Sep 11, 2016

Grass Roots Co-Op (Healthy Meat Shipped to Your Door)

Full disclosure -- Grass Roots Farmers' Cooperative gave me samples of some of their products and asked that I write about them if I liked them.  Truth be told, I would have written this same post without the yummy meat.  I've participated in FarmShares for several years and wholeheartedly recommend them.  I love the quality of food and supporting the small farmer.

Grass Roots Co-op has a special-deal-membership drive going on now until the end of September.  In addition, members get an additional 20% off a la carte items.

Grass Roots ships everywhere in Arkansas and other states as well.  Tell your good food lovin' people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Let me tell you about the meat they gave me then I'll tell you more about the Co-op.

Ground Beef - Sometimes grass-finished beef can taste "gamey" or like wild game because it doesn't have enough fat to bring the flava. The ground beef was VERY good. I took this to a dinner party in the form of HBs cheese dip and everyone raved.

Deli Ham - Wow.  It is good.  And no nasty preservatives.

Brats - Amazing, especially the lime-mesquite flavored ones.

Ground Turkey - is on the menu this week in the form of lettuce wraps.

From this sampling, I wholeheartedly give my approval of Grass Roots Co-op.

What are the benefits of a co-op?

Farming is hard work.  Non-stop, jack-of-all-trades kind of work.  When farmers band together to form a co-op, they can focus more on growing healthy meat while someone else tends to administrative and marketing details.

For the consumer, when buying from a co-op, we get a stable meat source.  Usually all cuts are available year 'round since there are multiple farmers to fill in the gaps in the event of a problem that would inhibit the farmer from delivering, like predators or herd illness.  And the marketing and accounting are very pretty.  (I've worked with a few farmers over the years who very much stink in the area of accounting and sadly, some are no longer farming.)

In the previous post, I recommended that if you were buying direct from a farmer you should ask questions about their practices.  When I tell some people this advice they totally freeze.  The thought of talking to a stranger at the farmers' market about a subject that is less than familiar totally wigs them out.  When you buy from Grass Roots, they have done your homework!  They have vetted the farmers for you.  Before the formation of Grass Roots, I purchased from at least two of the farmers.  Read here about the husbandry standards of the farmers in the co-op.  Most notably, I'm quite impressed that Grass Roots prohibits GMOs.

The downside of working with a co-op is that you don't always know which farm(er) your meat is coming from.  However, as stated above, the co-op makes sure the farmers are practicing with high standards so the consumer can can feel good about every piece of meat.

One thing I love about Grass Roots is how easy it is to get meat from them.  They ship their products directly to your door.  Shipping is free when you become a member or when you purchase at least $75.  It arrives frozen in a cooler on dry ice, delivered by FedEx, and you don't have to stop what you're doing - or remember - to drive across town to meet someone for your meat.  Because it is frozen you don't have to eat it right away.

What does membership include?

The Whole Farm Membership Monthly Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 2lbs grass-fed ground beef, a package of brats, & 2 lbs of forest-raised mild ground sausage.

The Chicken and Pork Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 2 lbs of forest-raised ground sausage & 2 linked sausages.

The Chicken and Beef Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 4lbs grass-fed ground beef

The Chicken Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, a package of breasts (2pieces), a package of 4-6 drumsticks, a package of 5-6 wings and a package of 4-5 thighs.

If the box isn't enough for your family for the month, or if you have a special event, you can always add pieces a la cart with 20% off the retail prices.

Mouth watering yet?

Go here and sign up.


Related: The Healthiest Meat
Why is the Farmers' Market More Expensive?
Why Pay More for Grass-Fed Meat?

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Sep 9, 2016

The Healthiest Meat

When it comes to buying meat for your family, there are several options.  Not all meat is created equal.  Once I saw The Dollar Tree boast of a $1 steak.  Ewwww.

People sometimes ask me, "Where should I start on my real food journey?"  Buying healthier meat can be an easy transition to a healthier lifestyle.  Most of your family members won't even know (unless they're used to eating lots of processed meat like hotdogs and bologna).  However, locally grown meat comes at a price just a bit more than $1 steak.  Yesterday Tara explained that you can't really compare the nutrition of grocery store food and that from small farms who are intentional.  Katie has shared before some tips for eating less meat which helps us stay within the budget.

So what's the healthiest meat?

The absolute healthiest meat would be that you have raised yourself on plenty of pasture and know everything about the animal.  Granted 99.9% of us aren't farmers so we look for other sources.

Next healthiest option is to buy directly from a farmer.  Get to know your farmers and ask them questions about their treatment of animals.  Not all farmers are as intentional as our dreams so be sure to ask questions like: What do the animals eat?  (The answer should be mostly grass.)  How much time do they spend on grass?  How large is the farm? How much grain are they given? GMOs?  What about the water source?  Are animals rotated to new pastures?  How many animals does the farmer process annually?
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
You can do your own research on why grass-based meat is healthier.  Please don't blindly take my word for it.  If we were to talk across the dinner table, these are some of my reasons for spending more to make grass-based meat a priority in our grocery budget:

Animals raised primarily on grass are healthier to eat because when given too many grains, it changes the omega 3 and omega 6 ratios in the fat.  Translated to humans, too much omega 6 causes inflammation -- which is the root of all disease.

Grass finished animals have more conjugated linoleic  acid (CLA) which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that some believe fights cancer.  You'll also find high amounts of CLA in grass based milk products as evidenced by very yellow butter.

photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Cows that are finished in a feed lot (most grocery store beef) would die within 6 months because they are given exclusively grain.   My dad raised cattle; on pasture cows can live for YEARS if given proper living conditions.  Feed lot animals are finished in deplorable and cramped living conditions.    If you've ever driven past one of these sad feed lots (eastern Colorado, as well as in Texas and Kansas), you will want to plug your nose...for miles. Cows are meant to have plenty of room to roam, eat grass, and not exclusively grain fed.
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Chickens that have access to grass will also be healthier.  The ones that lay eggs will have deeply golden yolks - orange if they're on fast growing green grass.  Chickens are actually omnivores and enjoy eating a variety of high protein bugs and other critters.  Most chicken you buy in the grocery store has never seen the natural light of day and has been given routine antibiotics, whether they need it or not. This translates to antibiotics in your body and can create an antibiotic immunity in humans.  Conventionally raised birds are fed exclusively a "vegetarian diet" aka grain.
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Pigs - oh my pigs.  Admittedly, I'm a food snob.  If you invite me to your house and serve pork from Wal-Mart I will be polite and eat it.  As for feeding my family, I try very hard to only serve them pork from farmers I know and trust.  Pigs that have had exposure to sunlight will have high amounts of vitamin D which helps my body in so many ways.   I know too much about the nastiness of pigs, the conventional growing methods (LOTS of antibiotics) to consistently feed grocery store pork to my family.  If I can't afford pork from a local farmer, we just don't eat it.

Local meat farmers that I've trusted to feed my family include:

 - FarmGirl (whose meat share opens September 15),
 - Way to Grow (budding new family farm, processing chickens this weekend and next)
 - as well as other small farmers that have recently joined a co-op.

My third choice when choosing meat would be from a co-op like Grass Roots Farmers CoOperative.  Monday, I will write more about Grass Roots but I want to encourage you to check out their site now.  They have a special deal until the end of September and they deliver straight to your door, no shipping costs.

Forth choice would be to find a hunter or angler to share their wild bounty with you! Maybe I should move this choice closer to the top of the list.  My parents, whose garden is regularly destroyed by deer, would probably put venison at the top of this list.

Fifth choice would be grocery store meat.  Some grocery stores will carry meat that has been marked "no-antibiotics." Natural Grocers and Whole Foods are safer places to buy meat.  You cannot buy meat from either store that has been fed antibiotics.  Kroger's Simple Truth brand doesn't always have antibiotics (but please always look closely at the packaging...not all Simple Truth is antibiotic-free.)  The down-side of grocery store meat is that you know nothing about the farmer's standards or the animals living conditions.

As far as I know, it is a federal law that animals raised for meat cannot be given growth hormones.  Some dairy cows are given growth hormones to promote lactation.  Unless your dairy is organic or labeled rBST-free, there is a good chance that it is tainted with growth hormones.

When it comes to food, we have many choices.  Educate yourself.  We vote 3 times a day with our fork.

Yours for nutritionally dense food on the table,

Related: Why pay more for grass based meat?

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Sep 8, 2016

Why Is The Farmers' Market More Expensive?

Tara Stainton of Rattle's Garden copied me when she responded to someone asking about the market value of her FarmShare.  I thought it was worded so well that more people could benefit from reading it.  I've bolded the parts that I wanna AMEN.

I'm going to write you a short answer and then a long answer in case you are still reading.  ;)  Admittedly, I don't buy many vegetables from the grocery store and don't pay much attention to grocery store prices, and I've never shopped at Natural Grocers.  But I would assume that if price is a big concern that you would be happier buying food from the grocery store. That is not meant to be snarky just a really honest answer.  I've found over the years that people who are comparing this program with what they spend in a grocery store don't end up coming back a second season.  I have a hard time comparing the two because you just aren't comparing apples to apples.

That is my short answer.

Now, my long answer, in the event that you don't have a two year old tugging at your pant leg while reading this.  :)

When I say it's not comparing apples to apples, I mean several different things.  Most importantly though, when you go to the grocery store you buy exactly what you want. In the quantity that you want.  In our program you won't know what you are getting until I send out the newsletter at the beginning of the week and you won't know quantities until you get your box because I don't always know the quantity until we harvest the food that morning.  There will be staples you probably will still need to get from the grocery store.  I still buy sweet potatoes.  We eat very seasonally but if you are used to a grocery store you may want tomatoes every week, we won't have them in the fall farmshare.  Right now I would say green beans are going to be a bumper crop this year.  You may get three pounds of green beans one week, like it or not.  You may get five pounds of squash.  (likely)  So, whether this program is of value to you depends on how well your family does at utilizing excess and if you normally would purchase the vegetables listed on the fall plan.

The second thing I mean has to do with organic.  If you are already buying from Natural Grocers I'm going to assume that buying organic is important to you.  Organic is super important to me.  Our farm is certified organic.  With that said, I have learned over the years that our standards are higher than organic.  Many people, mistakenly, assume that organic means pesticide free.  It does not.  Biological pest controls are allowed in organic production as long as they  are derived from a natural source (plants) rather than synthetic.  I feel without a doubt that these pest controls are safer than conventional pesticides but they are still a form of pesticide.  I was really proud this summer of the fact that we did not spray a single pest control on the edible portion of a single vegetable that left the farm.  My children work with me in our fields, we do everything we can to avoid spraying anything.  Organic grocery store vegetables are coming from large organic farms.  Without a doubt, these farms are using every available option in their arsenol to get that crop from their field to the grocery store.  They have to, they are contracted to get that food there.  They cannot afford to lose it.  Our farmshare allows us to connect with customers who appreciate that they can trust how we grow our food.  We are very transparent about our processes.  All of this to me means that our food cannot be easily compared to grocery store food.  They aren't the same product.  

Finally, our Farmshare is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in the truest meaning of the word.  We share the bounty and the loss.  We've been extremely fortunate over four years to have had only minor loss, meaning that while we may lose a few crops every season, we are always able to make it up with crops that flourish.  Of course, this is only of value to you if you have the means to do something with the excess.  The number one reason I hear for people not returning to the Farmshare is that they don't know what to do with all of the food.  Because of this we try to be careful not to overwhelm. I walk a fine line.  This summer we made a change in the pickup in that rather than pre-pack the bags of food, we set everything out in crates with quantities written on the crate and let people pick their food.  Things like cucumbers and squash had "As much as you want" written on them most of the summer.  That way if you had the means to use it you could take it but if you didn't, I wasn't overwhelming you.  Due to the way the pickup works this fall where we have to send bags pre-filled to Julie's house, you will have to take what we send.  I try to find a happy medium for everyone.  When we have excess we'll try to send it.  I can see already that due to the cabbage worms that took our first round of seedlings, the cabbage and broccoli will be late again this year.  Like last year, we'll send it when it's ready.

Ok, so there I go talking someone's ear off again.  I hope this helps.  We'd love to have you if you want to try it out.  I've attached the membership agreement.   Otherwise, maybe we'll see you next spring at the Hillcrest farmers market where we set up every Saturday from March until at least September.  Have a great day. -- Tara

Related: Why pay more for eggs? 

Tara's FarmShare delivery starts Monday in Little Rock, and there are a couple more openings.  Contact Tara ASAP if you want in on her fresh, yummy, nutrient dense veggies.

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