Is Our Chicken The Same As Grocery Store?

With the addition of chicken we’re getting tons of questions about our chicken and how it compares to other chicken you can buy, which we love!  Recently, someone was telling me they had been buying organic chicken from the grocery store, and now were going to be buying our chicken. They asked about pricing and the comparison between our prices and grocery prices. They asked, “your chicken isn’t really different than organic chicken in the store right?” Whoa. Hold on! Now to be fair, I’m pretty sure they meant it as a compliment that our chicken was on the level of something with organic certification. We’ve covered before how many loopholes there are in food labeling, and some of the misleading statements….and you’ll be shocked to know that organic certification has its own set of loopholes. Of course, in order for any product to be labeled as certified organic, it must adhere to the rules put in place by the USDA. Certified organic guidelines for all meat production require that the animals are fed 100% organic and non-GMO feed and forage (yes that means organic beef isn’t necessarily grass-finished beef), not given any growth hormones or antibiotics and have the ability to graze on organic pasture. Before I go much further, all of this information is available on the USDA’s website – there’s a ton of information there. This handbook from the USDA is a good place to get started if you want to dig into it! NOP Handbook | Agricultural Marketing Service (usda.gov) Back to certified organic – according to the guidelines, it turns out that chicken is exempt from the requirement that they graze on pasture. Per the USDA, “maintaining vegetation cover is a challenge” when it comes to raising poultry. So, is organic chicken required to be raised outside on pasture? Not according to what I’m reading! Organic chicken is supposed to have “access to the outdoors and direct sunlight”. Remember what we found with the misleading label of “free-range” chicken? What’s that mean? It means industrially raised birds are still raised inside large barns and are only provided access to the outdoors, sometimes in the form of just a “pop hole”….so they can’t even get their whole body outside.  So, if organic chicken is required only to have “access” to the outdoors, are they falling into the same loophole as free-range and only have to be able to poke their head out if they want? Based on those basic guidelines… - Fed organic & non-GMO feed- Not given any growth hormones & antibiotics- And only have “access” to the outdoors & sunlight How easy would it be to produce chicken in large quantities, in a big industrial barn, and still be able to label it as certified organic? Still with me? I’m sure this one has ruffled some feathers (sorry couldn’t help that pun!). I know lots of people who live and die by the organic label. And let me be clear, I’m not slamming organic labeled food. There are some great local farms doing organic right. (Here's a great place to search for them Home Page - Real Organic Project) So, what’s the purpose of even writing this email? Labels are misleading. Claims are misleading. Even certifications can be worked around with the loopholes out there. Find out where your food comes from! Talk to the farmer. Ask questions and be comfortable with the answers before you decide you want to purchase those products. That’s part of why I’m always encouraging you to email with questions, or just corner me at the farmers market! I want you to be 100% comfortable and excited about the products you buy from us. No, we’re not certified organic. But we do work really hard to raise and produce the cleanest, healthiest meats that we possibly can – and we’re very open about our practices, so you always know where your food is coming from and how it was produced. If certified organic is important to you, I think that’s great. A quick google search will help you find any certified meat or vegetable producers in our area…find them, and go talk to them. If they’re a small farm like us, they’re probably doing it right. But don’t take my word for it, go ask them and get comfortable with where your food is coming from! Okay, putting my soapbox away for now!

The Superpowers of Pasture Raised Organ Meat

Organ meats have been touted as the best parts to consume from animals since humans began eating meat! Even before technology allowed us to measure the nutritional benefits of organ meat, Native Americans knew they held benefits and were good for their health and wellbeing.

Why is Our Meat Frozen?

One thing that I’ve heard from folks at the various venues before and was mentioned a couple of times in the survey was our meat being frozen instead of thawed. So, let’s dig into that a little more this week and explain some of the logistics of our operation and compare that to the meat you could (because you don’t right?!) buy ‘thawed’ at the grocery store. We’ve talked previously about food labeling laws and the loopholes that exist to allow imported meat to be labeled as “Product of the USA” – and if you missed those emails, I made them into blog posts so you can find them here. But the key to that is that a lot of meat is being imported into the US. According to a report done by Reuters in early November the US is on track to import a record 3.7 billion pounds of beef by the end of 2023….and if trends continue that will reach 4.2 billion pounds in 2024! And that’s just the beef! Now, is that meat in the grocery store really fresh? Australia is one of the largest suppliers of beef to the United States, a journey that takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks depending on the port of entry to the US. I did some digging online and depending on which import company you look at some claim to be ‘wet aging’ the beef in large containers kept extremely cold during the journey and others will freeze the large primal cuts of meat and pack them tightly into those containers and let the crammed in meat help to keep it all frozen until arrival. Once in the states whether frozen or not, that meat is taken out and then processed down into the final cuts of steaks, roasts, and ground that you would get at the grocery store. Then is has to been shipped to a distribution center that then ships it out to grocery stores across the country. I mean if you like well travel meat, there ya go! That ground beef has seen some things! And all of those steps are done without freezing the meat? I don’t think so! That’s anywhere from 8-10 weeks from slaughter to showing up in the meat case at the grocery store. And you have no idea where it came from? Our process is a little shorter…just a little! For instance, as this message hits your inbox we’re on our way to the processor to drop off another load of cows. That same day those animals will be cut into large primal sections and then hung in a cooler for 14 days to dry age. And if you’re curious about dry aging, check out this link (Dry Aged Beef: What Is It and How Does It Work? – Robb Report) it’s one of the best explanations I’ve read about the process. On the 14th day those primal cuts are taken out, all the ‘aged’ meat on the outside is trimmed off and the large cuts are then cut down into individual steaks, roasts, etc. Once everything is cut, it is packaged, loaded into boxes and placed into one of their large walk-in freezers. We receive a call that day or the next that it’s ready to pickup – we’ll drive down and get the product and bring it back to the farm ready to sell to all of you! So, when you’re buying from us or another similar local farm you are truly getting some of the freshest meat possible! If we were to keep all the meat unfrozen we would need to get it sold extremely quickly…1 cow will typically produce over 400 pounds of fresh meat. Let’s just say on average a pound of beef is good for 3 days when kept in the typical fridge, we would need to get rid of all 400 plus pounds in less than a week! And as much as I wish we were selling 300-400 pounds every 3 or 4 days….well we’re not there quite yet! We really are trying our best to get all of you the freshest, highest quality meats we possibly can. And while several of you commented in the survey that while you wish you could get thawed out meat, you also said, it’s more important that you know where it came from and how it was raised. Hopefully that helps you some with knowing why our meats are available how they are, and while that may not be exactly what you had in mind it’s one of the freshest options available when buying individual cuts! As always thank you for reading and continuing on this journey with us! Jared

Greenwashing - And No, That's Not for Lettuce

Okay, so let’s talk just a minute about something I tend to be pretty passionate about. My goal here is to arm all of y’all with the knowledge that will help you to make more confident food choices and remind you of the incredible difference you are making for farms like C&F Farms. Over the last 20-plus years, there has been push in popularity in regenerative agriculture and pasture-based foods. Which is amazing, and created a great opportunity for thousands of small, regenerative farms in the country. Agriculture, the environment, what is in our food, and where it came from are very hotly disputed topics. And the opportunity to promote better practices and begin to truly change our food system is being taken by other companies swooping in to take advantage of the movement with greenwashing and labeling loopholes. Greenwashing: We Don’t Mean Washing Your Lettuce Greenwashing is essentially when a business intentionally gives a false impression or provides misleading information about how and where their products are produced. One of the most egregious labeling loopholes happened in December of 2015 when an act of the U.S. Congress allowed red meat to become one of the only consumer products to be exempt from Country of Origin Labeling Laws. What did this do? By removing country of origin labeling laws, the door was opened for large corporations to begin importing “grass-fed beef” at considerably lower costs while still legally labeling it as “Product of the USA” and selling it to you at a premium. Not possible? Several studies performed in the last few years found that 75-80% of “grass-fed beef” sold in grocery stores is imported from outside the U.S. Read those labels folks! Is Grass-Fed Really Grass-Fed? Another legal labeling loophole has allowed big brands to cut costs by feed grain by-products (i.e. corn gluten feed & distillers grains) while still labeling and selling the beef as “100% grass-fed.” Call me crazy but I imagine that’s not exactly what you were expecting when you purchase “100% grass-fed beef”, correct? That’s one reason we are very conscious to include our beef is grass-fed AND grass-finished. At C&F Farms we gladly say “no” to cutting corners and costs each year by staying true to our claims. All of this is why it is so important to make sure you know where your food comes from – go out and get know the farmer who is raising it and feel good about the food you’re eating. Final Thoughts - If you are going to pay extra for grass-fed, local beef – make certain you are actually supporting a regenerative farm, rather than padding the pockets of someone simply making a market play with words.- Do your research – never blindly trust the certifications or special claims you see on paper labels. When the deal seems too good to be true – it probably is.- Thank you! To all of you reading this that support our farm and others like us, we say thank you! You are truly making the difference for our family! Have more questions about this topic in general or want more specific details about our farm and operation? Reach out! Send me a note, give me a call, or come by the farm sometime. We believe in complete transparency when it comes to how our animals are raised and treated. And we love to talk about it! Thank you again for reading and caring – it means more than you could ever know. Jared

Why You Should be Concerned with Country of Origin

For those who may have missed it before here is a quick snippet from my previous email on the discussion of country of origin. “One of the most egregious labeling loopholes happened in December of 2015 when an act of the U.S. Congress allowed red meat to become one of the only consumer products to be exempt from Country of Origin Labeling Laws. What did this do? By removing country of origin labeling laws, the door was opened for large corporations to begin importing “grass-fed beef” at considerably lower costs while still legally labeling it as “Product of the USA” and selling it to you at a premium. Not possible? Several studies performed in the last few years found that 75-80% of “grass-fed beef” sold in grocery stores is imported from outside the U.S.” Crazy right?! Well, the USDA recently announced a proposed change to the “Product of the USA” label to define it as actually grown and produced in the USA. Like most things from the government, announcements don’t mean action. This is just a proposal at this point and is sitting in a commenting phase. Already the big players in the meat business are lining up against this change as it impacts their bottom line. I mean why would they want to buy more expensive American beef when they can continue to import cheaper beef and still label it as a Product of the USA!? NAMI is publicly asking for an additional 90 days of commenting to delay action, and we could really use some action from the American people in support of American farmers. Both us as produces and you as consumers need to understand the importance this has on the food we eat. This is about the American public being able to support American farms by knowing a label actually means what it says and keeping food dollars local if that's what matters to them. Understand how deep this runs. Whether you like grass-finished or grain-finished beef, it doesn’t matter. When you go to the grocery store, or (even more likely) your favorite restaurant or bar…..it may say “Product of the USA” on the packaging or the menu….but that doesn’t make it true. Help us put the power back into the hands of Americans and help affect positive change on our food system. Thanks! Jared

Do We Irrigate Pastures?

We love all the questions folks ask us about our operation and animals, and when we can we try to explain in deeper detail. This week I wanted to write about an interesting question I got at the farmers market recently. It was the first time we’ve been asked this and though not a common question I thought it would be a good topic to dig into. A customer came up to the tent at market and saw the picture below. As you can see the cows are walking into a nice, thick, and tall stand of green grass, and they’re excited about it! The question posed was, “do you irrigate your pastures or just reply on rain when it comes”? Excellent question! And the short answer is no, we do not irrigate any of our pastures. Why would we irrigate our pastures? Obviously, keeping pastures irrigated would be a big help in maintaining grass growth through the summer and any drought conditions we experience. And before we go too far, I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong about irrigating pastures. It’s fairly common in more arid climates around the world. It all comes back to personal context, irrigation is a “tool in the toolbox” and if you need it you use it! There are plenty of advantages to irrigating, especially in those areas out west where the average annual rainfall is in the single digits! They need a little help to get the grass growing! In our area, we tend to get enough annual rain that we can avoid the need to irrigate pastures. Other practices can help! We’ve talked a lot about our rotational grazing, soil health principles, and allowing our pastures to have adequate rest time. Through rotational grazing our animals are moving constantly which helps minimize compaction to the soil in areas allowing it to absorb moisture better. One of the key soil health principles is maintaining cover on the ground which is accomplished by not letting the animals stay in an area too long and allowing that pasture to rest before grazed again. This cover helps in 2 ways. First, the roots of the plants and that above ground cover minimize runoff and slow down the water as it flows. Secondly, that continued cover helps keep the sun from reaching the soil’s surface minimizing the evaporation of water from the soil keeping it in the soil for use. All of these practices continue to help us retain more rainfall at each rain event, thus reducing our water loss and helping our pastures stay green and lush longer! I have heard stories of ranchers out west who have been able to reduce or eventually eliminate the need for irrigating their pastures as they have adopted these practices and been able to change their soil conditions. Now, that took a long time! In most cases 20 or more years to get such drastic change. And while we are benefiting from our new practices and are seeing increased water retention….we’re not perfect. Our grass doesn’t always look so good! We have dry spells, and we have times when the grass doesn’t want to grow. The above referenced picture was taken August 20th, 2022. So not too bad for the heat of summer…but that was just that pasture, others didn’t look so good! We’re always making changes, trying new grasses, working to improve our herd genetics to continue to work within our context. This summer a lot of folks are predicting a drought for our area, and couple that with we have more animals on the farm than ever before….we will be getting tested this summer. So, to summarize my ramblings, irrigation has its place. It doesn’t fit within our context, but not using it presents its own challenges to us as well!

Food Security and Nutrition Density Relies on How We Farm

People often ask me why we care so much about soil as cattle and hog farmers. We’re not planting crops or trying to harvest fruits and veggies, so why do we worry so much about the soil? For me, the answer is simple. Without healthy soil, we can’t have healthy animals. We often refer to ourselves as grass farmers instead of livestock farmers. Because the quantity AND quality of available forage determines our success in raising livestock. So, while we do raise livestock, an immense amount of thought and care goes into our pastures and forages. So, what does that have to do with food security? I was reading a recent article on Innovation Forum about this and the second paragraph stated: “Industrial farming techniques, which have largely prioritized yield over resilience, and the climate change impacts they contribute towards, have already left around a third of the world’s soils degraded. This puts our global food supply at serious risk. A recent FAO report found that up to 828 million people already face chronic hunger globally. With hunger comes malnutrition, and a host of dangerous deficiencies and health impacts. For the food system to provide nutrition and food security in a warming world with a ten billion-plus human population, agricultural transformation through regenerative and sustainable approaches is crucial.” They go on to discuss in more detail how industrial farming has compromised the nutrient density of our food. And that regenerative agriculture focuses on “…outcomes that improve water and air quality, enhance ecosystem biodiversity, store carbon, and produce nutritious food. Sustainable nutrition encompasses accessible, affordable, safe, and equitable diets, which support the earth and its resources.” Read the full article here. Soil Health Principles There are 6 principles of soil health taught by the Soil Health Academy.  1. Know your context. (Your principles and goals determine your stewardship of the land)2. Minimize mechanical and chemical disturbance. (Nature doesn’t till or apply chemicals)3. Maintain cover and build surface armor. (The top of the soil is like its skin; it needs to be protected)4. Biodiversity. (Nature doesn’t work in a monoculture.)5. Keep living roots in the soil. (The soil is an ecosystem and relies on roots and microorganisms to continue to grow.)6. Integrate livestock. (Nature relies on animal impact to continue to regenerate the soils) Industrial agriculture, which took it’s hold in the late 1800’s, sought to increase crop yields by applying fossil fuels energy, mechanization, advanced crop breeding methods, and synthetic applications (i.e. – fertilizers and sprays). An excerpt from the book “Agroecosystem Diversity” indicates “Industrial agriculture has had great success in producing abundant, low-cost food…But this success has come with costs that raise questions about the sustainability and the unintended effects of the global “rationalization” of food production. Environmental costs include the degradation of groundwater, surface water, soils, and biologic diversity. Social costs include a growing rural-urban divide, a worldwide obesity epidemic, and antibiotic resistance.” You can read more here. The excerpt goes on to discuss how through various governmental promotions, accidents in history, and other path dependencies have set this industrial agricultural system in motion. The question is, now that we have it, how can we change it? There’s a lot of financial backing in continuing to farm in an industrialized fashion regardless of any of the consequences on food or ecosystem health. We are proud to say we practice regenerative agriculture and continue to follow the soil health principles. We don’t know it all. We don’t always get it right. But we’re trying, and by following the soil health principles, we are working every day to continue to improve our little place in the world and hopefully influence others around us to take heed and follow along as well.