Grilling season has finally arrived in Maine, and as you reach for your animal protein of choice this summer, I ask you to consider its origins. I know, I know, as a culture, we've gone out of our way to divorce the tasty final product from its squeamish, heartrending origins. But uncomfortable as it may be, I'd argue meat eaters are morally bound to make the best choices they can for themselves, the animals we raise for meat, and the environment.
It's always been important to me to eat ethically and locally-raised meat, but often in an abstract way, one that waned in the face of the steep price tag on local meats. But the issue was driven home for me last year when I researched grass-fed beef for a food policy grad school class. I learned about the growing demand for grass-fed beef as people become more aware of the negative environmental and health impacts of large-scale animal agriculture and the popularity of meat-forward diets like keto and Whole30 (read my experience on the Whole30 diet).
From growing antibiotic resistance to increasing greenhouse gas, not to mention the ethical pitfalls of raising animals on such a large scale, the issues concerning industrial livestock production are numerous. Hence the growing interest in beef that has been raised in a way that is good to the animals, the environment, and for the people that will eventually eat it.
As I wrote my paper, I learned how important it is to support these small farmers that raise cows in small herds and feed them only grass or hay. This type of animal husbandry is the antidote to large industrial agriculture, but the downside is that it's more expensive. In supporting these farmers, you can ensure they stay in business and have a market for their products. The larger the market, the more producers, and the more producers, the lower the price for customers (that's the theory at least).
After researching the issue, I thought I should make good on my new knowledge by buying some grass-fed directly from a Maine farmer. And many of them make it easy to do so, with products available through mail-order and delivery to Portland.
I began by getting on Cold Spring Ranch's mailing list. Farmer Gabe Clark of Cold Spring Ranch in New Portland (about 2 hours north of Portland in Somerset County) sells boxes of his frozen grass-fed beef and delivers orders to Portland about once a month. A box contains 25 pounds of steaks, roasts, and ground beef and costs $175. This averages out to $7 a pound for grass-fed filet mignons, porterhouse steaks, and ground beef, which is an incredible deal.
After I'd gone through almost two boxes of Cold Spring Ranch beef, farmer Dan Kaplan of Heartstone Farm in Charleston, Maine (just over two hours north east of Portland in Penobscot County) emailed to ask if I wanted to try his grass-fed beef. So many thanks for Farmer Dan for sending a generously packed box of ground beef, rib eye, porterhouse, and filet mignon steaks.
Now that it's finally warmer weather, we've been enjoying these tender, flavorful steaks and burgers on the grill. Before it warmed up, I made bolognese and a short rib ragu that was amazing over some store-bought gnocchi. Farmer Dan's online store makes it easy to buy, with discounts for ordering in bulk, free shipping for larger orders, and even a cow share (a quarter, half or whole side of beef) if you're really looking to fill the freezer.
I absolutely love eating beef, and knowing that it's raised humanely and supports Maine farmers makes it taste all the better. Whether you prefer to buy in bulk from a farm like Cold Spring Ranch or customize your order with Heartstone Farm's online store, buying grass-fed beef direct from farmers has never been easier.