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75 Green Businesses » Blog Archive » Locally-raised, Grass Fed Beef

Locally-raised, Grass Fed Beef

Big things usually start small.  The local food movement started small among those reacting against the industrialization of our food supply, and its impact our health, food quality, and the environment, but it is growing rapidly.  The number of Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) has grown dramatically, allowing consumers to buy a portion of the produce from local farmers, guaranteeing top quality in-season produce for themselves, and a better return for farmers. 

The environmental benefits of local food have received a lot of attention, with people looking at “food miles” and the impact of food distribution on climate change.  The difference in local food is not just where it is raised, but how it is raised, and the resulting quality of the product.  Local food is often higher in quality than food passing through the national food distribution system, provided an added benefit, and probably the most important one to many consumers. 

Beef in your grocery store is often transported across the country, and even if the price is high the quality might not match.  The vast majority of beef in grocery stores today is raised on corn, and lots of it.  In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, Michael Pollan describes how most cattle in the US are raised, completing their lives being fed vast quantities of corn in feedlot CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations with thousands of animals crowded together.  The animals in feedlots are given hormones and antibiotics, encouraging the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that contribute to human illness.  Their meat is fatty, and probably loaded with the wrong kind of fats, those that lead to heart disease.  Finally, the transport of the cattle and meat across the country and through the industrialized food system put an additional strain on the environment.

Locally produced grass fed meat is better for the environment and for our health, as reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists.   Cows evolved to graze on grasses, not in crowded pens eating corns.  Cows raised grazing on grass are healthier, with no need of constant antibiotic protection, and they are leaner.  The beef from these cattle is also higher in the omega-3 fatty acids widely believed to protect against heart disease.

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Photo from The La Jolla Butcher Shop/ Home Grown Meats.
The problems with our existing meat supply and how it is produced and transported are opportunities for those who can provide locally raised, grass fed beef or other local meat products.   Butcher shops across the country once did exactly that, only to see their ranks dwindle in the face of the industrialized food system.  With the local food movement though, butcher shops providing locally raised meat may see a resurgence.
Homegrown Meats and The La Jolla Butcher Shop has just opened in August 2008 in San Diego, focusing on providing locally grown meats.  Their grass fed beef is from cattle that graze on a ranch on Palomar Mountain, a short drive away from San Diego.  These cattle never see a feedlot and receive no antibiotics or hormones, raised on organic grass instead.  The partners who have opened the butcher shop have been friends with the ranchers for years, and when the ranchers were ready to expand, the time seemed right to open the store.  The ranchers and store owners are working together, guaranteeing the store owners a steady supply of high quality local meat, and ensuring the ranchers a good return and a steady price for their hard work. 
It doesn’t hurt that the local grass fed beef is high quality, probably the best you can find.  It’s a little different from the fatty corn-fed beef people are used to, but the difference is a good one.  “I did it because I love it,” said one of the partners in the butcher shop, Peter Morris, when I spoke with him recently.  ”But then you read and you see that this stuff is more natural, and also healthier, and it’s a real win-win.”
I’ve tried the grass fed beef from the shop and I thought it was great.  As with many green products, the key to the success of local foods is not just about their environmental or health benefits.  For many people the most important selling point will be their quality.  If these products taste better, as well as being healthier and good for the environment, then this will be a key to their success. 
“So far we’re doing well,” said Morris.  “Business has been getting better and better, and fun along the way.”  If all goes well, they might be part of a return of butcher shops and high-quality, locally raised grass fed beef that tastes great, is healthier, and better for the environment. 

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