of beef from them.

    Chris wrote on April 14th, 2011
  7. For anyone living in Memphis or southwest Tennessee, I recommend Westwind Farms, Donnell farms, and Newman farms, Andrew Donnell is an awesome guy, and all three are at the Farmer’s market with eggs, bacon, pork, beef (Donnell farms does beef and eggs), poultry (Westwind does it all). You can also find their stuff at Miss Cordelia’s and the Trolley Stop market.

    Reena wrote on April 14th, 2011
  8. For IDAHO:

    Grass-fed/finished beef, pork and limited chicken/eggs and organ meats http://www.homesteadnatural.com

    Grass-fed/finished (certified organic) truly wild beef and organ meats http://www.alderspring.com

    Suvetar wrote on April 14th, 2011
  9. We live in southern North Carolina. Our favorite local farmers are Rainbow Meadow Farms of Snow Hill. Last year, they held a meet and greet at their farm. It was phenomenal to meet such a wonderful family and to see their passion for raising quality, natural products. Touring their farm was a fantastic experience for our young children. We tell anyone we can about their outstanding Berkshire pork. Here is a link to their page: http://www.rmfpasturepuremeats.com/

    Lisa wrote on April 14th, 2011
  10. Swift Level Beef in Lewisburg, WV gets it right. They are a family run operation They do outsource the slaughter and packaging of their steers (to a local VA meat processor which is also a small family run shop), but their grass-fed beef is excellent. We purchased a 1/2 steer in January and it’s fantastic. The price was great as well.

    http://www.theswiftlevel.com/historic_places/estates_horses_cattle/grass_fed_beef.aspx

    JP Flores wrote on April 15th, 2011
  11. Raw grated sweet potato with apple and cinnamon is great! You should try it sometime Mark! I used to eat it during my very brief raw vegan stint. Never ate the skin though….

    Robin wrote on April 15th, 2011
  12. Ron Gargasz Organic Farm and Horizon View Farms source organic grass-fed beef franks for me in western Pennsylvania. I own a Pittsburgh frankfurter emporium (www.franktuary.com) and I’d love to serve all grass-fed all the time. Production is the bottle neck, though. My place is small and my farmers do all they can to keep me in supply, yet grass-fed beef accounts for no more than 20% of my total sales. Grass-fed ground beef is far easier to keep in supply, but my company’s entire brand is built around the hot dog… and it’s what the overwhelming majority of my customers are after!

    Tim Tobitsch wrote on April 17th, 2011
  13. I am lucky enough to live a few miles down the road from Sap Bush Hollow Farm, one of the best and most conscientious farms I’ve ever known. We get ALL our beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and eggs from them. Sap Bush is a family farm run by Jim and Adele Hayes, their daughter Shannon Hayes, her husband Bob Hooper and of course the grandchildren, Saoirse and Ula. Shannon is the author of wonderful books that I recommend for anyone’s Primal shelf: THE FARMER AND THE GRILL and THE GRASS-FED GOURMET. We are grateful for the opportunity to support our neighbors while supporting our health.

    Joellyn wrote on April 18th, 2011
  14. We grow (100% grass fed) beef to sell so we get to choose the steer of choice for ourselves every autumn. We have a seriously large garden, greenhouse (less than easy winter here) and six to thirty hens, depending… We need to reorganise ourselves for pigs as we didn’t think we were raising them as well as we could (welfare, wise).

    Mary sells herbs seasonally to local cafes. I shoot the odd hare for the dogs. I’m keen to get a couple of weaned lambs in again (spring) but they are pretty dear lately. I like eating a meal like tonight’s, totally from the property.

    kem wrote on April 19th, 2011
  15. I am a newbie from the Paleo Diet crowd and love what gets posted at MDA.

    I agree hunting is by far the best source of lean meats but game is not so plentiful at times. Therefore, most often buying the commercial stuff is the only avenue. But, does anyone raise their own meat for their personal consumption? This would be a sure fired way of knowing how and what the animal has eaten and how it is cared for. It isn’t Primal I realize and a last resort of sorts.

    Sfter being screened with high cholesterol, my partner and I agreed to started raising small animals. We have rabbits as a start, which we learned is one of the leanest and healthiest proteins available.

    Please add any thoughts or comments. Thanks

    Beth wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Not sure why raising your own animal would not be perfect for the primal diet.

      RE smaller animals that you could raise without a lot of land. Chickens are small & can provide both meat & eggs. Many people are now raising them in cities.

      If you have a little space, sheep, goats & hogs aren’t huge animals to begin with & there are smaller breeds of each of them.

      If you have a couple of acres, there are a lot of smaller cattle breeds (like Lowline Angus) that only get up to about 1/2 the size of a full sized beef animal.

      TJ wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • Thanks TJ for your support and suggestion. I’ll research the Lowline breed and check it out.

        We chose rabbits because of the conversion factor, that is to get 1 lb of meat requires 2 lbs of feed. Cattle is 8:1, which is high cost. Chickens as you mentioned is another good choice. They are messy to harvest however..feathers everywhere!

        Beth wrote on April 21st, 2011
  16. If you’re in Arizona try Doublecheckranch.com. This is the sole source of my beef. It is completely family run and 100% in house. Paul is a great guy, family man, and even offers tours of the ranch which is in Winkleman Arizona. He also sells chicken fryers and eggs from one of his neighbors.

    DJ wrote on April 22nd, 2011
  17. We were purchasing meat from these good folks for a while then discovered that the U of AZ Meat Lab sells grass-fed for half the cost of the local ranchers.

    Price is king these days…Thanks for the post DJ.

    Beth wrote on April 22nd, 2011
  18. You can trust Applegate because we have no invested interest in any farms or equipment…that we only do what is best for the customer…also, you can trust us because we trust no one…everything we do is third party verified….we are set up to address precisely the concerns above!

    Applegate wrote on April 25th, 2011
  19. In the SF Bay Area, one of the best is Marin Sun Farms.

    Ben wrote on July 19th, 2011
  20. I’ve ordered from US Wellness Meats for over two years. For the past several months, I once received spoiled meat and the second time, in the heat of summer, my meat arrived WARM in the box, without any ice packs. Apparently, they’ve had alot of problems lately. If they raise their meats as clumsily as they package it, then it can’t be very good. And for my troubles — a $10 credit for the first one. And a $25 credit for the second. I lost over $200 with them. Never again. If they had made good on their errors. If only they had enough integrity to stand behind their products. Buyer beware.

    Michael wrote on July 13th, 2012
  21. In Ottawa, ON I have purchased my meat from Aubrey’s but there is another great local farm that I want to mention for anyone in the area: Dagenais Farm in Embrun.

    Sharon wrote on March 18th, 2013
  22. Here in Wisconsin I haven’t seen many farms that are doing it. But we are working our way to have everything born or hatched, lovingly raised and humanely slaughtered right on farm. This is our first year but that is our goal as a business but more importantly as a part of the Real Food community. Another model is Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont. They are building their own USDA on farm slaughtering facilities.

    Sara wrote on January 16th, 2014
  23. Thank you all for caring as much as I do about how these animals are treated. They are not items they are not products they are alive and have feelings. I considered being a vegetarian but After much research, I saw meat is so good for us. We are made to eat other animals just as most of them also eat meat. I just believe in showing respect by giving that animal the best life prior to its death and making its death quick and as painless as
    Possible. My sons and husband and I always say thank you to the animal before we bite into it. We also call burger “cow” and ham “pig” because I don’t want them to forget it isn’t a pretzel- something had to die to give us that protein. Show those animals some love and kindness and then Bon appetit’. :)

    Rachel wrote on January 17th, 2014
  24. Primal/ Paleo/ Ancestral should enter the fray when it comes to protecting traditional farming methods such as those in the Balkans. Hungary is being balky and whiny lately partly because of this issue. We care as much as they do about healthy whole foods and good animal husbandry on real pastures, we should stand together. Here is another example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM9X-_-dQ98 A documentary about the Carpathians which includes the wilderness aspect and also the pasture raised sheep and sheep’s milk that is under threat of EU regulation.

    Lisa wrote on June 30th, 2014
  25. Hello,
    Thats awesome you have these organtic meats,
    But the usda will probally shut you down do to NO chemical base meat, watch this link, as you learn the true facts about our meat population.

    link below
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUkA-0Qv4mE

    marty wrote on August 13th, 2014

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