A Quiet Grass-fed Revolution

Goodlifer: A Quiet Grass-fed Revolution

Something exciting is afoot in upstate New York. Quietly unworked dairy farms have been transitioning into grass-fed beef operations under the passionate stewardship of unconventional farmers. This new breed of Farmer comes to grass-fed farming for economic, political or even environmental reasons, but one thing that cannot be ignored is that the land was made to be grazed. Our mountain pastures grow some of the best grass in the world and our beef is being served in more restaurants and eaten and enjoyed by more people each year, all thanks to a growing and supportive customer base and innovative farming techniques.

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New York State used to be a center of dairy production, but this sector has been devastated by consolidation and a push toward bigger dairies out west. Traditionally, dairy farming in Upstate New York relied heavily on grass and grazing. One such farm in Meredith, NY (which is where my family farms) was Meridale Farms. In fact, they were so successful at producing milk, high quality butter and champion Jersey cows that they became world famous. This 19th century farm was sustainable but also efficient, which is something I think is important to note — our land is so well suited to grazing that we can easily support grass-fed beef and dairy production. Raising beef in upstate New York does not require corn or other feed because our grass is high in protein and does not dry out in winter months.

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Another advantage for New York State producers is access to the chefs and customers of New York City. This has been instrumental to our operation and has made this form of farming viable for many. With public food discussions focusing on farming we have seen a monumental increase in demand even with the economic downturn. Only 15 years ago my father asked about selling grass-fed beef and was met with a tepid response and told that “Americans do not like the taste.” So he focused on pasture raised lamb and rabbits instead. With books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and movies like Food, Inc., customers are not only willing to eat grass-fed beef, they are seeking it out and celebrating it. These customers are part of the movement to forge a greater and more meaningful connection to their food. They are smart, educated and passionate, and this is why farmers are able to make a living off the land once again.

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Grass-fed beef is a lot like wine in that soil, sun and rain conditions impact the flavor profiles of the meat. Many farmers believe that our unique combination of soil, rain and sun makes for such high quality and superior tasting beef that Upstate New York could become a prize-winning grass-fed beef region. And why not? We benefit from pastures that do not dry out in the middle of summer, protein rich hay that keeps the cattle healthy and happy throughout the winter months, and a climate well suited to beef production.  We also have plenty of pastureland just waiting to be used because of our dying dairy industry. It is sad to see our dairy industry die, but I do see hope in a grass-fed renewal in our rural communities, one that embraces history and community and is in balance with the land.

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Photos by Ulla Kjarval.

About author
Ulla Kjarval is an NYC based photographer, food blogger and grass-fed advocate. She believes that grass-fed beef production could help to save the struggling rural communities of upstate New York. It is also good for the cow, our land and our bodies. Her family operates Spring Lake Farm in Delaware County, New York. Ulla's blog is entitled Goldilocks Finds Manhattan.
4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Being a grassfed meat advocate for years–and a downstate New Yorker–I’m thrilled that Upstate grassfed beef farming is gaining traction.

    Maybe grassfed dairy will also make a comeback. Here’s hoping!

    I’m sending this link to Adele Hayes, the farmer from whom I buy grassfed meat at Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Warnerville, NY.

  2. Yes! I love your article and agree, a revolution is underway (and good for you for helping to lead it).

    What’s exciting to me is that beef definitely tastes different according to the region and even within a region due to different pastures/breeds/husbandry protocols. I hosted an artisan burger tasting with folks in Seattle comparing beef from 6 Washington state grass-fed beef producers. Six totally different flavors and textures, it was just great to see how some preferred one or two burgers over the others.

    Maybe you can bring dairy back or at least support those still in business by helping them offer and consumers celebrate the different flavors of milk and butter you can tease out across different breeds, pastures, and seasons!

  3. Lorriane: So glad to hear you are a supporter of grass-fed beef.
    It certainly IS making a big comeback! WIth the decline of dairy there is plenty of land.
    I too, would LOVE, to see more grass-fed dairy! WOuld be great!

  4. Carrie Oliver:
    I am very curious about the flavor profiles of NY raised grass-fed beef too. We are so busy farming it is hard to focus on all aspects. We are having a lot of luck with semmental/hereford and highland crosses, the marbling is fantastic!
    Would love to see more creameries pop up to bring local milk and butter down to NYC. We have the advantage of being so close to a big hungry metro area!
    Thanks for the comment!

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