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I’d Rather Be Eating Grass:

…fed meat and dairy products, thank you very much. You don’t have to be an animal biologist, a molecular chemist or even a vegetarian to appreciate the multiple benefits of grass-fed animal products as an alternative to the centralized, subsidized commercial food system that dominates nutrition options in today’s efficiency-driven world.

Contrary to the halcyon images of green-pastured, chatty spokes-cows for California’s cheese industry, most dairy and meat cattle live lives completely contrary to their natural herding and grazing instincts. Pasture grazing is a very rare form of animal husbandry that is being practiced these days, and it should be enthusiastically embraced by consumers and producers alike so that it can continue to remain an option as food choices narrow.

There are currently four extremely dedicated pasture based producers who participate in Los Angeles area farmers’ markets. To talk to any one of them is to hear nothing short of a manifesto for living based on a passionate concern for the animals they raise and for the environment that sustains them. They are also the first to admit that there is an inherent irony in the fact that animal lovers raise animals for meat, but meat eaters can take comfort in the fact that the animal they consume had a pretty good life right up till the end. Factory farming is an enterprise that few people would want to contemplate, while small scale pasture based organic farming is a kinder, friendlier operation that fosters informed conversation between the farmer and the customer.

Let’s talk about fat — the “essential” fatty acids found in milk and meat products. The term “essential” refers to something that the human body cannot produce itself; in the case of food products, these essential fatty acids include the Omegas (3, 6, and 9) and linoleic acid, a known immune system booster. Mark McAfee, founder and owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Company produces certified organic raw milk products that are rich in essential nutrients as well as living enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Consumers have become very familiar with the bad bacteria — salmonella, e-coli and listeria, but Mark and his knowledgeable raw milk sales force can tell you much more about the beneficial bacteria found in raw dairy products. They will tell you that the bad bacteria mentioned above are classified as “pathogens” – disease- causing bacteria that make humans sick. There are literally hundreds of beneficial bacteria in raw milk products that do not act as pathogens, but rather work as digestive and immunity enhancing aids. They will let you sample some raw colostrum – the first milk that nursing animals give their young – a substance so packed with immune system boosters that it can benefit adult allergy sufferers.

Kathy and Ken Lindner have started a two-person revival of the consumption of American bison meat with their Lindner Bison ranch now located in Lassen County, California. Kathy Lindner is a direct descendent of an extraordinary woman who herded cattle in Montana at the turn of the twentieth century. Kathy and her husband Ken studied the history of bison in North America and concluded that bison meat — once a staple of the First Americans’ diet — was worth reviving for the modern consumer. The Lindners do not foresee a return to the days when uncounted bison roamed free throughout the West, but they do want to propagate the original bison, the only indigenous foraging animal in North America, as a sustainable food source. Lindner bison graze year-round on native grasses supplemented with fresh silage. Grass-fed bison meat is high in vitamins B 6 and B 12, selenium, zinc, phosphorous, iron and niacin, and meets FDA standards for “healthy” food. Bison are abundant and sustainable, numbering 350,000 head and reproducing at a rate of 20 – 25% per year. Aside from the health benefits of bison meat, the Lindners point to the fact that 80 percent of the beef produced in the US today comes from four major corporate producers. Corporate farms feed their cattle grain, and cows’ digestive systems, designed to forage and ruminate, cannot tolerate a diet high in grain for more than 60 – 90 days. Liver failure is common among confined, factory farmed cattle, which is why beef liver is rarely found in supermarkets. Large feedlots also consume large amounts of fuel – 1.2 gallons of oil per bushel of corn consumed adds up to 284 gallons of oil per cow during its lifetime. Waste and runoff from feedlots, laden with hormones and antibiotics, contaminate ground water and downstream waterways. Lindner bison, which graze on the open range, do not create manure ponds or require gasoline to feed them. The Lindners operate their bison ranch as a family enterprise, staffed by Kathy and Ken themselves with a little help from experienced ranch hands. Their goal is sustainability and health — of the bison, the environment and the consumer.

Greg Nauta of Rocky Canyon Farm started the grass fed movement at farmers’ markets three years ago in his own quiet way. Greg, who was from a dairy farming family, dreamed of raising organic, free range beef and started a few cows as soon as he found some open pasture. In addition to being certified organic and grass fed, Rocky Canyon beef is dry-aged for up to 21 days, a rarely practiced process that results in the loss of up to 20 percent of the beef in the process. After dry aging, the outside of the beef must be cut away to expose the tender, flavorized interior meat. The beef products that remain are of exceptional quality and taste – virtually unobtainable anywhere else. Greg also raises pigs in the same way. At Rocky Canyon’s stand, you can be assured of getting a product that has not taken a heavy toll on the environment, that directly benefits a small family farm and that tastes absolutely fantastic.

For grass fed lamb and sheep’s milk cheese, you can visit the Spencers at Windrose Farm’s stand at the Wednesday, Saturday downtown and Pico Santa Monica markets. The Spencers raise a small flock of sheep for milking and for meat, and the fresh, pastured taste of their products is another outstanding contribution to the slowly burgeoning grass-fed movement. Chances are, a grass fed animal is a family-farmed animal, so buying grass fed meat and milk is good for everyone.References for organic dairy production: Organicpastures.com; strausmilk.com

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