Talking with John Morosani, the owner of Laurel Ridge Farm, was quite the lesson. Jeff Cordulack, the Executive Director at CT NOFA, recommended I speak with John. And John schooled me. It was fantastic. So now I am going to drop some farm knowledge for you.
I am going to start with the most shocking thing I learned:
- Just because a menu at a restaurant says it has grass-fed beef from Laurel Ridge Farm does not necessarily make it true. *Mind-blown.* It never occurred to me that menus would lie. It occurred to me that perhaps the beef was not actually grass-fed, but not that the beef did not even come from that farm.
Here’s what happened. A restaurant, who will remain nameless, bought meat from Laurel Ridge 2 years ago. Recently John found out that Laurel Ridge is still listed as one of the farms from which that restaurant sources their meat. Either that meat is gross or the menu is lying.
He also found out that a butcher shop in Hartford was selling “grass-fed” beef ostensibly from Laurel Ridge. The butcher had called and asked to buy beef, but had not actually ended up buying any meat from him. The evidence suggests that the beef being sold is not from Laurel Ridge and is not even grass-fed.
So John’s biggest question at restaurants and butcher shops is, Is this meat really grass-fed?
And it’s not an easy question to answer. According to John, the FDA recently shut down its unit dedicated to giving farms “grass-fed” designations because it is simply too difficult to know whether or not the cows are actually grass-fed. Sometimes (apparently) farmers buy mostly-grown (~12 month old) cows, then let them graze in a field for 3 weeks and then call them “grass-fed”. *Mind-blown* for a second time this conversation.
So what is an ethical meating blogger to do?
Ask the right questions.
For starters, there should be 1.5 acres of land per cow to make sure there is enough grass. Plus, there should be hay. So, you need to make sure there is simply enough land. And just because there is technically enough land, you still need to look and make sure it is grazing land, not forest.
- If you are raising cows from birth, you need to have 4 times as many cows as you slaughter in order to keep breeding and raising cows. So, if a farmer tells you they have 50 cows and they slaughter 50 cows a year, red flags should be popping up.
- Ask questions. If the person you are talking to bores you to death with the details about the farm where the meat is from and how the meat is raised, you are probably dealing with the right place – be that a farmers market, butcher, or restaurant.
- Keep in touch with the farmers. If you see their meat somewhere unusual, talk to the farmer about it. Make sure it is actually their meat.
Some More Knowledge (that is less scandalous)
- Cows at Laurel Ridge live outdoors. They do not have a barn. They graze and eat grass for 7 months of the year. When the grass does not grow, John gives them hay. They also have a salt lick and drink water from wells on the farm.
- The biggest stress for the animals is how they are handled. At some farms, the cows are first ‘handled’ (walked into a trailer) the day they are going to the slaughter house. Not so at Laurel Ridge! John walks the cows through a corral system several times a year to ease their nerves. Each time he does so, he takes about 1 out of 50 cows to the trailer. (John takes a maximum of 4 cows a time). The rest are corralled back to the grazing pasture. With so few cows leaving the heard, it is hard for the cows to notice their diminished numbers, reducing the amount of stress they feel.
- The pigs are less discerning. When it is time to take them to the slaughter house, John backs the trailer up to the pig pen and drops a trail of food to lead them up onto the trailer. The pigs walk right on in. (John and I did talk about the pigs, but I have not yet had the opportunity to see them at the barn. I hope to do a follow up post specifically geared to the pigs!).
- At the slaughter house, John is mostly concerned that his animals do not get put on an assembly line and that they are not hanging out waiting forever, both of which are anxiety-provoking for the animals. He uses a local slaughter house that accepts a maximum of 10 cattle or 20 sheep/pigs a day. That is small. That means that there is no assembly line and that the animals are processed in a timely fashion.
- Finally, it is hard for restaurants to fill their meat needs with just one local farm. A local farm can only provide so much meat! The demand tends to be too great. So, again, ask questions about the farm at the restaurant to get a feel for whether or not the restaurants is truly sourcing its meat from the places it claims to be. A good restaurant will explain that they cannot always get exactly what they want from one farm.
Interested in actually purchasing meat from Laurel Ridge?
You can buy it:
- At their farm stand (at 66 Wigwam Rd, Litchfield, CT) every Sunday from 12-2.
- In New Morning Market in Woodbury, CT. According to John, they are very good at sourcing their meat. They are “dead honest”. If they sell out of Laurel Ridge meat (as frequently happens with meat from local farms), they will tell you and they will offer you meat from somewhere else.
If you are interested in locally sourced, highly trustworthy restaurants, John recommends eating at Community Table in New Preston, CT. You can be sure that I’ll be checking it out.