Farm Visit: Marin Sun Farms (Part I)

cows in a line

Talk of visiting a farm may conjure up images of 3rd grade field trips, but getting excited about seeing baby chicks or cows “in real life” isn’t just for kids. Yesterday Sam, his cousin and I visited Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes, and the three of us agreed: whether you’re a child or an adult, there’s something magical about experiencing animals and nature firsthand.

If you visit the Marin Sun Farms website, you’ll see straightaway that one of their specialties is all-natural grass-fed beef. I’ve read and heard quite a bit about grass-fed beef, but actually seeing the cattle grazing in the pasture—not to mention carefully stepping between fresh cow pies—helped me better understand where my food come from.

After trekking up a dirt road and through a pasture damp with mist from the sea, we interrupted a herd of 57 cattle munching their midmorning snack of grass. Aside from being cattle’s favorite food, it turns out grass is incredibly complex: there are annual grasses and perennial grasses, indigenous grasses and non-native grasses and—here’s the crux of the matter—the types of grasses cattle eat greatly affects the taste of their meat. Thus, the farmers try to promote the growth of specific grasses they know produce good tasting meat, such as clover and rye grasses. This is also true for dairy cows: the grasses they eat affect the taste of their milk. Before the industrialization of food production, beef and milk would taste different depending on where the animals were raised and what type of food they ate. As food production companies grew to be national enterprises, they wanted their brand of beef or milk to taste the same in California and Connecticut, the same in April as in October. In nature, however, food does not taste the same from region to region or from month to month because of climate and seasonality of feed. To counteract this flux in taste and make their brand of food taste the same everywhere, any time of the year, food producers relied on feeding their animals diets designed to make them taste the same. Goodbye diverse grasses, hello single-variety corn and soy. Sadly, the nuances of flavor that tie a food to a place are being lost and everything tastes, well, the same.

There are farms like Marin Sun Farms, however, which are raising their cattle the old-fashioned way: grazing in a pasture. At Marin Sun Farms the cattle are regularly moved from one pasture to another so they can have access to fresh grass and new nutrients. This also helps the grasses in the pasture regrow and prevents overgrazing. It’s amazing how much thought is put into feeding and moving the cattle and forming a system that works well the cattle, the grass and other animals.

I could keep writing, but I think I’ll save the rest for Part II. Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow: the Marin Sun Farms chickens.

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