Pasture-raised protein is plentiful in the Monterey Bay foodshed, if you know where to find it
Do you want some of the healthiest, most sustainable natural protein available? Think pasture-raised meats. In the old days, before factory farms turned the food chain upside down and inside out, farmers let their animals graze naturally on grasses that spring from the earth. Livestock turned green carbohydrates into protein, while recycling the rest to create healthy manure, which was then used to build soil and fertilize other crops. This is the ultimate closed-loop recycling system, aka regenerative agriculture.
Choosing pasture-raised meats avoids the intense resource consumption involved in feedlots, where most beef sold as “natural” or “organic” is still finished off with corn and grain. If you truly want to return to your roots, buy strictly pasture-raised and finished meat directly from local farmers and ranchers.
CALIFORNIA KUROBUTA – PORK
It doesn’t get more “off the grid” than the 15-acre wind and solar-powered organic farm Jack and Sara Kimmich have owned in rural San Benito County since 1998. Here, they raise Berkshire pigs in pastures and woods where they munch on grasses, cattails, bugs, grubs, nuts and roots, just like wild pigs do. Seasonally, they get to eat high on the hog, with fresh apples, grains and vegetables from neighboring farms and grain processors. No corn, soy, antibiotics or growth hormones for these happy piggies.
Choosing Berkshires was smart. Known for their super juicy tender meat, they are redder in color than other pork, with real flavor, unlike bland store-bought pork. Naturally high fat marbling endeared the breed to Japanese chefs, who dubbed them Kurobuta, known as the Wagyu of the porcine universe.
Jack’s son, Thomas (meatknifefire.com), specializes in whole hog barbecues. I saw him in full pigskin action at a recent 49ers Foundation event at Carmel Valley Ranch, where grilled Kurobuta pig brought squeals of delight to children and adults alike. “It’s such an impressive way to throw a party!” says Kimmich.
Want some? Join the Meat Club for individual vacuum-sealed and frozen cuts. Or order half and whole pigs, that you can have butchered to order by the meat cutter of your choice.
Location: San Benito County Email: email@example.com
Availability: Meat Club pickups on the third Monday of each month at First City CrossFit in Monterey, the third Tuesday of each month at the Felton Farmers’ Market and at Harley-Davidson in Morgan Hill on select Saturdays. Half or whole hog and whole roasters also available.
CORRAL DE TIERRA CATTLE CO. – BEEF
Cattle rancher Mark Farr owns and grazes about 800 acres on his home ranch in Salinas, and leases another 3,000 acres. His herd of black Angus cattle enjoys a bucolic lifestyle, grazing primarily on conservation properties in the Santa Lucia Mountains (including land owned by the Big Sur Land Trust), where they live a stress-free life, without the need for hormones or antibiotics.
“Demand for local, grassfed, consciously raised beef is increasing. People want to know the farmers,” says Farr, whose dad ran both Red and Black Angus. He raises about 100 head annually, processing two or three at a time, which are generally between the ages of 2½ and 3½ years, based on their condition, although he finds the best meat comes from cattle over 8 years old. Farr laments the shortage of slaughterhouses and butchers in the state, a frequent comment from others interviewed for this story.
Farr is looking for more ranch land to graze, as cattle need at least 30 acres per animal annually, and his own ranch is all dry farmed. “Cattle are great for preserving the landscape while browsing grass, weeds and poison oak,” says Farr. In contrast, goats eat everything in sight.
His USDA-certified, dry-aged beef has a flavor and texture that aren’t found in store-bought meat. “My customers over age 60 constantly tell me this is the meat they grew up on. I have three new customers who started eating meat again,” he says.
Location: Salinas Phone: 831.595.6229
Availability: Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) farmers’ market and direct. Buyer’s Club offers monthly variety boxes (minimum 10 pounds for $100; $1,000 for one year) and whole or half beef. Variety boxes can also contain locally raised lamb and pork, including jerky and sausages.
FOGLINE FARM – CHICKEN
For more than 10 years, Caleb Barron of Fogline Farm has been humanely raising free-range, organic, non-GMO-fed Cornish Cross broiler chickens on 25 acres of coastal farmland (Rodoni Ranch and Pie Ranch) north of Santa Cruz.
Barron got hooked on livestock when taking classes in sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz, and from there became an apprentice at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. He is committed to producing superior meats, and Fogline Farm has become synonymous with high-quality chicken.
The birds are moved to fresh pasture areas every day and anyone who has tried his poultry knows how succulent it is. Says Barron, “Our fresh poultry is responsibly raised, the old-fashioned way, with integrity. It’s low density (production), they have fresh air, fresh pasture and abundant sunshine.
They love basking in the sun and being in the spring grass.” He also feeds them certified organic feed and produces about 500 chickens weekly. He sells primarily at farmers’ markets, where he is joined by Ryan Abelson with his eggs from Pajaro Pastures and Berkshire hogs pasture raised at Your Family Farm in Paicines.
Location: Santa Cruz Phone: 831.212.2411
Availability: Downtown Santa Cruz, Downtown Carmel, MPC, Cabrillo College and Live Oak farmers’ markets, also Santa Cruz Food Lounge and Staff of Life. Good Eggs delivers seven days a week.
LEFTCOAST GRASSFED TOMKAT RANCH
According to Kathy Webster, food advocacy manager for TomKat Ranch, “We focus on regenerative agriculture, a holistic approach to improving soil health, climate stability, water quality and availability, animal welfare, human health, economic prosperity and biodiversity.”
LeftCoast GrassFed raises and processes only about 40 head of cattle per year, which sell out quickly. “We have raised Black Baldies (Angus-Hereford cross) for many years, and recently introduced Devon bulls to our herd to help us adapt our grassfed genetics to fit our Mediterranean climate,” she says.
When asked what makes LeftCoast beef unique, Webster says, “Our beef has a terroir that reflects our rich coastal soil and diversity of grasses—both annual and perennial. We harvest animals when the grasses start to turn a golden hue and it provides a sweet, earthy flavor to our dry-aged beef.” If you’re craving a taste, the ranch sells its ground beef to Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero for hamburgers.
Location: Pescadero Phone: 650.879.2147
Availability: Downtown Santa Cruz and Westside Santa Cruz farmers’ markets.
– LAMB, PORK, CHICKEN
Rebecca King and her family purchased the 40- acre Monkeyflower Ranch, named for the sticky monkeyflower found there, in 2008. With a herd of about 100 sheep, she started a commercial dairy in 2009, making about 4,000 pounds of cheese annually, and has added a steadily growing yogurt business. She now also pasture raises hogs and chickens, which are fed an organic, antibiotic-free diet that includes spent grains from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and Venus Spirits. Produce from Happy Boy and Prevedelli Farms supplements their diets.
“Dairy is our primary focus, but meat comes along with it because you need babies to keep the milk coming,” she says. “We have 200 sheep, mostly for milk, but we sell 50 to 60 lambs seasonally.” Her Adopt-a-Ewe program costs $500 up front and includes half a lamb or a sampler pack of pork, plus cheeses and yogurt, every other week for six months, with 13 pickups (at farmers’ markets and Happy Girl Kitchen) for a $600 value.
She raises Gloucester Old Spots hogs, bred for barnyard life, for their incredibly flavorful meat. Her three sows and a boar produce a litter of 8–12 piglets every six months. “I am so fond of our pork: it’s tender, juicy and incredibly flavorful. Our customers tell us the same thing. There’s no need to brine! I love raising pigs because they are so forgiving and they love to eat everything,” King says.
She recently started offering lamb by the cut, and also raises chickens for eggs and meat.
Location: Royal Oaks Phone: 831.761.3630
Availability: Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market, Staff of Life and New Leaf in Capitola.
MORRIS GRASSFED – BEEF
“Grassfed and finished beef is the ultimate nutrient-dense, low-calorie health food superfood,” says writer and rancher Julie Morris, who, along with husband Joe, has been at this for 25 years now. Annually they raise around 300 head of an Angus-Hereford cross ideally suited to the local pastureland, which includes their home ranch in San Juan Bautista, coastal ranches in Watsonville and an inland ranch in Paicines. They take orders from January through mid-March for quarter, half and whole cows, and are already sold out for 2019.
Unlike meat factories, Morris Grassfed lets its cattle mature to at least 18–22 months, when their butts are nice and fat looking. Why is it important that beef is both grassfed and finished? “Cattle may be grass fed for a few months, then rounded up and finished at a feedlot, where they are eating grain,” says Morris.
What’s the grassfed difference? “We love our fat as much as the corn-fed guys,” says Morris. “And, in fact, grassfed beef is loaded with fat, the good kind, omega 3, which is what your brain really needs.” How’s the flavor? Rich, she says: richer than conventional beef. Much like wine, she says the meat reflects the terroir from whence it came. Closer to the ocean, a bit more salty, and you can taste arid savanna in cattle raised in Paicines, where it’s hot and dry.
In a recent article about the “Impossible Burger” and “clean meat,” the lab-generated alternative, Morris writes, “A grassfed cow is the original and purest form of plant-based meat. A cow’s rumen does naturally what Bill Gates’ millions fund in a laboratory: creates protein out of green plants.”
Location: San Juan Bautista Phone: 831.245.5367
Availability: Direct. Join waiting list on website (morrisgrassfed.com).
PAICINES RANCH – LAMB, BEEF
For decades, the historic 7,000-acre Paicines Ranch was grazed by cattle. Striving for a more regenerative approach to agriculture, the team at the ranch introduced Katahdin sheep, which shed naturally, meaning they don’t need to be shorn. About 80 will be harvested this year, and more going forward. The ranchers also grow organic grapes in a vineyard designed to be managed by sheep. And the ranch is also finishing grassfed cattle again, primarily Angus, with meat available for sale starting this summer.
Both sheep and cattle graze on a combination of rangeland and farmland, where forage crops and grains are grown. Thanks to holistic planned grazing, where livestock are rotated among pasture areas, perennial grasses are returning. Generally, less than 50% of the grass or crop is grazed, giving plants time to recover. All the land at the ranch, including the lawns at the event center, is managed in this way.
Says Sallie Calhoun, co-owner of Paicines Ranch, “As a society, we appear to have concluded that in order to ‘feed the world’ we have to destroy ecosystems. Instead, we believe we can grow food, fuel and fiber in ways that produce more food and more nutritious food while improving ecosystems if we partner with, rather than dominate, nature.”
Many customers claim Paicines Ranch lamb to be the best ever. Says Calhoun, “We believe this is due to the sheep breed, the age at which we harvest and their excellent diet. While meat raised on grain in feedlots has a huge carbon footprint with lots of other negative impacts, our meat has a positive effect on the planet and people.”
Location: Paicines Phone: 831.628.0288
Availability: Order from website (paicinesranch.com/pastured-meats). Pickup at the ranch, plus limited delivery options.
– CHICKEN, LAMB, PORK, GOAT
Ryan Abelson’s love of ag began at UC Santa Cruz, where he grew his own salad at the Chadwick Garden. Apprenticing at Fogline Farm with Caleb Barron gave him an appreciation for animal husbandry and rotational grazing. He tried a run at rabbits, but found it impossible to make a living, so he turned his focus to eggs. “Everyone loves eggs,” he says. Last year, he made a trade of a dozen rabbits for a breed sow with his friend Matt from Pretty Good Advice restaurant and, suddenly, he was in the pork business.
At his 12½-acre farm in Soquel, he’s now raising about 300 chickens (Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds and Rhode Island Whites), along with lamb (Black Bellies), pigs (Old Spots, Berkshires and Hampshires) and Boer goats (primarily for meat for chefs and private events). They feast happily on perennial grasses that include mustard and chicory, under the watchful supervision of Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees dogs. The grazers are also treated to spent grains from Sante Adairius brewery, old bread from a local bakery and lots of certified organic produce that would otherwise be scrapped in the summer.
“It’s unbelievable how much they eat, and how fast!” says Abelson. He also grows some impressive weed for the medicinal market, using chicken manure, then feeds the plant scraps to the animals, who gobble it up happily. Can you think of a more fitting recycling scenario? “The animals are my boss,” says Abelson, who sells them whole.
“Animals don’t come in pieces. We need to celebrate them in their entirety. Yet people just want bacon and pork chops.”
Location: Soquel Phone: 310.507.3857
Availability: Downtown Santa Cruz, Downtown Carmel, MPC, Cabrillo College and Live Oak farmers’ markets. Meat is also available directly from the farm.
PASTURE CHICK RANCH
– CHICKEN, TURKEY, GOAT
Proud to wear the badge of “Pasture Chick,” Lisa Knutson specializes in multiple species grazing on her 285-acre Hollister ranch, where she currently raises chickens, turkeys (seasonal) and goats, all for meat. She tells us, “Our new hens are bred to live on pasture. If their livestock guardian dog barks (Knutson has 22 of them, mostly Akbash), they get behind her and follow her to the safest part of their pasture. We have 2,500 layers and they each lay 5–6 eggs a week.” She processes 350 Cornish Cross birds every other week, as well as a limited number of Broad-Breasted turkeys for the holidays.
With the onset of the drought, she eliminated sheep. “The goat meat (Cashmere and Boer) has been such a hit, we decided to forego the idea of a dairy and just focus on pastured goat meat.”
The goats eat strictly pasturelands, which contain rye grass, clover and thistles, and they are routinely rotated throughout them. In addition to grass, chickens require grains to keep them healthy and growing. “Laying hens are fed a grain supplement specifically designed for egg production, and meat birds get a supplement to build lean body mass and strong bones. We do not feed any hormones or antibiotics,” says Knutson.
As people become more aware of where their food originates, demand for Knutson’s product has risen. “We added a honey-brined, fully cooked half-chicken and chicken bone broth; both are sold frozen and are very well received,” she says.
Location: Hollister Phone: 831.801.9765
Availability: San Francisco Bay Area farmers’ markets and Eating with the Seasons CSA. Eggs and bone broth can be purchased at Star Market in Salinas.
STENVICK FARM – PORK
You’ll find Laura Stenvick at local farmers’ markets when she’s not playing with piglets on her 60-acre farm 1½ miles up Tassajara Road in Carmel Valley. When she and her husband bought the property here five years ago, they inherited some chickens and thought about getting goats. Then she acquired two Gloucestershire Old Spots sows from a lady in Prunedale. A year or so ago they got a heritage boar, and it was meat game on, as the first litters arrived.
She began researching farmers’ markets and sold at her first one earlier this year in Carmel Valley. She’s also at Old Town Salinas and will bring selections of frozen cuts to the Pacific Grove farmers’ market this summer. Stenvick is besotted with the cuteness of the piglets. “They are so fun and entertaining— and so clean! Much more fun than chickens!” she declares. Three kinds of poultry— chickens, turkeys and peacocks—roam the farm, providing eggs, mostly for the pigs. Everybody wins.
Pigs are also far more productive than goats, which have 2–3 kids per litter, versus 10–14 piglets per pig litter, twice yearly. Stenvick plans to add a Berkshire sow this summer. She pastures them, but in this high and dry spot in the woodsy heights of Carmel Valley, they would starve if she didn’t supplement their diet. She does that with a non-GMO pellet feed that is corn and soy free, with no antibiotics or growth hormones.
J&R Natural Meat and Sausage in Paso Robles processes the pigs into bone-in chops, roasts, ribs, sausages and several kinds of bacon, all nitrate free. This isn’t that “other white meat” you buy in the store. “People see fat and think it’s bad,” says Stenvick. “But this meat is incredibly marbled and redder. It needs hardly any seasoning. All our cured and smoked cuts are done with just salt and turbinado sugar.”
Location: Carmel Valley Phone: 831.402.5455
Availability: Carmel Valley, Old Town Salinas and Pacific Grove farmers’ markets.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.