For: Food Network Canada
BBQ season is finally upon us, and the warm weather has Canadians dusting off the grill and bringing the party outside. A good BBQ starts with good quality cuts of meat–and Canadians love their meat (eating 44.2lbs per person yearly according to Statistics Canada). A trip to the grocery store can leave you faced with a dizzying array of choices. AAA, organic, pasture-raised, grain-fed, corn-fed, grass-fed, grass-finished, free run… it’s enough to drive any wannabe grill master crazy.
Being in Toronto, I have the benefit of having a friendly and knowledgeable butcher in my neighbourhood to navigate me through the options, but not everyone has someone like this on hand. Armed with a vague understanding for the benefits of pasture-raised, grass-fed meats, I hit the road searching for a family-run farm that would allow me to get up-close and personal to the pasture, and figure out what is really going on.
Luckily, Grandview Farms was willing to take on the challenge. Located in Thornbury, Ontario, they are a certified, organic property that is committed to raising animals properly (the way they would have been a century ago). The meat that is produced is considered to be 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised and without artificial growth stimulants (hormones), antibiotics or steroids. This means small herds, old-fashioned farming techniques, and a commitment to using methods that are respectful of the environment and the animals’ well being.
Pulling up to the farm, it is immediately clear the cattle live a decent life. The small herd of Black Angus and Wagyu roam 500 acres of established pasture, each pasture equipped with an adjacent woodlot for shade, and a pond for cooling off. For the last 30 years, cattle have been feeding off of this land. The lush grass is an abundant mix of orchard, canary grass, legumes, sweet clover, Kentucky blue, wild plants and wild vetch. Each year, the farmhands supplement these grasses by planting annuals like peas, sorghum, corn and sudan for the cattle to feed on.
All animals at Grandview are fruit-finished, the Berkshire cross pigs eating thousands in their lifetimes. Local apple farms provide ground and juice apples, with many coming directly from the 150-tree orchard on site. Finishing is all about marbling. Traditional feed-lot diets are high in grain, soy, corn and other supplements. Combined with inactivity and confined spaces, internal fat (marble) is produced without effort. Animals that chomp on grass have an easier time digesting and as a result are leaner. At Grandview, the farmers use organic fruit and organic flax to ensure their animals are healthy, so the meat is well-marbled. As opposed to the starchy grain-finished animals in industrial farming, the marbling fat in these animals is a result of a healthy diet.
How healthy are these diets? Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto say that Organic Grass-fed Beef is potentially 300% healthier. Grass-fed beef is higher in CLAs, antioxidants, and the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in these animals is 4.9 to 1. The Omega ratio in feedlot animals is around 15 to 1. Organic grass-fed beef is also lower in fat and cholesterol. Animals raised on small, organic, local family farms, like Grandview for example, are raised without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Humane conditions also limit the production (and release) of stress hormones.
What about Cost? Maintaining lush pasture is expensive and time consuming, so generally grass-fed cuts of meat are more expensive than other selections at your local market. You can save by buying in bulk from local farms, many (including Grandview) will sell an entire side of beef, or boxes of cuts at a discount. Contact your local producer to see what they can offer. If you don’t have the benefit of a large freezer, split the cost with some friends, or try to up the veggies in your diet to cut down your meat portions naturally.
Wandering around the farm, I worked up quite the appetite. Lucky for me, the farmers had a delicious meal prepared with ingredients from local farms, and a sampling of meats produced on the farm. I can definitely say that you can taste the difference. The pork in particular, had a drastically different, sweeter flavour than what I am used to. I am not a fan of pork chops, but I found that the colour and even the fat was remarkably different–leaving me converted!
The livestock at this farm is sold direct to the consumer at donatenaturally.com, to some of Canada’s top restaurants and the remainder to Life Choices Natural Foods, a producer of organic, natural and pre-packaged foods, that use all-natural, organic, premium and sustainably-grown ingredients.
All photos: Jason Kan