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Free Range, Grass-Fed Beef (and Pork and Chicken)

April 17th, 2009 · 21 Comments

Part V of the Sustainable Family Supper series, and my submission to this week’s Fight Back Friday, hosted by the Food Renegade.

It’s probably obvious by now that we are not vegetarians by any means. I actually did abstain from red meat for nearly 5 years during my idealistic youth (high school and college) for “ethical” reasons, but was converted back during a Christmas visit to my Italian grandparents who served meat three times a day. My now husband, then friend, took me out for my first post-vegetarianism steak when I got back to college after the winter break. I was ecstatic to finally be able to order In-n-Out burgers with meat, and jumped back into omnivorism with barely a second thought. Fast forward nearly a decade, and my renewed interest in healthy, sustainable food led me to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’d already sampled local, grass-fed meats from local farmers markets on occasion, but wasn’t fully committed to paying the higher price on a regular basis. Pollan’s book and my subsequent research set the ball rolling and we now strive to eat only grass-fed, pastured, hormone-free and preferably organic (and GMO-feed free) meat. I still have a little omnivore’s guilt when eating lamb or veal (cue cute baby animal images), but I was inspired to hear local sustainable agriculture hero Bev Eggleston speak at a Slow Food dinner last year about his own conversion from Berkeley vegetarian to pig farmer. As he explained, to solve the problems of conventional meat production you have to participate in the process and use your dollars to vote for sustainable solutions.

grass-fed pastured beef cows

Why Grass-Fed, aka Pastured, Meat? Without getting into the complex and hotly-debated issue of whether grass-fed cows fart more than feedlot-cows (yes, there are real scientists researching that!), there are true health benefits to grass-fed meat. Plus, you avoid supporting “Confined Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs or feedlots), which are essentially concentration camps for animals and which I am sure you have heard about elsewhere. (If not, read this, this, and/or this.) Other benefits include:

  • Grass-fed meat is higher in vitamins, especially vitamin E and D, which only comes from exposure to sunlight.
  • Grass-fed red meat is leaner, lower in fat and calories than conventional, and higher in better fats (Omega-3s).
  • Grass-fed means no genetically-modified (GMO) corn or soy feed, reducing the amount of corn byproducts (pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.) you consume. (You have seen King Corn, haven’t you?) – health benefits via Eat Wild.

One thing to note about grass-fed meat is that in much of the U.S., it is a seasonal product. Alice Waters reportedly turned down EcoFriendly’s meat for her Inaugural dinner event because it was not available fresh in January. In the winter, animals can’t always graze outdoors so be sure to ask your local vendors what they’re feeding in the winter months — ideally, it will be organic feed they grow themselves. If it is entirely grass-fed, you’ll probably have to buy it frozen. Just defrost it gently in the refrigerator and be sure not to overcook (medium rare is ideal), as leaner grass-fed meat becomes tough if overcooked.

Where to find grass-fed meat: The first place to look for local, grass-fed meat is your local farmers markets. Visit to find a market or ranch near you; Eat Wild‘s state-by-state grass-fed directory can also help. At the grocery store, ignore the meaningless “all natural” label and choose organic if you can, but ask the butcher if they carry any grass-fed brands. (If not, ask them to consider it!)

Grass-fed Meat in DC/NoVA: Joel Salatin’s Polyface, featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma, is right here in Virginia, and you can purchase their meats through their buying clubs. Bev Eggleston’s EcoFriendly co-operative is created in the Polyface model (Bev worked with Joel before branching out on his own) and is the gold standard for family-farmed, pastured meat in the area, with many of DC’s and NYC’s top chefs relying on EcoFriendly meats (including Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve and Todd Gray of Equinox). Other smaller, family-owned farms are represented at nearly all of our local farmers markets. I’ve personally sampled and recommend the following:

  • Babes in the Woods, (Dillwyn, VA); rare-breed, forest-fed pork; at Old Town Alexandria, Clarendon and Charlottesville Farmers Markets.
  • Cibola Farms (Culpeper, VA); buffalo, pork, beef, goat, chicken; available at Dupont, Penn Quarter, Mt. Pleasant, Kingstowne, Burke, Falls Church, Reston, Dale City, Mt. Vernon, Fredericksburg Farmers Markets.
  • EcoFriendly (Moneta, VA), beef, pork, lamb, poultry, rabbit, Arlington/Courthouse and Dupont Farmers Markets.
  • Fields of Athenry (Purcellville, VA); lamb, beef, poultry; see website for drop-off locations.
  • Hilldale Farm (Palmyra, VA); organic chicken; at West End Alexandria Farmers Market.
  • Smith Meadows Farm (Berryville, VA); beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, goat; at Chevy Chase, Courthouse, Columbia Pike, Del Ray, Dupont, Falls Church, Glover Park, Palisades, Takoma Park Farmers Markets.
  • Smith Family Farm, (Gainseville, VA); beef, pork, poultry; at Burke, Kingstowne, Occoquan, Palisades, Vienna Farmers Markets – and on Twitter!

Local (NoVA) Butchers:

And look for the Spring issue of Edible Chespeake, with a cover story on buying beef directly from the farmer.

Tags: at market · eatLocalDC · NoVA Locavore · proteins · sustainable family supper

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 FoodRenegade // Apr 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    What an informative post! Thanks for submitting it to Fight Back Fridays.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • 2 Carolyn // Apr 17, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Great article. While it is more expensive, you can buy the lesser cuts, such as ground beef and short ribs for pretty close to the price of regular meat. Steaks are very pricy, so I leave those for special occasions.

  • 3 Fight Back Fridays — April 17th | Food Renegade // Apr 23, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    […] The Chicken Coop-Sardines: Who Knew?28. Colleen/FoodieTots (why grassfed meat matters)29. Kyle (Corn is Everywhere!!!)30. Healthy Mama (I’m new! Madatory Pasteurization of […]

  • 4 » Blog Archive » Food Independence Day (a Locavore’s 4th of July) // Jul 1, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    […] those burgers local and grassfed — and avoid worry over the latest e.coli beef […]

  • 5 A Better Cheeseburger for the 4th of July « Cheese & Champagne // Jul 1, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    […] going to assume you’re using local, grassfed and e.coli-free ground beef, but here’s some advice if you need help finding a local beef provider – and check out the craft beer finder to find […]

  • 6 » Blog Archive » Meatless Monday: Curried Squash Stew // Oct 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    […] heard of Meatless Monday? We don’t eat meat every night. When do eat meat, it’s local, hormone-free, free-range/grassfed, etc. So on the whole I’m not too concerned about the carbon footprint of our protein […]

  • 7 Zoe Harrison // Oct 23, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I work with La Cense Beef, they are an all natural grass fed beef
    company and worth checking out.

  • 8 chicken coop // Dec 11, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Thanks for the post my son is writting a report and the info realy helped him, also the pics are very amazing and beeautiful.

  • 9 » Blog Archive » Egg Noodles with Morels // Apr 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    […] one day a week for our health and for the environment. (When we do eat meat, we choose local and grassfed whenever possible.) Visit the Meatless Monday pledge page to learn more and sign up for weekly tips […]

  • 10 Deciphering Food Labels: Organic, Free Range, Pastured?! | Cheery Observations // Apr 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    […] an aside, Foodie Tot’s blog also has a wonderful summary of grass fed meat options and a list of local farms who raise such […]

  • 11 Hen House // Aug 16, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Hey, This was a great article to read, and very informative. Keep them coming.
    Lucy :)

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    I don’t usually comment but that was great. Really well said. Thank you. Visit beef online. Well you’ve just made my bookmarks list. Thanks for the post.

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  • 14 Carmen Z.
    Twitter: getleanin12
    // Aug 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I used to try to go vegan (or vegetarian at the very least) until I got the worst insomnia episodes I can ever remember. Something about beef keeps me sleeping through the night. So I try to include beef once a week and I make sure it’s antibiotic free. Grass-fed beef is harder to find in my area but I appreciate your link to local farmers. Going to check it out! Thanks

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