Organic beef and dairy does not equal grass-fed, and grass-fed does not equal organic. The vast majority of “certified organic” beef on supermarket shelves comes from feedlots where grain is the number one ration component. At Pasture to Fork, we’re adamant about 100% grass-fed dairy and grass-fed grass-finished beef. No grain ever. Cattle simply were not created to be the grain consumers modern agriculture forces them to be. Grass-fed beef contains 2-5 times more omega-3s and 2-3 times more Conjugated Linoleic Acid (a polyunsaturated fat that’s high in antioxidants and protects against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). Why? Because it’s produced in an environment natural to cattle. In addition, the extraordinarily higher antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content of grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed beef is nothing to scoff at. Interestingly though, mainstream organic rarely differentiates itself from a nutritional viewpoint, and rarely mentions the fact that it's not completely grassfed.
At Pasture to Fork, we believe truly organic food production is more about the producer’s emotions, thoughts, and worldview—along with the scrutinizing eyes and probing questions of his purchasing constituents—than it is about a pass/fail certification process that can be fudged or a set of rules that can be bent. Which is to say you can learn more about me by seeing my reading material (which indicates my interests and worldview) than having me fill out a bunch of forms.
In our view, organic certification is only beneficial when there’s distance between the farm and the plate—or producer and consumer. Even then, it’s only as good as the integrity of the farmer and his organic inspector. Inspectors, like the rest of us, are humans prone to favor or disfavor their constituents based on personality, mood, like or dislike of individuals, and interpretation of the law. In reality, certified organic is a paper-thin trust based on the vagaries of the National Organic Program (NOP) as lawmaker, third party inspection agencies as enforcer, and the individual inspector as interpreter.
Who will we trust? A neighbor whose farm we can visit and pointed questions ask, or a paper-thin label based on the pass/fail system?
To read the full essay on our beyond-organic philosophy, click here.
Pasture and woodlot raised pork. Even though organic pork is a hard find, we’ll still visit the subject here. Pigs, like chickens, are omnivores, which means they consume both animal and plant derived foods. Omnivores are single stomached creatures (like humans), and can handle grain much easier than multi-stomached herbivores. Therefore both hogs and chickens were the first food animals to be pressed into mass production by modern vertically integrated agriculture. Pigs are inquisitive, active, and extremely hardy animals that love the outdoors. To confine them to an indoor environment is unnatural even under the best of conditions. This is why certified organic pork never gained traction, because the confinement model is too unnatural to successfully raise hogs indoors in the environment without the props of antibiotics and growth hormones. Like chicken, the outdoor environs of sunshine, fresh air, unlimited exercise, etc. make all the difference in the beyond organic model, whether it be certified organic or not. Similar also to chicken is chemical-free GMO-free feed from a local source that is basically organic, just not certified.
Organic chicken in the supermarket is raised in the exact same indoor production model as non-organic. The only difference is that the conventional grain rations have been replaced with certified organic grain (of which some ingredients are imported), the absence of growth promoter antibiotics in the ration, and slightly more square footage per bird. To clarify, there’s no grass, no fresh air, no foraging for insects, and minimal exercise. We believe the five flavor-enhancing factors of truly pastured poultry are: unlimited exercise, fresh greens/grass, abundant fresh air, sunshine, and minimal stress (small groups coupled with humane treatment). Of course, the absence of antibiotics, chemicals, and GMO’s in the diet play a role, but these five factors make the prevailing difference. In lieu of certified organic feed from the greater organic industry, we partner with a small family owned mill in Berks county for chemical-free GMO-free feed that’s basically organic, just not certified.
Since the mid-1980's, soybean farming and subsequently, their use in animal feeds, have risen astronomically. In 1985, after 20-ish years of feeding processed animal wastes in the beef feedlot industry, mad cow disease raised its ugly head in the UK and other places in the world. This was related, of course) to the unnatural practice of feeding animal proteins to herbivores as presented by the scientific agro-industrial world. With the advent of mad cow disease, and the subsequent scare and eradication of many herds of cattle in the UK, meat and bone meal, the most common protein used in feeds for omnivores (hogs and chickens) was outlawed in the US and other places in the world. Conveniently, soybean meal was the go-to protein and soybean farming took its place alongside corn as one of the most propagated crops in the western world.
Today, however, upwards of 95% of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified to resist to human-gut-destroyer herbicide Glyphosate. This means that soybeans are not killed when sprayed with glyphosate, whereas common weeds are. So not only are non-organic soybeans genetically modified, but they are heavily sprayed with glyphosate as well.
While we have used GMO-free and chemical-free soy products in animal feeds in the past, we have over time become convinced that not only is it not healthy for animals, but even GMO-free soy acts as an inhibitor to vitamins and minerals does affect the quality of the meat from soy-fed animals. Therefore, we have phased out all soy in our animals' feeds to ensure that your food is as healthy and nutritious as possible.
While much has been written about the harm and/or good of soy products, the overriding "good" factor cited is usually that many oriental cultures consume soy freely. While that statement in itself is not quite true, it is true that the Chinese use soy to some extent. However, their more traditional culture has also retained the knowledge of how to presoak or ferment soybeans in order to break down the phytic acids that are harmful to the human gut. For more information, check out Myths & Truths About Soy.
In a time when mRNA vaccines are starting to be used in conventional animal agriculture, we want you to know that we're adamantly opposed to any and all vaccines. We believe in God's design for the optimal health of the universe, and certainly do not think that includes vaccinating our food animals.
We raise all our animals outdoors in their natural environment and know that constitutes into optimal health that does not need vaccines or any other unnatural intervention. Producing meat and dairy products in this manner allows us to bring you food that is not only vaccine-free but is arguably of superior quality as well.
Our basic thesis is this, "When we refuse to vaccinate our kids, why should we vaccinate your food?"
Did you know that the vast majority of meat on the market in the United States has been sprayed with citric acid? USDA slaughterhouses must--per USDA guidelines--use a disinfectant to wash down carcasses after slaughter, and the go-to disinfectant is citric acid. While there is an allowance made to substitute citric acid with apple cider vinegar, it seems only the smaller more-customer-friendly USDA plants are even interested in using this alternative. But citric acid is not only used at slaughter, most butchers and meat markets also use a citric acid solution on cuts of fresh meat as a color preservative.
This brings us to the question of, what is citric acid? Originally, citric acid was a natural compound made from lemon juice, usually imported from Italy. But proving to be an excellent preservative, this of course was not a reliable or efficient source given the amount of fruit (not to mention cost) required to make a relatively small amount of citric acid. This led, of course, to the "discovery" of manufactured (synthetic) citric acid, which has no connection to citric fruit. Being a natural skeptic, especially of manufactured foods, I'm suspicious that the manufactured product dubbed citric acid, having no real connection to natural citric acid, is labeled as such to further consumer confidence.
Synthetic citric acid is a manufactured product commonly used as a food preservative or flavor enhancer and is made from using the black mold Aspergillus niger. This particular strain of black mold is a mutant strain, which is to say it has mutated from its parent stock and is a bit of a wild card. The mold is then fed sugars which are derived from corn (corn syrup) and unless it is specifically labeled as non-GMO, it is usually made from genetically modified corn. Thus, we have both the mold and the GMO allergens in one neat package. Yum! Does this sound like something we want sprayed on our foods?
As I mentioned earlier, USDA guidelines allow for the use of apple cider vinegar to replace citric acid, but only for red meat. This means any and all chicken or turkey that is processed USDA, organic or otherwise, is sprayed or soaked in citric acid, which probably accounts for upward of 98% of all chicken consumed in the United States.
While researching for this article and finding what I did about manufactured citric acid being derived from black mold, the question came to mind if perhaps this is the reason why so many mold allergens exist today. It has boggled my mind as to why so many of my generation cannot abide in these old stone homes, for example, (due to mold) that their parents and grandparents lived in for many years with no problems. Esther and I have asked this question many times, why has mold become such a great health challenge today, when it didn't seem to affect previous generations? Is it due to a weakened state of health in the younger generation? Do strains of mold exist that didn't 10, 20, 30 years ago? Maybe some of both, I don't know. However, I find it plausible that the widespread consumption of a mutant black mold could create an allergen that didn't exist prior to manufactured citric acid. Isn't it reasonable to think that if we eat black mold, we could become allergic to it, and to other strains of mold in our environment that didn't bother previous generations?
Because we've opted out of USDA oversight, we're able to provide meat that has not been sprayed down with citric acid. Of course, this puts us at odds with food police, but we're adamant about avoiding not only GMOs, but any other forms of harmful ingredients in the provenance you trust us with. In addition to not allowing GMOs in the production phase as animal feed, we also eschew it in the butchering and processing phase by using a non-USDA local family-owned butcher whom we have a strong working relationship with. If this puts us on the wrong side of the food police, so be it. We don't know otherwise than to maintain our values, and to provide you with food you can trust.