At the butcher shop, we were able to see meat that is in cold-storage, being dry-aged for tenderness and flavor before it is taken to market.
The real highlight of the trip was going to the ranch. Marin Sun Farms' home ranch is on Point Reyes. For any of you who are familiar with the area, it is the Historic H Ranch and is very close to Abbott's Lagoon. The ranches on Point Reyes have a long history with the area and are now under the purview of the National Parks Service and the Department of the Interior. The farmers who are on these ranches now are on five-year leases, which presents an infrastructure issue for the farmers who are reticent to invest in their farm if they are going to be off the land in a few years.
The Historic H Ranch has been in the Evans family for three generations and was originally purchased by Dave Evans' grandfather in 1939. Evans' parents now run the ranch, breeding and raising cows during the early part of their lives before they are sold to feedlots for finishing and introduction into the industrial agriculture system.
A majority of the beef in the United States starts out on small farm operations which have mother cows giving birth to cattle yearly. The young cows are then kept with their mothers until ten months of age when they are weaned and separated. At that point, if the cows are of the proper weight (700 - 800 pounds), they are sold to one of the three major beef operations: Iowa Beef Processors, ConAgra, or Cargill for grain finishing and to be fattened for market.
A certain amount of the Evans' cows, however, are now held back and become Marin Sun Farms cows. These lucky few are taken by Dave Evans and raised on grass and come to market as Marin Sun Farms beef. Evans leases approximately 3800 acres of grassland throughout Marin County. The cows that he raises live off the land and are grass-fed throughout their lives.
Grass feeding and finishing of cows is now being chosen by many consumers as preferable to corn finishing. Grass feeding creates a leaner product that is higher in omega-3 nutrients and it is more natural for the cow and thus requires no antibiotic regimens.
Marin Sun Farms beef is not certified organic, and Evans does not think that organic certification is his highest priority. His operation is a small one with very few people, and he believes that it is more important to provide his customers with a quality, grass-finished product than it is to spend energy getting the organic seal.
However, his beef is raised according to most organic practices: The land that the cows graze on is free of pesticides, the animals are not treated with growth hormones, and they are antibiotic-free.
Next week, I will give you a tour of the Marin Sun Farms' chicken operation.
For more information about Marin Sun Farms or grass-fed beef:
Power Steer by Michael Pollan.
The Ethicurean on the Marin Sun Farms Tour
Marin Sun Farms Website