When it comes to the buy-local, eat-local movement, beef can be a tough sell.
Buying Snohomish County beef isn’t as simple as purchasing produce crops such as strawberries, sweet corn or pumpkins.
You won’t find it a roadside stand.
Grocery stores don’t usually carry it.
A select few farmers sell it by the cut for people who want to try their meat but not necessarily invest in a second freezer just yet. Some health-food stores carry it, too.
But because Snohomish County lacks a permanent U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified slaughtering facility, most consumers buy directly from local farmers who sell it by the quarter, half or whole animal, slaughtered and packaged by a local butcher.
Despite all these challenges, the popularity of locally raised beef in Snohomish County — especially grass-fed beef — has been on the gain for years.
Concerns about mad cow disease and industrialized feed-lot conditions, combined with a desire to support local farmers, have driven consumers to local beef at home as well as at gourmet restaurants.
That’s the word from local farmers Chuck and Bobbi Lindemulder, who have been raising grass-fed animals for about seven years now on a third-generation family farm in Duvall, eight miles south of Monroe.
People who buy direct from their 120-acre West Valley Beef farm want to know how their animals live.
“That’s the first thing people ask us, ‘Do you feed any hormones or steroids?’ Some want organic, but most people are looking for something that is raised naturally and treated humanely,” Bobbi Lindemulder said.
When prospective customers visit West Valley Beef, spread out idyllically along the Snoqualmie Valley, they’re immediately put at ease. Seeing the ruminants munching on the lush green fields or on piles of pasture hay, they find animals that don’t look too stressed.
This time of year, the Lindemulders’ animals walk two times a day from the green fields to the barn, where they feed on hay. When they’re full, they walk back to the fields to graze or to the shelter of a barn if the weather is bad.
“It’s a fun thing to see when they’re all belly deep in grass and lounging around,” Bobbi Lindemulder said.
While most conventionally raised cattle eat grain such as corn for maximum weight gain and marbling, these Hereford-Angus cross cattle feast most of the year on an intensively managed mix of fresh perennial grasses, including tall fescue, rye grass, orchard grass and clover.
“Our climate is comparable to New Zealand, where they raise some of the best grass-fed beef,” Bobbi Lindemulder said. “It all starts with the soil. You grow the grass. Beef is just a byproduct.”
The Lindemulders’ cattle spend the last 45 days of their life eating alfalfa, a common finishing crop for grass-fed beef.
“Our customers prefer that,” Bobbi Lindemulder said. “It just adds flavor.”
Why not feed them corn?
Quite simply, cattle just weren’t designed to eat it.
They’re ruminants, which means their stomachs aren’t built to process large quantities of grains.
Before the industrialization of agriculture, beef and dairy cows fed primarily on pasture. With the advent of mass-produced corn and concentrated livestock operations, grain-fed beef and dairy cattle became the norm for quickly and economically producing meat and milk in large quantities, said Linda Neunzig, who raises grass-fed beef on her farm in Arlington.
Many small-scale farmers such as the Lindemulders, struggling to survive from generation to generation, have turned to the niche market of grass-fed beef.
The Lindemulders lease their land from Chuck Lindemulder’s parents, John and Dorothy Lindemulder, whose local dairy heritage dates back to the 1930s.
Both the younger Lindemulders have jobs outside the farm, Bobbi Lindemulder as a full-time farm planner for the Snohomish Conservation District, Chuck Lindemulder as a foreman at Cadman, a rock and gravel company in Monroe.
When it came time for the next generation of Lindemulders to take over the dairy, Chuck and Bobbi Lindemulder stepped up with a different idea.
Armed with years of research, they and the rest of the family began to sell off the dairy herd of about 150 animals in the late 1990s and started investing in grass-fed beef cattle.
By 2002, they were selling their first grass-fed meat.
Today, though they are only selling quarter, half and whole beef directly to consumers, they can’t meet demand.
“We run out,” Bobbi Lindemulder said, adding that people who want to buy local grass-fed beef in 2008 should start shopping around and visiting local farms soon. “Now is the time to be looking. I start taking reservations in February and March. I shoot to be sold out by the end of July.”
If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier, grass-fed beef could be a part of your menu.
Because grass-fed cattle indulge in the bovine equivalent of salad instead of high-carb grain, their meat is naturally leaner.
Studies have also shown grass-fed meat and dairy products have more vitamin E, beta carotene and beneficial fatty acids such as omega-3s than grain-fed beef.
“To get the benefits of omega-3s, most people eat fish, flaxseed, walnuts or take fish oil pills. Few realize these life-saving fats are also found in the products of grazing animals,” wrote Jo Robinson, a Vashon Island-based author and grass-fed expert, in a 2002 issue of Mother Earth News. “Omega-3 fatty acids are created in the green leaves of plants, where they are essential for photosynthesis. When animals eat lots of greens, they naturally accumulate more of these essential fats in their bodies.
“It’s often said, ‘We are what we eat.’ The truth goes deeper. We are also what our animals eat.”
Cam Allen of Silvana, who raises grass-fed beef with her husband, Jesse, as CJ’s Grassfed Beef, believes grass-fed beef is the wave of the future as people start buying locally and filling their freezers not just with local fruits and vegetables but also sustainably raised meat.
“We’re seeing it all over the nation,” she said. “The pendulum is swinging the other way. Instead of the ‘convenience’ of going to the grocery store, let’s just go to the freezer.”
There is a catch with this miracle meat, of course.
Because of its lower fat content — in some cases not much more than a skinless chicken breast — it doesn’t cook the same way as grain-fed beef.
It takes roughly a third less heat and often a third less cooking time than conventional grain-fed beef and it is perhaps best served medium to rare.
“It doesn’t have the fat to insulate it in the pan. It’s just leaner. It’s going to look different. It’s going to taste different,” Bobbi Lindemulder said, adding that the taste isn’t gamey, just meatier. “We do a lot of burgers and a lot of rib eye. You can’t beat a good rib eye.”
One thing grass-fed beef doesn’t need is a lot of gussying up, said Neunzig, who likes to use Russell’s Original Seasoning by Russell Lowell, chef and owner of Russell’s Restaurant &Bar in Bothell.
“You don’t need to give it flavor. It already has flavor,” she said of the meat. “Just enhance what’s already there.”
When grown right and cooked correctly, grass-fed beef is an excellent eating experience, Chuck Lindemulder said, adding: “We have some steaks you can cut with a fork.”
Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog at www.heraldnet.com/ecogeek.
Grass-fed beef does not cook the same way as conventional grain-fed beef does because it is leaner. Here are cooking some tips from local grass-fed beef producers and Patricia Whisnant, president of the American Grassfed Association.
Cook low and slow: Tough grass-fed beef is usually the result of overcooking. It is best served medium to rare. It takes roughly one-third less heat and often one-third less cooking time than conventional grain-fed beef. Reduce the temperature of grain-fed beef recipes by 50 degrees for roasting or at the lowest heat setting in a crock pot. Cooking time will be the same or slightly shorter even at the lower temperature. If you like your beef well done, cook it at low temperatures in a sauce to add moisture.
Watch closely: Beef will continue to cook when removed from heat, so it is a good idea to take it off the heat source 10 degrees before it reaches the desired temperature or shortly before cooked to order. Because grass-fed beef cooks so quickly, your beef can go from perfectly cooked to overcooked in less than a minute.
Sear for succulent meat: When grilling, sear the meat quickly over a high heat on each side to seal in its natural juices and then reduce the heat to a medium or low to finish cooking. Baste to add moisture throughout the grilling process. When roasting, sear the beef first to lock in the juices and then place in a pre-heated oven.
Marinate: Lean cuts of grass-fed beef, such as New York strip and sirloin, will benefit from marinating. Choose a recipe that doesn’t mask the delicate flavor of grass-fed beef but enhances the moisture content, such as Italian salad dressing or a mix of lemon, vinegar, wine and beer or bourbon, but slightly less bourbon, beer or vinegar than you would use for grain-fed beef because grass-fed beef cooks quicker.
Don’t put a fork in it: Never use a fork to turn beef. Precious juices will be lost. Always use tongs.
Bring grass-fed meat to room temperature before cooking: Do not cook it cold straight from a refrigerator. Always pre-heat your oven, pan or grill before cooking and never use a microwave to thaw grass-fed beef. Instead, thaw your beef in the refrigerator or, for quick thawing, place it in a sealed package in water for a few minutes.
Note: Grass-fed beef fat isn’t white and profuse like grain-fed meat. It’s scarce and yellowish because of increased beta carotene levels. Don’t be alarmed when you notice it.
It’s possible to buy individual cuts of grass-fed beef raised in Snohomish County, but it is most commonly sold directly from farmers to consumers by the quarter, half or whole animal, typically processed by a local butcher. Most farmers require a deposit upon ordering, followed by full payment at the time of pick up. Most farmers take orders in early spring with pick-up in summer or fall, though some producers have grass-fed beef available year-round.
Manna Mills health food store 21705 66th Ave. W. Mountlake Terrace 425-775-3479 They sell individual frozen cuts of Skagit River Ranch organic, grass-fed beef.
Skagit River Ranch: 28778 Utopia Road Sedro-Woolley 360-856-0722 www.skagitriverranch.com. They sell individual cuts of organic, grass-fed beef as well as pastured eggs, chicken and pork at their on-farm store, open year-round 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. They also sell quarter, half or whole beef.
On The Lamb Farm of Arlington www.onthelambfarm.com; 360-435-9078 They sell individual cuts of grass-fed beef off the farm by appointment. They also sell quarter, half or whole beef seasonally.
Sno-Isle Natural Foods Co-op 2804 Grand Ave. Everett www.snoislefoods.coop 425-259-3798 They sell individual cuts of beef from the Azure Standard farm in Dufur, Ore., including grass-fed beef when available.
Buy in bulk now
CJ’s Grassfed Beef of Silvana email@example.com 360-652-5925
Forest Cattle Company of Snohomish firstname.lastname@example.org 425-359-0594
Order ahead for 2008
Beld Family Farm of Stanwood email@example.com 360-939-2625
Cascade Range Beef Co. of Monroe 206-355-2468 firstname.lastname@example.org
Eagle Perch Ranch of Monroe www.eagleperchranch.com 360-805-8592 Orders for half or whole beef preferred.
Klesick Family Farm of Stanwood www.klesickfarm.com 360-629-5350
Ninety Farms of Arlington www.ninetyfarms.com
Reiner Farms of Monroe email@example.com 425-344-2940
West Valley Beef of Duvall www.westvalleybeef.com 425-788-1650
What it costs
Grass-fed beef is cheaper if you buy in bulk instead of by the cut. West Valley Beef of Duvall, for example, sells a quarter side of beef for $2.50 a pound by hanging weight, usually about 150 pounds per quarter. Some of that weight, typically 35 percent or more, is lost during the aging and processing, giving the consumer at least 100 pounds of meat per quarter. Butcher fees usually cost an additional $100 per quarter, taking the total cost of the meat to about $4.50 a pound, which includes everything from ground beef to premium cuts such as rib eye, T-bone and Porterhouse.
Here’s a favorite grass-fed beef grilling recipe from Cam Allen, who run CJ’s Grassfed Beef in Silvana with her husband, Jesse, and their children.
Cam Allen’s tasty steaks
1 package of McCormick meat marinade seasoning mix
1/2 cup Mr. Yoshida’s liquid marinade and cooking sauce
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 pounds of beef steaks
Thoroughly mix dry seasoning, liquid marinade, vinegar and olive oil and pour into a zipper-close plastic bag. Add steaks and marinate for 2 to 4 hours. Cook to perfection on the grill and serve.
The following recipes come from the American Grassfed Association.
Super easy crockpot beef roast
3 pounds frozen grass-fed beef chuck or arm roast
3 cups burgundy wine
1 thinly sliced onion
1 beef or vegetable bullion cube
1 tablespoon Worchester sauce
1 bay leaf
2 cups water
If you’re organized, you could thaw your grass-fed beef roast, tenderize it and sear it on both sides with some butter or olive oil in the pan before throwing it in a crockpot. However, if your schedule is hectic, just throw all the ingredients, including the frozen grass-fed beef chuck, in a crock pot set on low and cook all day, 8 hours or more. Either way, you will have beef so tender it will be falling apart.
2 pounds grass-fed sirloin steak or round steak, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2cup burgundy wine
1 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Dust grass-fed steak with flour. Brown meat, onions and garlic in olive oil. Remove from pan. Add wine and soup, stirring to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Return meat to pan. Cook 2 to 3 hours in the oven. Serve over white, brown or wild rice. This dish may be cooked in a crock pot.
Chuck wagon chili
3 pounds grass-fed beef, chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces and remove connective tissue and thin white skin
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons New Mexico chili powder
5 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds, toasted
2-3 19.5-ounce cans beef broth
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
Brown beef in oil. Add onion, red bell pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add chili powder, flour, oregano and cumin. Cook until meat is well coated. Slowly add two cans of broth and stir well. Add pinto and kidney beans. Cook partially covered for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use all or part of the last can of beef broth, depending on how thick you want the chili. Season with salt and pepper to taste.