Full Circle Offers Certified Organic 100% Grass-fed Beef To Members in WA & ID
Beginning this week, Full Circle members will be able to add organic 100% grass-fed beef to their home delivery orders thanks to a new partnership with Skagit River Ranch. Along with Full Circle’s current supplier, Jerry Foster of Foster Farms in Rochester, Washington, who now supplies all-natural 100% grass-fed beef and all-natural pork, Skagit River will help round out Full Circles offerings.
I asked Alexis Allen, Full Circle’s VP of Products and Services, why the move to a full grass-fed, grass-finished offering and why choose Skagit River Ranch to partner with. Here were her responses:
So, now Full Circle’s offering only 100% grass-fed beef? Why is that?
AA: At Full Circle we strive to only bring the highest quality offerings to our members and after doing a lot of research on quality and health, both for the members, the animals and the environment, we believe that grass-fed, from start to finish is the way to go.
So Full Circle’s offerings prior to this weren’t completely grass-fed?
AA: Our previous beef offerings were pasture-raised and primarily fed on grass, but [Jerry] was feeding some grain to give them a bit more fat towards maturity. He felt it produced a better cut of meat, and to us it tasted great. A million times better than a conventionally raised cut.
But while I was attending the 2012 EcoFarm Conference I heard a talk from a professor at UC Davis and she gave a presentation about the affects of what even a small amount of grain in a cow’s diet does to the healthiness of the product… it basically changes it at a molecular level, going from something that’s great for you to something that’s harmful, after that…we knew 100% grass-fed was the way to go.
So what did you do?
AA: Jerry began to finish some of his herd completely on grass and we changed our offering. The reservations that people wouldn’t like beef without the extra grain-fed fat for flavor flew out the door. It takes more time and effort to finish cattle this way but with the right land rotation and access to rich grasses for finishing, a beef cut superior in nutrition and flavor is created.
But it’s not organic?
AA: No. Foster Farms raises all-natural beef. Which means he doesn’t have certified organic pastures and he does use some antibiotics if a cow gets sick, but he never uses preventative antibiotics, which is what happens in the conventional beef industry when a whole herd undergoes massive antibiotic doses, and he never uses growth hormones either. His herd is pastured from start to finish and only fed grass. That’s why we asked Skagit River Ranch to partner with us to provide an organic beef offering.
AA: Skagit River Ranch is a small, family–owned organic farm in the Skagit Valley about 1.5 hours north of Seattle. It’s run by George and Eiko Vojkovich. They’ve spent 15 years dedicating their efforts to providing the most wholesome, best tasting organic 100% grass-fed beef available. The ranch is gorgeous. It’s located on the Skagit River, which is an amazing location. They have eagles that roost there and salmon that run the river. So they are very aware of the effects their ranching has on the environment, and always working to improve their process. Growing their feed on property and pasturing their cows on a variety of pastures and grasses gives their livestock a nutritional balance that keeps them healthy.
So what’s so special about grass-fed beef?
AA: It’s amazing! Compared to grain-fed beef, 100% grass-fed beef contains 60% more nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids, these are essential ingredients to boosting heart health and lower cholesterol. It also contains two times more vitamin A and E, three times more heart-healthy conjugated linoleic acids, these are the incredible anti-carcinogens that help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help fight inflammation. And these are just the health benefits to us! Argentina, which has very high levels of beef consumption, has very low levels of colon cancer. This is because their diet consists of primarily grass-fed, pastured beef, not grain-fed. Though unfortunately this is changing which will affect their health and the health of the land.
What are some environmental effects of raising cows on grass vs. in feedlots or in barns?
AA: When cows are pasture-raised it decreases the methane and greenhouse grasses that are inherent in the conventional beef industry. It reduces topsoil erosion, eliminates the need for collection lagoons that contaminate ground water and reduces the use of chemical fertilizers. For a great document on grass fed beef check out this pamphlet by Greener Pastures.
Wow, sounds like a win-win then. So with all of the things they don’t have to pay for, like tons of antibiotics and growth hormones and grain feed, why is there a higher cost associated with grass-fed beef?
AA: That’s a good question. It’s a few different reasons. It costs a local farmer more to grow cattle to the ideal weight for slaughter on grass because it takes at least twice as long (2-3 years) to grow the cow to the weight for butchering… instead of 14 months with conventional beef. Especially without a ton of antibiotics, growth hormones and grain feed that we see in the industrialized system of raising cattle. To avoid disease and provide nutrition cows raised organically need space – a lot of it and in continual rotation so as not to deplete the soil and keep the living space healthy and nutritious.
When you talk about grass-fed and certified organic there are additional costs. Certification itself is a cost. To ensure that organic standards are met all along the way, there are unique processes and inspections that occur throughout the cycle – ranching, selling, slaughter, butchering and labeling.
It also costs them more to take several cattle to one of the rare organic slaughter locations, whose treatment is humane and the opposite extreme of an industrial slaughterhouse. The small, local ranchers we work with receive little subsidization from the government, where the industrialized, conventional form of raising cattle and other foods are heavily subsidized by the government to keep the costs down.
Plus, small ranchers don’t have a large network of marketing experts and outlets helping them sell his or her beef. They are dependent on word of mouth or a local butcher or someone like Full Circle. We’re really proud to make this quality of beef available to our members, it speaks to our mission of responsible, sustainably grown food by local growers.
What do you think? Is Full Circle’s move to all grass-fed the right move? Let us know in the comments below.