As Ag Gag Laws gain traction in their design to protect the unfathomably cruel and environmentally unstable practices that dominate the US meat industry we, as a busy catering company, become evermore committed to seeking out small ranchers who graciously welcome us as guests and are happy to have me bring my camera to document whatever I desire about their operation. Unlike large scale agriculture (as seen in an arrest of a National Geographic photographer here), the ranchers we seek out to support are completely transparent. They’re proud of the work they do and eager to talk about it. Our most recent farm visit was up north in Tomales to a family run cattle ranch called Stemple Creek Ranch.
A fourth generation farmer, Loren Poncia, took our chef Matt and I around his property where he grazes his cattle, sheep, and pigs. In a record hot summer, we were surprised to feel cool coastal breezes. Loren said these breezes help to mitigate the hostile heat the rest of our state is experiencing, and they have been a saving grace for his cattle operation. Other committed California pasture beef ranchers have not been so fortunate, and have had to take a break from production due to the punishing drought.
Rancher Loren grew up on this ranch, and then left to go to Cal Poly SLO to study agriculture where he met his wife. Together they came back and took over the ranch, and incorporated traditional ranching methods like grass rotation, with modern procedures like going through the tedious (and pricey) process to get their farm certified organic.
For meat to be certified organic, the pasture must not have any chemicals for three years, and no hormones or antibiotics can be used during the duration of the the animal’s life. To be clear, just like a mother whose child contracts pneumonia, Rancher Loren will administer antibiotics to save the animal’s life. It then will wear a blue tag (as opposed to a yellow one) that notes this info, and then will not be sold as organic. However, it’s still 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised. The difference between these pasture raised cattle and factory farm cattle, is that antibiotics are not used as a preventive method. In factory farms, when cattle are crammed together in small spaces and constantly stepping in their own excrement, a steady diet of antibiotics are necessary to keep them well enough to come to “harvest”. Conversely, at Stemple Creek Ranch, cattle have hundreds of acres to roam and graze on and very rarely get sick.
Calves milk from their mothers for 10 months at Stemple Creek Ranch, which also contributes to a slower process to get them up to “harvest” weight, about two years compared to just over a year an a half in factory farms, but helps contribute to a stronger, healthier animal, and is another way to avoid illness and antibiotic use.
At Stemple Creek Ranch, cattle are rotated using electric fencing so that they graze on specific clover and grasses that can regenerate for the following year. The beef of 100% grass-fed invariably contains less fat and a higher nutritional content for those who consume it.
Conversely, most beef produced in the US contains a steady diet of GMO corn, antibiotics, and grain, which is very unnatural for cattle and often causes pain and illness. Consumers who eat beef are eating the diet of the cattle. Which would you prefer?
It takes just over two years for cattle to reach “harvest” weight using the methods of Stemple Creek Ranch as opposed to about a year and a half using standard procedures embodied in factory farming. Naturally, 100% grass-fed beef is more expensive. We think it’s worth it. Let’s eat less meat, and when we do eat it, take care to know how it was raised.
Guess, what? You too can stay at Stemple Creek Ranch for a night or more (see it here on Airbnb)! Get a feel for farm life in this sweet, cozy cabin restored by Rancher Loren himself. Outside is a deck where you can see acres and acres of, well, quiet. In the summer, the air smells faintly of dry grass and dirt, and depending on their rotation, you can see baby calves trotting alongside their protective mothers, an occasional moo here and there. Standing and staring at this sight has the power to center to you to what is natural and right. There is no waste here, no abuse, just simple stewardship of the land and the awesome creatures occupying it.
This is the mission we support.
Photos: Yolk & Flour