We have seen “knockoffs” in handbags, clothing, watches, and jewelry, but BEEF and PORK? The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) reversed a “Country Of Origin Labeling” law that permits beef raised in other countries to be “commingled” with US beef and be sold to consumers with a “Made in the USA” label.
But don’t worry, you still have the peace of mind that your lamb, goat, and macadamia nuts will comply with the County Of Origin Labeling Law, or “COOL”.
Why would the USDA, that is supposed to protect the US food consumer and give transparency to what we are eating, change this labeling law and carve out beef and pork from the regulation?
Follow the Money
To get to the heart of the matter, I am going to quote the movie All the President’s Men, “Follow The Money”. The beef and pork industry is controlled by 4 companies, which have 85% of the beef market (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, and National Beef), and 74% of the pork market (JBS, Tyson, Hormel, and Smithfield).
The USDA states the cost savings of not having to label the origin of the meat to consumer supply chain to be 196 million dollars per year. While this savings beef processors reap from not having to label where the beef comes from is not inconsequential, think about the “cheap” beef from other countries that gets mixed into the US beef supply chain. Now we are talking real money!!! This means the supplier of our food can mix beef and pork from Brazil (the USDA just suspended all imports from Brazil because of rotten beef entering the world supply chain), Australia, Mexico, India, Canada, and Paraguay and still say “Made in the USA”. Get a brand name handbag or watch made cheaply in China rather than with quality and craftsmanship from Italy or Switzerland, then charge the price that the true brand does- that’s a huge markup and its criminal!!
The USDA says that this is not a food safety issue, but I believe we are setting ourselves up for the next type of “mad cow crisis” in the US. By losing this transparency, our food chain has no traceable audit at the grocery store and producers have no responsibility to the consumer. I care what goes into my body! What’s next? mix other “proteins” into the beef and pork supply chain and say “real beef”? Just because these big meat companies have lobbying clout, doesn’t give them the right to increase their profits by delivering calories the cheapest way possible through “tricking” the buyer with questionable products!
What You Can Do
I am all for competition, but at least make the playing field equal! Without this law, multinational companies have an unfair advantage over smaller, domestic farmers and ranchers that will suffer from the cheaper pricing of beef and pork. Even more importantly, each country has different standards and protocols in their meat production; consumers deserve protection and to know what they are buying and where it comes from.
Let’s be “COOL” and bring back labeling that affects us all through something as basic as the food we eat!
Calving season is here, and we’ve had some beautiful calves born- so far 20+, and counting! This is actually our first season having an actual “calving season”. When we bought our first cows 2 years ago, some were pregnant already, and some we put with the bull as soon as we got them, and so the calving was happening whenever. This is difficult. Some were calving in the deep, brutal winter and it is just too hard for both mamas and babies. We now introduce the bull in the summer/early fall so they calve in the spring (takes them 9 months just like humans!).
It really is amazing to watch how nature works in the circle of life. The cows at our farm get pregnant “the old-fashioned way”. We introduce a bull and he goes at it for three to four months- (I know, lucky guy!) When a bull gets the cows pregnant they call it "the bull has settled" the cows.
In a farm that raises beef like ours, there are important, but different traits you look and hope for in the cows and in the bull. What is important in the cow (female) is that they have a good disposition, are good with calving, have good teats for milking, produce enough milk, are protective mothers, and can wean the calves at the right age. The bull is very important for us, as he is the one that can improve the herd through his genetics. For him, we look for an easy disposition, able to do well in the Wisconsin climate, a solid wide frame, and medium height. If he is wider and has a medium build he will grow well on the grass pastures and will likely pass on these genetics.
The birthing process is interesting (and beautiful) too. At our farm, the cows give birth out in the pasture- just like in nature. We watch them carefully while they are pregnant and in those final days, making sure they have plenty of water and that they don’t seem uncomfortable or sick. The seasoned mothers usually drop them with little assistance and no intervention. These are the ones where we just wake up, check on them, and there’s a new calf sucking on them! First time mothers can be a bit trickier. Some may need a little intervention since it is their first, and those we watch more closely. We had one this season that gave birth to a stillborn calf and was weak after the birth, but still alive. We tended to her, but she didn’t make it. I must admit, this is the saddest and the hardest part of farming.
Believe it or not, some cows are NOT good mothers, while others are extremely maternal. We had a cow that would not let her calf suck; she wouldn’t even look at it! She had NO maternal instincts. And that’s when you decide- she has to go! On the other hand, there was a relentless mama of twins that was pregnant again so we needed to separate the twins from her to wean them (they were already “teenagers”) so that her body can prepare for the new calf to be born. This lady jumped over fences, knocked over gates and finally got to the calves we were trying to wean. Wow! We’re keeping her…but watching her. And we still have to wean those twins a different way. We’ll take them to one of our far pastures for two weeks stretch.
And sometimes we are just in awe with nature and animals will to survive. A calf was recently born and no cow took ownership of her, usually this is the end of the calf, as it can’t get milk. We call this particular calf the “milk bandit”! She works her way around the herd and sucks milk from whichever mama shares some of its milk. Now that’s a street-smart calf!!!!
It’s been a great season so far with only 1 sad loss and many beautiful beginnings. Now on to growing the herd on our great, green pastures!
Springtime at the farm is a busy time. We get ready to transition the cows from eating hay (that we harvested last year) to the new fresh grass that is growing in our pastures.
One of the “dirty” jobs at the moment is to spread manure that built up during the winter over the fields (manure: a nice way of saying cow shit mixed with straw and hay). Coming from my previous career in finance, where I was a sales person, I feel right at home spreading the manure. In sales I could “shoot the shit”, “spread the shit”, and “bull shit” with the best of them, so how appropriate that I get to lay it on thick in our fields now!
Some of you may be thinking it is disgusting, or ask why the heck do we do that?!?….. Well, I will try to answer those questions.
Cow "caca", to organic/sustainable farmers, is brown gold! This dookie is what makes our sustainable business work. The dung increases the fertility on our land. It adds organic material (humus) to the soil, which helps buffer the drying effects on soil during a drought by holding more water, essentially becoming a sponge.
Unlike conventional farmers, we don’t have to use chemicals to fertilize our farm. The manure provides the food for our plants, animals, and the other micro organisms (fungi, bacteria, earth worms, insects and many other invertebrates) that work in our circle of life environment. It’s a cycle of birth, growth, plateau, decline, death, decomposition/decay, and rebirth. Nature rules! She uses everything by recycling it, making our soil rich and full of life. The cows give our farm an advantage, we are able to close our farm to any outside inputs. We create a closed circle where the soil, plants, and animals work together and continue to build soil health. Through this interaction we have a diverse set of nutrients and micronutrients in our soils, and by that in the food we produce. Soil scientist J.I. Rodale said it best, “ Healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people.”
Farming is a humbling endeavor. We have no control over Mother Nature, she has the final say. It is humbling working with cow pies, but it is so important to being sustainable. And think about how many different words we have for crap… when a word has that many synonyms, it has to be important! Changing my kids diapers and now having cows, I am over my poop phobia!
With my new perspective as an organic/sustainable farmer, I like it when someone says, “have a shitty day!“
One day not long after we bought the farm in 2012, I was alone in the farmstead, looking out over the empty fields, and said to myself “What the hell did you get yourself into? THIS IS GOING TO KILL YOU!!!”
Well, I’m still alive and kicking, and I will tell you the story of how I became a farmer.
For 30 years I had a successful career in the commodity markets in Chicago. I worked, traded, and brokered on the floors of the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Later, I managed a very active futures trading desk, working with clients all over the world. This satisfied my wanderlust and opened my eyes to people and cultures globally; a long way from home for a kid from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
During my 30 years in the commodity markets, I traded, among other things, all the agriculture products. Many of these were conventional commodity markets like GMO corn and soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs, among others. I was a “paper farmer” then! I understood the “Big AG” way of producing food: produce calories the cheapest way possible.
After the financial crisis of 2008, I floated the “investment idea” of buying a farm to my wife. This was with the intention of renting out the land to a farmer. Once we bought the farm in 2012 and were ready to rent it, my wife, who is a certified health coach, expressed she did not want to farm the land conventionally (even as a rental!) and that it had to be organic. Her foresight gave me the appreciation of farming with a conscience of the land, the animals, and our health, but made it tough to find a farmer to work it. That’s when we decided to do it ourselves. With lots of reading and studying, and a great mentor (thanks to the wonderful mentorship program from MOSES) we were ready! The more I read and learned, the more dreams I had for our farm.
The first couple of years were spent improving the land and soil itself, and getting the nutrients back from the depletion of planting and harvesting conventional crops year after year.
In 2015, when we started buying cattle, I came to a crossroad in my life. The company I helped grow into one of the largest futures brokerage firms, was bought out and going through corporate changes. After 24 years working there, I was let go. At that time, I did a lot of soul searching about what was important to me and what I wanted to do the second half of my life. My wife in her wisdom said, “I will support you if you want to go back into the financial industry or work the farm, but you just can’t do both.” At this point in my life, I didn’t want to have regrets about not starting the farm business and letting this dream die. The easy choice was to go back into the world that was safe for me (finance) but I made the hard choice!
In my previous work, the bottom line was always about profit, many times disregarding other consequences by the making of money (like harming the environment, our health, our communities). My work as an organic farmer has changed the way I view business. I may still be a capitalist in some ways, but I have a different perspective. Success is not about “making more money” by exploiting resources. To me, success is being healthy. Having my family, friends, and clients healthy. Success is having a clean environment for my children. Success is deepening our connections to our community..
Our farm philosophy is that we improve people’s health with the nutritious food we grow, improve our soil health and our environment by our sustainable farming practices, and deepen our connection to our communities, then the bottom line will take care of itself, and I will consider myself TRULY successful!
Grass-fed beef is much lower in fat than its corn fed counterpart. This may mean that your beef can dry up faster or become overcooked much quicker than corn fed. Without the added fat from corn, grass-fed beef tastes like... well, beef! but you want to know how to cook it properly.
The name of the game is to keep the meat moist, an easy task when you consider the following tips:
Happy cooking and enjoy your beef!
The secret to chili is how you select and use your chili peppers. If dried ancho and chipotle peppers are not available in your local market, just substitute, bearing these points in mind: dried chiles have a richer, fruitier flavor than fresh; smaller chiles are hotter than larger ones; the seeds and white veins generally contain all the heat but no chili flavor; and finally, if you like great chili flavor but are less enamored with the spice, add one whole chili pepper to the pot, but remove it before serving. The recipe below is for a medium-hot chili.
On a budget. Minimum Preparation. Serves 6.
For the chili:
For the topping:
Cover beans with warm water, stir in lemon juice, cover, and soak in a warm place for 18 to 24 hours. Drain, rinse, and place in a slow cooker.
In a skillet over medium-low heat, brown the ground beef in olive oil. Combine the meat and remaining chili ingredients in the slow cooker, and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours, until the beans are tender. Depending on how your cooker works, you may need to add an extra ½ cup of water during the cooking time to prevent the chili from drying out. Remove the whole chipotle pepper.
Serve the chili topped with shredded cheese and a generous dollop of sour cream.
Appetizer, easy, fast, kid friendly- serves 10.
Mix together the brown sugar and cornstarch and add to the skillet used for meatballs. Pour in the pineapple and juice; add vinegar, soy sauce and chopped pepper. Over a medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, immediately add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes.
Recipe from "The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook" by Shannon Hayes.
Extremely nutritious liver was a weekly fare in many households until concerns about cholesterol and toxins threw it off the American menu. However, the availability of liver from grass fed animals answers this issue and permits liver to return to our tables!
On a budget, minimum preparation, serves 2 to 4.
Slice the beef liver into strips, about ½ in wide. Place strips in a small bowl, soak in lemon juice, adding more if necessary. Cover the bowl, and marinate the meat several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350F
Mix the apples, onion, salt, pepper. Heat the butter in a frying pan and sauté the mixture until the onion is translucent and the apples are crisp-tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside.
Remove the liver from the lemon juice, pat dry, and place in the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Pour the apple/onion mixture over the liver. Arrange the bacon slices on top and pour in hot water. Sprinkle with the paprika. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling and the apples are soft. Serve immediately.
Recipe from "The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook" by Shannon Hayes.
Marisa usually writes about nutrition, grass fed beef, organic agriculture, as well as sharing delicious recipes; Paul writes about farm work- sharing his stories and experiences, and sometimes... we both collaborate on a story!