October 13-19, 2014

Grass Fed

Supplemental grain has always been part of a domesticated cow’s diet, but cattle feed primarily based on corn is a relatively new phenomenon.

While it makes cattle grow bigger quicker, it also makes them sick. Plus, corn fed meat is higher in saturated fats and lower in nutrients like omega 3s and vitamin E. Farmers across the world have shunned the industrial model, choosing instead to rear grass fed cows, just like your grandparents did.

George and Eiko Vojkovich’s Skagit River Ranch, just north of Seattle, is home to a heritage breed of cattle dating back to a time when cows were more efficient at grass conversion, before their genetics were re-engineered for feed lot production.

Like the Vojkovich’s, rancher Will Harris champions grass fed cattle. He’s the protagonist in two stories this week, one from our friends at Southern Foodways Alliance and the other from political writer, Jane Black.

A diet of grass and local grains is just one of many options that farmers have to choose from today. Mike Callicrate describes the benefits of such a feeding system, and explains why local food is becoming increasingly important in this time of industrial agriculture and confusing labels.

The Sustainable Food Trust has an interesting take on the argument that eating less meat is part of the solution.

Joel Salatin introduces us to grass farmers, the backbone of the grass fed meat industry.

Is all this talk of grass fed beef making you hungry? Perennial Plate has a treat: Argentinian steak. Chef Ann Cooper is back, too, with another delicious recipe.

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Grass Fed

Cattle are grazing range dwellers. They eat grass. Rangelands cover nearly 40 percent of the United States and are the single largest ecotype on earth. The amount of available forage on these lands depends on a variety of factors, including climate and geography, but proper rotation grazing practices actually help these rangelands regrow by triggering photosynthesis, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and captures carbon in the soil.

Grass Farmer

Grass farmers know their cows as natural born herbivores. They understand that grass plays an important role not only in providing cattle with a healthy diet, but also in capturing energy from the sun and cleaning the air.

Corn Fed

The delicate chemistry in a cow’s rumen was never designed for a corn-based diet. It creates too much acidity and leads these animals to suffer from acidosis, bloat, ulcers, diarrhea and a weakened immune system.


A herd of cows acts like a single organism. It’s known as a mob. Stocking means placing animals in a specific place for a specific length of time.

Perennial Plate

Steak, Patagonian Potatoes and Chimichurri (a la Francis Mallman)

Inspired by their trip to Argentina, Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine recreate their favorite dish: Steak, Patagonian Potatoes and Chimichurri. They happened upon it at one of South America’s best known restaurant’s, 1884, by Chef Francis Mallman. This fun, inspired recipe is delicious when done with grass fed beef!

The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.

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Meet Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, a cattle rancher with deep roots in the Deep South. He has rejected the corn-fed, feedlot cattle model in favor of raising grass-fed cattle. Will is no arriviste. The Harris family has raised cattle on the same Early County, Georgia farm for 5 generations.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. They set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Southern Foodways Alliance stage symposia, produce documentary films, collect oral histories, sponsor scholarship, mentor students, and publish great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund our good work.

The Guru of Grass Fed Beef

“Hop in,” Will Harris said, as he quickly cleared off the passenger seat of his battered Jeep, placing an old shotgun in back. He clamped his Stetson onto his bald head and steered down the dusty road and into the pasture. Nowhere is Harris happier than he is here: surveying the 2,500 acres of White Oak Pastures, the farm his great-grandfather established in this southwest corner of Georgia in 1866.

Learn one man made small changes that added up big-time to better, healthier and more sustainable beef.

jane-black-profileJane Black is an award-winning New York food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. Her work appears in The Washington Post (where she is a staff writer), The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, New York magazine and other publications. She is currently at work on a book about one West Virginia community’s struggle to change the way it eats. Stone Barns Center invited Jane to be its guest columnist for the coming year, taking on complex, timely issues in food and agriculture that are important to our mission.

Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Grass Fed Vs. Corn Fed
Featuring: George and Eiko Vojkovich
Location: Skagit River Ranch, Sedro Woolley, Washington
Found on Page 161 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

For George and Eiko, when profit is the only motive, food is mass-produced without concern for food nutritional values, animal welfare or the environment.

To them, a sustainable farm is one that produces quality livestock or crops year after year without chemical fertilizer or pesticide inputs of any kind. Such a process financially sustains both a farm’s operations and the family whose lives depend upon it. The biggest threats they face are the shortage of unadulterated agricultural land which they can lease in order to grow their business and the increasingly restrictive government regulations directed at small farmers.

The heritage breed seen here dates back to the 50’s, a time when animals were much more efficient at grass conversion, before their genetics were re-engineered for feed lot production. It takes cattle 6 to 8 months to grow on grass, but this means the animals lead longer, healthier lives.


Grass Feeding and a Local Diet

A diet of grass and local grains is just one of many options that farmers have to choose from today. Mike Callicrate describes the benefits of such a feeding system, and explains why local food is becoming increasingly important in this time of industrial agriculture and confusing labels.

Q: What do your cattle get in terms of feed at Ranch Foods Direct?

The calves are raised on the cows’ milk and the cows feed on grass. Then the calves are weaned and they’re put in a feedlot where they are fed until they weigh about 1200 pounds. They are fed a diet of roughage and some grain that requires no sub-therapeutic antibiotics. There are no hormones, steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs used in our project here.

We source our feed right here where we live. We are in an area where there’s irrigation.  We got a 120 day growing seasons, there’s a lot of corn grown in our country which we can’t use because it’s GMO. We usually feed – we feed wheat and now we have farmers planting barely for us for this coming year. It’s too hard to find corn that is GMO free. All of our feedstuffs from hay to grain come from this immediate area and there times when we might even put up silage depending on the circumstances.

I never have more than 3,000 heads of cattle in a 12,000 head capacity feeding operation. This is a place where cattle are very well taken care of. They have a dry place to lie down and the water is clean and flowing. The feed is always the same and it is very high quality.

Q: Why do people use sub-therapeutic antibiotics?

They use them as a crutch. Industrial agriculture keeps animals in a stressful environment. When corporations raise livestock, they want maximum return on their investment. The way they get that is increased throughput and increased production. If they pour concrete, they want as many animals on that concrete as they can possibly get on it. If there’s a building over the top of it, they want as many animals in there as will fit. It isn’t natural for an animal to be in those tightly confined quarters and as a result it is subject to disease due to stress and the environment that it is in. They feed sub-therapeutic antibiotics to the animals to try to keep them from getting sick. The antibiotics also increase performance and weight gain.

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Mike Callicrate, independent cattle producer, business entrepreneur and political activist, serves as an outspoken leader in addressing the rural, social and cultural impacts of current economic trends. Since the mid-’90s, Mike has been active in social and political efforts to improve the welfare of family farms and to restore effective publicly regulated markets. He was a founding member of several farm advocacy groups including the Organization for Competitive Markets. Some of the awards Mike’s received include “Westerner of the Year” award from Western Ranchers Beef Cooperative and the  Legacy Award from the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association. He is revered as the “go-to expert” for understanding negative consequences of trends in the modern meat industry.

KnowYourFoodlogoGrass Fed

Most cattle are finished on industrial feedlots, where they are fed a mix of antibiotics, hormones, protein supplements, and corn. Farmers like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia raise their cattle on grass, using rotational grazing and other fundamental principles of pasture management.


Excerpt from Lexicon’s Film Discussion Guide “Grass Fed?”:

Cows that are grass fed consume grass and forage as the feed source for the lifetime of the animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Cows are ruminant animals—animals that eat and digest grass. What happens if cows eat food they are not intended to consume?

Discuss the importance of what cows eat and how it affects the healthy of the cow as well as the quality of the beef.

Download Film Discussion Guide

The Fat of the Land:
Eating Red Meat

The Sustainable Food Trust has grave concerns about the way the ‘eat less meat’ message has been conceived and articulated for the last 30+ years. In its current manifestation, is actually part of the problem, not part of the solution – making agriculture less, not more, sustainable, making diets more unhealthy, food production less secure, whilst destroying wildlife and planetary ecosystems in the process.

Contrary to most other campaign groups, in direct opposition to them in fact, we believe that the consumption of red meat, dairy produce and animal fats needs to be increased, not decreased.

Why is this the case? Go in depth on the grass fed dilemma with the Sustainable Food Trust.


Host a painting party with these in your classroom, or at your home and invite the neighbors over! The Lexicon of Sustainability is excited to present a new way to participate in the movement. Inspired by street artists, the Lexicon has converted our popular information artwork into posters for anyone and everyone to paint and share with their community.

Everything in Joel Salatin’s hands grows plentifully at Polyface Farm. In fact, he picked this entire bouquet from by his feet. Grasses include fall panicum, pigweed, chickory, timothy, fescue, redtop, orchard grass, narrow leaf plantain, wide leaf plantain, and red clover.

Cows are herbivores, and they just love to graze on Joel’s bouquet.  Just like every other grazing herd in the world, these cows are followed through their grazing fields by birds.  They scratch through dung and peck parasites off herbivores.

The birds in Joel’s field are chickens.  These omnivores are a biological pasture sanitizer.  As the electric fence moves down the field, placing the cows on fresh grazing land, the chickens follow behind, preparing the paddock for the next grazing cycle.

Download instructions

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Sustainable Solutions to CAFOs

Pastures and forage systems are a healthy way to raise livestock with many potential benefits, including long-term sustainability. Doug Gurion-Sherman explains why we are currently stuck in the less beneficial corn and soy system and why investing the resources to develop efficient grass-feeding methods would be a wise choice.

Q: What’s a CAFO?

The acronym is often spelled out as Concentrated or Confined Animal Feeding Operations. They are systems where the livestock are kept in very crowded, unhealthy situations and fed a lot of antibiotics. The USDA and EPA have varying definitions of minimum sizes for what constitutes a CAFO for different types of livestock. An aspect that I think is not given adequate attention is the geographic concentration of CAFOs in certain areas of the country. It’s not only that individual CAFOs are getting so large; they’re relatively crowded together in some parts of the country which exacerbates the problems.

Q: The process of raising animals, like cattle, on grass is much different from raising animals in a feedlot. Is a potential solution to addressing some problems for CAFOs and beef production to create a larger market for grass-fed meat products?

Ruminants—livestock that naturally graze on grasses and forage herbaceous plants— would find a pasture or a range in the wild. That’s their natural diet so it’s healthier for them. Ruminants cannot survive in any kind of healthy state for very long on a diet of nothing but what’s called concentrate. This is a diet of mainly corn and some soybeans to add protein, minerals, and vitamins. That will make cows sick after a while and that’s one of the reasons why they’re fed the antibiotics to help try to keep them healthy longer.

The answer in part, is perennial pastures that have grasses, alfalfa or clover. These would generally have a number of environmental benefits as long as they’re not overgrazed. Those crops tend to build soil fertility, which actually pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it into the soil and also prevents erosion. It’s healthier for the animals so they need many fewer doses of antibiotics. We also know that grass-fed animals tend to have less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, which are generally believed to be more healthful than the omega-6 fatty acids that are more prominent when animals are fed a diet of grain. So these systems have multiple benefits.

There are some potential downsides that need to be considered as part of the equation. Pasture is utilized somewhat less efficiently than grain; however, the productivity of corn is so high because we’ve been putting tons of research dollars into improving its productivity for a hundred years.  We’ve done nothing of the kind to make pasture systems more effective. Because of that, it may take somewhat more land to raise a unit of beef or a gallon of milk in a grass-fed system than it would the comparable amount from corn.

My educated guess, based on looking at a lot of these data and trying to add it all up, is that overall there are many environmental benefits to pasture. As an agricultural scientist, I have a huge amount of confidence that if we put enough resources into research to make pasture production more efficient, we would do so by leaps and bounds. It won’t happen overnight, but increases in productivity in pasture crops and feed efficiency are possible.

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Doug Gurian-Sherman is a senior scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) where he focuses on agricultural biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. He holds a doctorate degree in plant pathology from the University of California at Berkeley and conducted post-doctoral research on rice and wheat molecular biology at the U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Albany, California. From 2004 to 2006, Dr. Gurian-Sherman was senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, DC. Previously, he was founding co-director and science director for the biotechnology project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He also worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he was responsible for assessing human health and environmental risks from transgenic plants and microorganisms and developing biotechnology policy. From 2002 to 2005, Dr. Gurian-Sherman served on the Food and Drug Administration’s inaugural advisory food biotechnology subcommittee.

Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Mobstocking
Featuring: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm
Location: Swoope, VA

Found on Page 178 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

The herd is an organism, a mob, rather than a group of individuals.  In nature, the herd is created by predation pressure.  Here, Joel uses an electric fence, which he moves daily, in a process called mob stocking. Joel places the cows in a specific place for a specific time.  These herbivore are catalyst of this solar collection biomass system.   Their eating and defecating stimulate plants to grow.

Where does the energy come from? Well, the field runs on real time sun energy, not stored carbon like petroleum.  The best solar collector ever invented is still photosynthesis. It converts solar energy into vegetative, decomposable biomass.

Lignin is the glue that holds plant cellulose together; as a plant matures, lignification leads to a stronger cellulosic structure.  Nature doesn’t do green manuring, letting biomass drop to the soil surface until it’s brown-lignified.  That happens when cow meets grass. Consuming and processing the grass, burns energy, its waste product serving to fertilize the soil, driving the soil food web.

The soil food web gets even more complex. You see, plants create bilateral symmetry at the soil horizon.  When they are grazed upon, they voluntarily prune off an equivalent amount of root biomass to maintain symmetry.  This “pulsing” occurs exponentially as plants achieve their juvenile growth spurt.  This root biomass leaves carbon in the soil rather than exhausting it into the atmosphere. This routine dumping of organic matter into the soil feeds the soil biota (earthworms, for example).

F3 Logo copy
Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3 supports positive change through educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources. Chef Cooper envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”

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