When you're buying a nice steak or Sunday roast, it can be a hassle trying to decipher where exactly the meat comes from. Did the animal get a healthy diet? Were they fed antibiotics or growth hormones? Were their living conditions ethical? Are “grass-fed” and “organic” just buzzwords, or do they actually mean something?
These are important questions to ask! So we decided to get some answers and see the sources for ourselves, by taking a trip to some of the farms where Artisan Farms, our supplier, gets their meat. We didn’t have to go far, though: all our meat is locally sourced, too!
First thing’s first: what's the difference between “grass-fed", "organic", and "natural"? The only meat you’ll find at Goodness Me! go by these terms, but they do have slight differences in meaning:
Grass-fed:The cattle are fed grass from birth to finishing. They graze during the summer and are fed non-GMO dry silage in winter.
Natural: Any cattle that, in the last 60 days, is finished on non-GMO feedlot corn. This gives the meat a different marbling and flavor.
Organic: Every step in the process, from feeding to finishing, needs special certifications. You can have grass-fed or natural beef that is also organic, but the correct certifications need to be in place.
Whether it's natural, grass-fed, or organic, the point is that Goodness Me! beef comes from only ethical, sustainable sources. But we didn’t want to take the companies at their word - we had to investigate for ourselves.
When it comes to organic, grass-fed beef raised with no antibiotics or growth hormones, genetics is everything. So naturally our journey starts where, for many farms that strive to meet organic and ethical standards, their cattle also start: Top Meadow. Located in Ontario’s beautiful Blue Mountains region, Top Meadow is the genetics HQ for many farms around the world looking to raise the strongest, healthiest cattle.
The emphasis is on cow DNA, as carefully selecting the best cattle ensures that they won’t need to use any antibiotics or additives down the road. Every cow is put through an ultrasound, something Top Meadow has been doing since the 90s, and all their information is recorded. This rigorous process continuously makes the gene pool better, as the top 80-85% of cows go on through for breeding. Combined with space and animal husbandry, the cattle are kept as healthy as possible.
While it might seem impersonal, much of how they choose cattle isn’t strictly science. It also depends on something Mike Geddes, General Manager of Top Meadow, calls “cow sense": the ability to anticipate what the cow is going to do, what makes the cow an individual.
Top Meadow specializes in Limousin cattle, a French breed. While the search for the best can take place all over the world – Top Meadow has purchased genetic material from Australia – for farms producing organic and grass-fed beef, many places use their local environments to tend, feed, and, yes, breed the best cattle. This leads us to the next step: raising the cattle.
Raising sustainable, socially responsible beef means giving the cattle the freedom in which to grow. Artisan’s Angus beef comes from sources like Bar Five Farms. A stone’s throw from the Blue Mountains, Bar Five’s rolling acres provide the home and diet of some of the healthiest, heartiest cattle in Ontario. They raise cattle without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and the Angus cattle are "natural", fed only non-GMO grass, dry silage, and feedlot corn from local producers - as close to their natural diet as possible.
The farms are big, with 2.5 acres per cow. The space afforded not only gives the cows the room they need to grow and thrive, it keeps them from getting sick, too. The cows have so much space that it isn’t illness the Bar Five crew need to worry about – it’s lightning! They lose more cattle to lightning than they have to remove for illness, and lightning isn’t a very common cause of death. In the very rare instance that they do have a sick cow, Bar Five pulls the cow from the production chain.
As you can imagine, the Bar Five production chain is heavily monitored, much like Top Meadow. They use specific qualifications to ensure when a cow is healthy and ready for finishing, something they refer to as the “13 target”: 13 months old, 1300 pounds, 13-inch rib-eye, 13 millimeter back fat. These standards are used to determine the finishing for the cows, and it guarantees tender, flavourful beef.
Goodness Me!’s meat doesn’t just come from local, sustainable sources; it also comes from a community. It means a lot both to Goodness Me! and the Artisan Farms label.
These aren't faceless corporate entities: Bar Five is a family-owned farm, operated by the Nolan family and kept busy by a grandfather-grandson team. Buschbeck Farms, where we get our lamb, is operated by a former partner of the Bar Five team and is just next door. Artisan helps make the connections, helping farms with the same ethics and commitments to sustainability work together.
The Bar Five and Artisan Team
So while our journey ends at the Goodness Me! stores, the process never strays far from home. We rely on a community to ethically and sustainably raise our meat. Community is everything, and we hope you can taste it!