Farmers, Ranchers, Butchers, and People who love getting their hands dirty Needed!

      Listening to NPR yesterday morning, I heard that France, the bastion of food and all things tasty is loosing jobs like everywhere else.  However, the one place they need workers, no one wants to work ---- farms.  The French love their little family farms but while everyone loves the farm and all those cute animals and all that wonderful cheese, duck, wine and smoked meat, no one wants to actually do the work to raise it, grow it, harvest it and get it to market!

     Well, guess what?  We have the same problem here.  Recently, I was talking with a friend who raises free range chickens -- she and her husband are at their production limit.  They need someone to help -- how can I put this delicately -- kill chickens and process them.  No takers.

     I have other friends who need help with their farm and greenhouses.  And I am looking with growing alarm at the fact that the butcher who kills, dresses, ages and cuts our meat is in his 50's.  Now, I will readily admit that none of these jobs will make you rich -- but we all pay well more than minimum wage -- something that the big agro-industries happily work under!

    The real problem is that while these are skilled jobs -- if you don't think so, come on out to where we have our meat processed and watch our butcher work -- no one wants to do it.  Now, like the French, we need to re-think how we sell this whole cache of jobs to a new generation.

    First, let me define the barriers -- Young people today are not connected with the land.  Many people may actually like this work -- if they knew it existed.  And there is a wide range of careers in agriculture.  We need inspectors, husbandary experts, veterinarians, butchers, horticulturists, hydrologists, agroeconomists, the list goes on and on.  Bet no one thought about people doing more than turning dirt and working cows, though there is plenty of need for that!  How about truckers - vegetables don't walk to market - packers, designers, marketers.  And we still need good old fashion farmers and ranchers.

    This leads me to the second barrier - the cost of land.  Even children who want to stay on the land often can't afford to do so.  When my parents bought our ranch, the three hundred acres was the cost of a nice house.  Now, the same amount of land would cost you the same as a really big mansion on Lake Travis!  Most of the ranchers I know can't even afford the cost of a nice house anymore.  Land is the only thing I know where people stare at you and tell you to sell out because your means of production is worth "so much".  When was the last time you heard someone tell the owner of a factory to sell how because his building was worth so much?  I have to have my land to raise my cattle (or to farm), the same way a factory needs its building and assembly line to build its product.

    Finally, there is the barrier of uh!  If you want to farm or ranch, you're going to get dirty.  Fish farmers shovel feed and harvest fish, farmers shovel dirt and compost, and ranchers shovel -- well you know what.  It's an earthy job - all pun intended.  But as my dad use to say, "all work is respectable".  We need to start realizing getting your hands dirty can require just as much skill and expertise as someone running a bank or someone doing brain surgery.  Last month, we had a class of future chefs come into the process plant.  I stood back and watched the butcher cut down a carcass.  The man was working with a large table saw and several sharp knives.  Yet, as he swiftly cut out prime cuts, he explained each section of the meat and how he had seen it used in different dishes.  There was an enormous look of pride on his face, he has over 30 years of experience working with meat.

     Most of the people standing around the table had never seen primal cuts, never mind whole carcasses or even seen a processing plant.  A few were obviously squeemish (future pastry chefs!), but quite a few were intrigued.  I hope a couple of them will consider apprenticeships to learn about meat further.  

    We like the French need to figure out how we interest more people in agriculture and in food (beyond just eating it!) if we are going to preserve our family farms and ranches and develop agriculture into the 21st Century industry that it clearly is. 



Reduce Your Carbon Footprint - Eat Local

Between throwing hay to the cows and delivering meat in Austin, I try to keep up with the food trends in the country.  This past week, I listened to Mark Bitman being interviewed on NPR.  He was promoting his new book, Food Matters, which maintains that all of us can have a positive impact on the environment just by altering our eating habits.  Now since part of his suggestion was that we all eat less meat, I was a bit "vexed" to say the least.  So this weekend, I surfed on over to the NPR website and looked up some more on the interview.  I wanted to see if Mr. Bitman had differentiated the carbon footprints between grass fed meat and feedlot or industrial meat.  I also wanted to see if he talked at all about local, and sustainable agriculture as part of the solution to reducing carbon dioxide.

No, he had'nt; at least not in the interview.  Maybe he does in his book.  I can hope!

Obviously, I have a self-interest in promoting grass fed beef.  And I do think that the grass fed movement for meat - be it chicken, beef or pork - does have a very important place in reducing our individual and collective carbon footprint.  Grass fed meat does produce methane and carbon dioxide in the waste that the animals pass - but then, so do you and I.  The important difference in this case is that animals out on pasture spread that manure out to be returned to the natural cycle of growing grass.  Hey, that bacteria in the soil and the grass roots need the stuff!

Additionally, when animals are out on pasture and not in feedlots, the bacterial, mineral and vitamin content of the manure is very different from the stuff piling up at feedlots.  Remember, grass fed, free range means no hormones, no antibiotcs and no chemicals in the animal, its meat or its waste.

None of this was discussed in the interview.  Mr. Bitman rather was concerned about the carbon footprint caused by all the petrochemicals used to produce, transport, feed, slaughter, and distribute the meat.  His point is valid within the current system of producing the majority of meat in this country.  Large amounts of petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are used to raise the grains that are then fet to feedlot animals.  Additionally, traditionally produced and processed meat is transported long distances from the original farms and ranches to the feedlots, then on to slaughter houses, then on to processing plants, then on to wholesalers, etc. and finally to the grocery store or restaurant.   Some of this meat is even coming from Australia and South America to feedlots in Mexico, the US and Canada.

But that's not the case with grass fed meat.  I know in our case, the animal makes one trip in its life from the pasture to the processing plant.  At that piont, it is killed, the carcass is processed to the point of dry aging for three weeks (in the same plant), then processed into the appropriate cuts (in the same plant), vacuum sealed and hard frozen (in the same plant), and finally picked up for transport to the wholesale or retail buyer.  That sounds like a lot smaller carbon footprint to me.

Mr. Bitman argues that the only way to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our intake of animal products, and eat more fruits and vegetables.  I don't disagree in that even though I sell beef, I think people would be healthier eating smaller portions of meat and bigger portions of veggies and fruit.  However, if you eat less animal products, but eat Kiwis from New Zealand, are you really reducing your carbon footprint?  If you live in Texas and your veggies are being transported to you from California and Mexico doesn't that negate the whole idea of cutting back on meat?

So I would have to say if you are really worried about the carbon footprint you're leaving behind buy local.  A tomato off the frarm down the road is way easier on the environment than one out of season from a field in Florida.

 Of course, there are all kinds of other reasons for eating local, sustainable food --- it tastes better (!!), it's healthier for you, you know where it comes from and how it was produced --- but if your concern is environmental, then local, sustainable food is the way to go.

Local Austin Free-Range Grass Fed Beef

Mini-sirloin2Grass Fed Beef is so good on so many levels:

  • It's local!
  • It's good for your health!
  • It's good for the environment!
  • It's good for the animal!
  • It's good for the rancher and the local economy!


Bastrop Cattle Company offers something else... Taste!

Our product is unique from anything else out there right now.  By processing our animals at eight to ten months, while they are just being weaned (and thus still suckling a little!), we can guarantee you a tender, light tasting meat.  It's a meat that will hold up against marinades and spices without overwhelming or being overwhelmed!

So look us over.  "Graze" around the site, and check back often for specials, news updates and, of course, to order healthy meat online!

We welcome your comments and questions. Thank you!

Times are tough, but the answer really is local

Well, if you want a real downer, turn on BBC early in the morning and hear about the Australian stock market going down! On top of that, apparently the Aussies are going through a really bad drought (seven years worth). I feel bad complaining about the one we're experiencing!

So, I sit here feeling really bad until I look over and realize that Nanooka, one of our cows is looking through the window and has just smeared her nose across it. Of course I'm looking the answer right in the eye -- be local!

OK! Don't worry, Nanooka is not going to be on your dinner plate. But that doesn't mean she can't be inspirational. As we all re-think what globalization means, maybe its time to start living out of our own backyards - so to speak. We live in one of the most fertile areas of the country, and with very little effort, we can live well off of the abundence around us. A quick check of the Texas Department of Agriculture shows all kinds of produce in season. And despite the drought, there is plenty to pick from at all of the regional farmers markets. Further, many of the local grocery stores -- Wheatsville, Bastrop Producers Market, Cissi's, SunHarvest, Central Market -- are all carrying local products.

We may have to give up Kiwi and Argentinian meat, but have you ever tasted a fresh Texas persimmon, or Hill Country lamb? Texas wines are outstanding, and we even have a growing olive industry in the state. There really is lots to pick from, so now that the weather is cooler and everyone could use a couple of deep breaths of fresh Texas air - get on out there and partake of the State's abundence. See you locally! Nanooka thanks you.

I particularly like this time of year (though I could do with some more rain!). Early in the morning, I can hear the crows cawing and there is a sweetness to the air from the dove weed. The dogs can't wait to get outside and romp - now we have a lab puppy that is driving my older dogs crazy! The cooler weather has us laying up fire wood from the mesquite that we trimmed this past summer and building fires in the fire place to keep the house warm.

And, of course, it's roast time!

We have switched over to our fall and winter cuts. Gone are the ribs -- but we will have prime rib roast. And lots and lots of Pikes Peak, Chuck, Rump and Shoulder. The really nice thing about these warm and friendly cuts is that they are also economical. A good roast will feed four and still have enough left over for sandwiches the next day.

Good meat is always a great buy!

A Tale of Lesser Cuts

RoastI'm sure all of you have noticed that everything seems to just get more and more expensive! BCC is holding the line on our costs, but that doesn't help you on the cost of gas or milk. So in that spirit of assistance, I will continue to share tasty, quick recipes that can feed four or more for under $15.00.

An old favorite of mine which we just threw together the other night is meat loaf.
1 lb. hamburger ($5.50)
2 pieces cubed toast (.10)
1 bell pepper (.80)
1/2 onion (.25)
dash of ketchup and worcestershire sauce
any fresh herbs to taste
Serve with homemade mashed potatoes and a salad.

And there is the slow cooked chuck roast
1 2lb. roast ($10.00)
2 potatoes ($1.00)
1 onion (.70)
4 carrots (.50)
herbs to taste
Serve with rice and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

I'll write out the exact recipes for these two and several more Lesser Cuts in my Just Grazing column this month. I apologize that I can't link you directly, but I'm realizing that I'm technologically challanged (I'm sure you've noticed) in getting you directly there. Please just go to the website Bastrop Cattle Company and hit the Just Grazing button. I'll have the recipes there by this weekend. THANK YOU for your patience.

Well, they're at it again -- the USDA that is! It's been the law of the land for well over five years that all produce and meats are labeled with "Country of Origin". However, the federal government has not enforced this requirement. Many of the meat producers have fought this "tooth and nail" and maintain that its "not fair" because pressed meats and hamburger are often mixes from multiple animals that may or may not be from the same place. Of course, now the government is admitting that if they had been enforcing the "Country of Origin" they may have found all those contaminated tomatoes way faster!

All our meat is from "Central Texas" and we're not worried about our hamburger -- we don't mix meat from different animals. We also code every piece of our meat, and can tell from looking at the code which calf, which ranch, which breed. Maybe the government would like to use our system --

My Eyes Glaze Over!

MEGO! My Eyes Glaze Over!

I read this acronym in an article in the September issue of National Geographic. It is an article on dirt. Now, I know what you’re asking. “What would a rancher know about dirt?” I admit, not much.

However, what amazed me in the article was a map of the world, highlighting in shades of green and brown, the most fertile soils on the globe. To my surprise, one of the most fertile regions of soil in the US runs right through Central Texas! There it was, a strip of dark green swash running from just above Austin right down to the border. Oh, you say (MEGO!).

Well here is another surprising fact. “Today more than six billion people rely on food grown on just 11 percent of the global land surface. Even less ground – a scant 3 percent of the Earth’s surface - offers inherently fertile soil.” That’s us! And think about this;
  • By 2030, there will be approximately 8.3 billion people in the world.
  • By 2030, the farmers of the world will need to be growing 30 percent more grain than they do now to feed the increasing population.
  • In this last century, humans have managed to destroy 7.5 million square miles (think the US and Canada combined) of land – much of it in those very green swashes!

MEGO!!! Isn’t there enough to worry about already? Global warming! The economy! The war! The polar icecaps melting! Gasoline prices! The presidential election! Leave me alone – I can hear you saying. Dirt is the least of my problems!

But here’s something to think about. If we worry about dirt, we actually can solve some of the other problems! Take global warming. Healthy soils actually absorb and sequester carbon dioxide. And grass and crop covered soils, and forest absorb heat actually lowering the temperature of the surrounding area.

I can attest to the last. I’ve noticed that when I drive from Austin back to Bastrop, as I go deeper into the country, my car thermostat will drop two degrees. Meanwhile, local family farms and ranchers – the real stewards of the land – are moving to natural fertilizers that enhance the fertility of the land (think micros munching feeding roots absorbing carbon dioxide!). They in turn are beginning to sell at the local farmers markets (and here’s where you come in!), where local citizens are buying local, sustainable foods! All this leads to less use of gasoline for transporting food and for people traveling long distances to buy it! When you buy locally (don’t forget the local coop and grocery store!), you encourage an ever increasing circle of local providers. These people stay on the land and grow or raise foods that enhance and preserve that great big green swash of fertility running through Central Texas.

Add to that, that the money you spend stays in the local economy and creates more jobs! Those people, in turn, can spend their money locally. Hey some of them will probably even put up a few solar panels or use wind energy!

So now instead of MEGO, you begin to see where your actions are actually having an impact on saving and creating DIRT! And dirt is good.

Hey, stick with me here. We’ve now begun to solve five of the six issues listed above. OK, dirt doesn’t do anything for the presidential election (just think, if we could find a way to sequester them, what a jump in fertilizer!). But think about it. You buy a locally grown tomato (or meat!) and the small drop in the sea has a ripple effect.

So save the dirt. It needs your help. Everything else will follow.

Grass-Fed Goodness

Grass Fed is BestI try to write a monthly article that talks about what is going on out here in Bastrop, Fayette and Lee counties with our ranchers and rural life.

However, this month, I would like to touch on something that I think affects all of us, especially those of us who are concerned about our food. Many of you who visit this website do so because you are interested in sustainable, local agriculture. You are concerned about what the large agro-industry is doing to our food and the affect that is having on both our health and the environment.

In a small way, as all of us ask more questions about origin and nutrition and seek out food that is honestly labeled, the situation is becoming better. Unfortunately, the movement back to truly nutritional, local food is not being helped by either big corporate food companies or our own federal government!

As all of you know who buy Bastrop Cattle Company meat, we pride ourselves on being able to tell you from the time the calf is born until the meat is delivered to you, what the calf has eaten, how it lived, where it lived, how the meat was processed and handled and how it came to you. Our label of natural, grass fed, free-range is an honest label backed up by a monitoring program required by the State of Texas. All our meat is inspected – every single carcass – and when we say there are no hormones and/or antibiotics in our meat, you know it is the truth.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Agriculture is in the process of making it far harder for anyone who wishes to rely solely on a label to know what is natural and what is grass fed and, even, what is hormone and antibiotic free.

The USDA has proposed a Natural, Grass-Fed label that will allow large producers to use antibiotics and hormones in feeding their animals, feedlot them (not free range as is currently the requirement) and even feed these animals grains such as corn. This meat will bear the Natural, Grass-Fed label.

The reason for all of this is that large producers of beef want a share of the growing market for healthy meat. They have large investments in enormous feed lots and access to low cost corn. They don’t want to loose their capital investments, so they need the government to give them some kind of cover so that they can continue to sell the same old beef but under a new label.

The American Grass-fed Association currently is pressing litigation to block this change in labeling. But whatever happens, you the consumer need to be aware of what is going on behind close doors.

For now, the only way you can truly be sure of what you are getting when you buy a piece of meat is to buy local and directly from sources that have to answer to you on a one-on-one bases.

Now, naturally, Bastrop Cattle Company wants that business. But there are many other natural, grass-fed, no antibiotic, no hormone beef producers in Central Texas, and BCC wants to encourage you to seek them out. If you can’t buy from us, buy from them.

Betsy Ross is in Granger and she sells both directly and through People’s Drugstores in Austin. She also sells through Whole Foods. Coyote Creek is in Elgin. It is organic and sells directly. Indian Hills is in Smithville. They sell natural, grass-fed directly and at Wheatsville. I am sure there are more, but this is a start. These are honest ranchers who take pride, like BCC, in raising animals the way nature meant them to be raised – in the pasture, eating grass. They take pride in being honest with you, the consumer.

For this movement to grow, we the producers need you, the consumer to make that effort to buy local, sustainable, healthy food. It is the best for everyone – except perhaps for the big agro-industry! Don’t forget, you can always buy from us direct or through Wheatsville Coop and Greenling or Cissi's Market in Austin.

Too Hot to Cook!

There is one major problem with summer --- it’s just too hot to cook!

I don’t know about you, but every day about 3:30 when I need to start thinking about what’s for dinner, my eyes glaze over and doing paperwork on the computer starts to take on a certain appeal.

Now this is a terrible confession from someone that has access to great beef, plenty of natural ingredients (made available from all my co-producers at the Bastrop 1832 Farmers Market) and a flexible schedule. We don’t eat out and short of making Cleve do all the cooking, I had to come up with something. So to beat the heat, and my own laziness, I’ve come up with some quick (and cheap) recipes that I thought I would share with everyone else who hates a hot kitchen!

Here’s the first one.

Light and Fast Stir Fry
Feeds four (under $10.00)

The nice thing about this recipe is that cooking it will give you a great nutritional meal that fills everyone up.

½ lb. Bastrop Cattle Co. Round Steak Cutlets (1 lb. is $7.00 – but that’s enough for two meals!)
2 large tomatoes
4 banana peppers
1 red pepper
1 clove of garlic
1 cup rice for steaming
1 small onion
3 chives
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice

Prepare everything before you start as this will go quickly and you won’t have time to chop while you cook. Start the rice. I use the traditional stuff that usually takes ten minutes to prepare and cook.

Slice the cutlets into strips. Dice the tomatoes. Chop up peppers, onion and chives. Mince and slightly crush the garlic.

It will take that long to prepare the stir fry. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Drop in the garlic and onions. Stir. As the garlic starts to cook, reduce your heat and drop in the peppers and chives. Stir for approximately five minutes and then add the diced tomatoes. Add your sesame seeds. Many recipes will tell you to brown the meat separately and then add it to the other ingredients. I tend to add the meat directly to the other ingredients and brown it at the same time. This way seems to impart more flavor to both the meat and the other ingredients. So, add meat. As it browns add in the sesame seed oil and the Chinese five spice. Keep everything stirring. The meat will brown quickly and will also make additional juice for flavor.

When it is brown, serve immediately on mounds of hot rice.

The whole process takes less than 30 minutes and easily feeds four. In the coming months, I’ll try to share some more quick and easy (and inexpensive) recipes both through the monthly mail out and through the website.

Also, check the website out weekly for specials, new recipes and of course, online ordering!