Farm Aid returns to Hartford, CT this weekend, with the annual concert scheduled for Saturday, September 25th. We’ll be there to cover the concert, and other activities during the day including events at the “Homegrown Village,” designed to support local farmers.
I spoke to a local farmer who will be there earlier this week. He shares many of Farm Aid’s goals and values.
Martin Beck, who operates New England Grassfed at Cloverbud Ranch in Portsmouth, is looking forward to being a part of the event. “We are providing Cloverbud Ranch grass-fed beef brisket that will be available to festival-goers,” he shared.
Beck will also be participating in a panel discussion exploring regenerative agriculture and climate change at Farm Aid. He shared some thoughts on sustainable farming and the role of small farms in promoting such farming.
“We are excited to be part of an important conversation about the value of local sustainable farming that protects land, feeds families, and preserves the important flavors of a region,” says Beck. He’ll speak about “the terroir of heirloom varieties and heritage breeds that are lost to large-scale commodity production that hollows out communities and destroys the environment with no accountability to the big players who have industry lobbyists clearing the way for them by paying for Congressional support of their special interests.”
Beck advocates for ”a regional autonomous food system that requires people’s participation in seeking out direct commerce with providers who can supply to food co-ops, farmers markets, CSAs, etc. That way the lion’s share of the $$ goes to the grower, not the multiple distribution layers and the marketing budget of large purveyors and grocers.”
He explained a little more about how that system would work.
“We need people to eat the whole animal – we find wholesale and retail buyers for stew and braising cuts, organs, bones and fat. Not just steaks and burgers. Our animals are 3-4 years old at slaughter – two winters of hay feeding in the field are very expensive – but that makes our product so superior to standard supermarket beef.”
In contrast, “Feedlot beef is on the rail at 18-20 months after eating heavy grain ration for six months which make the beef much less healthy for people. We have heritage animals – Red Devon – that thrive in our low input pasture program,” continued Beck.
“They can fatten on grass and don’t need for us to grow/harvest/buy grain that has a hugely negative environmental impact. Annual grains require fertilizer, herbicide, etc. and are often shipped a long way. This is our biggest challenge – growing grass-fat beef that commands a premium price and gives people a sense of value for an expensive product. We can do it with superior pasture management which has been our goal for the last five years at Cloverbud Ranch.”
Beck believes we all have a role to play in the process.
“It’s actually easy for rich folks who can spend $17/lb. on our skirt steaks. The real challenge is for folks who are struggling to cook whole food from scratch and not go for cheap worthless fast food. They need to learn to cook low and slow like Grandma, use the good fats to flavor other dishes, buy in bulk, etc. We all need to think plant-centric since the proteins are so much more costly in an environmental way and take more resources to grow.
Beck challenges the idea that beef production hurts the environment.
“The uproar about beef being bad for the environment is 100% a feedlot story,” he explains. Our herd of 40-50 rotationally grazing on 80-90 acres of perennial pasture are a benefit to the land building soil, providing a space for biodiversity and birds (we have bobolinks migrating to us which are quite rare), recharging our groundwater table, preventing erosion, not using synthetic fertilizer and sequestering carbon – i.e. the dead plant matter on the ground and in the soil eventually due to our healthy population of worms (since we don’t use pesticides) offset the farts and burps of our cattle. The tally sheet for grain-driven commodity beef is a carbon nightmare on the other hand…”
You can stream the Farm Aid performances starting at 2PM at www.FarmAid.org.