Earth Notes: Better Beef

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Better Beef

Carnivores, take heart. If your idea of a real meal includes a grilled steak or burger, you may now enjoy a healthier version while helping family ranchers stay in business and protecting the wide-open spaces of the Southwest.

With profit margins down to the bone, more small ranchers are producing natural beef to fill a specialized niche market. And rather than going it alone, some have joined forces in cooperatives such as Country Natural Beef.

Founded in Oregon, Country Natural is a member-run marketing group. To participate, ranchers agree to use a low input method of production. That means grazing their cattle on grass up to 18 months, and sending them for only a short time to feedlots, where they're kept separate from commodity cattle.

The beef must meet federal requirements for the natural label, as well as the co-op's higher standards: no antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed additives.

Country Natural now boasts members in almost all western states. The Bar T Bar Ranch east of Flagstaff recently became Arizona's first member. Ranchers Bob and Judy Prosser continue to graze their livestock on grass. With other members of the co-op, they also commit to meeting their customers face to face so they hear directly from those who consciously choose to spend a little more on better beef.

Money on natural beef is well spent, author Michael Pollan (pr: Pollen) says, because it makes it possible again to eat meat from a short, legible food chain consisting of little more than sunlight, grass and ruminants.

-Rose Houk