25 Jun, Saturday
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Meet Your Meat: Going direct to Utah farmers and butchers

It’s summer. The grill is heating up. You’ve got rib eye dripping a juicy tear or two on the flame below. Ribs are next in line, biding their time while taking a dip in sweet honey barbecue. Laughter and lazy sun mingle with the evening breeze. The season’s traditions are in full swing, with great meat at the center of it all. But it’s not just great tasting meat people are looking for these days—it’s great quality meat.

More people are looking for locally sourced meats, from animals raised and butchered the way they were generations ago, before America’s industrialized mass-production machine clunked into high gear. People are beginning to ask, “Where did my meat come from? What did the animal eat? How was it processed?” And a few standout Utah farms and shops are providing mouthwatering answers.

Pasture-ized meat

Remember those Golden Books? The children’s early readers that showed idyllic scenes of farm animals, actually out on the pasture? Organizations like Christiansen’s Family Farms and Utah Natural Meat raise their animals exactly like that—on the pasture. Both farms invite customers to visit the farms, see the animals, and learn why they believe the way animals live and what they eat all leads to better quality, healthier meat.

Christiansen’s Family Farms, run by husband and wife Christian and Hollie Christiansen, raises cows and pigs on its fields in Vernon, Utah. Christian says, “We offer pasture-raised pork and beef. Our animals are treated humanely and gently. We don’t use utilize many of the common farming practices such as clipping teeth, docking tails or gestation crates. Because we offer our animals enough space, these practices aren’t necessary.”

Utah Natural Meat likewise believes in animals raised in wide-open spaces. The West Jordan-based family farm lets its cattle, goats and sheep roam on its fields. To maintain the land the animals call home, the Bowlers take a decidedly old-fashioned approach.

Shayn Bowler co-owns the company and runs the farm with his wife, Kristen. He says, “We only use all animal power, no tractors. All the plowing, all the planting is all done through animal labor. The main reason I farm that way is because I really enjoy working with the animals. That becomes the manner in which we can stay more connected to our farm. Our mission is not to do as much volume as we can, but to stay with as good a quality as we can achieve, and the horses help us maintain that.”

What they eat … what we eat

There’s been increased public concern over the awareness that what animals eat—and what they’re treated with—passes right into our own diets.

The Bowlers share that concern on Utah Natural Meat’s website, saying: “Not long ago most animals, especially cattle, were only raised on grass. That all changed in the 1950s when feedlots and grain-fed diets became increasingly popular and continued to the point that now almost all meat is produced in feedlots and factory farms. The problem? Confined spaces. Poor diet. Added growth hormones. Overcrowding. Sick animals. Antibiotic overuse. Unhealthy meat. And that leads to unhealthy people.”

Bucking the industrialized meat trend, Utah Natural Meat insists on a grass diet for its ruminant animals (those with a four-chambered stomach). “We feel grass is better for these animals,” says Bowler. “Their stomachs are not designed to eat grain; grass is the most beneficial for their digestive system. The grass has chlorophyll in it. That becomes their natural antibiotic. There are only about a million reasons why grass-fed is better.”

As for its pigs, turkey and chickens, they eat a combination of grass and grains—none of which is GMO.

Utah Natural Meat is so meticulous about the purity of the grass its animals eat, Bowler says, “we raise our own grass, sprout it right here in greenhouses at the farm.” The animals also spend time on grazing fields, which are never sprayed with chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides—just like the company’s alfalfa fields, which are harvested to supplement the animals’ diet in the winter.

Christiansens’ cattle are fed a strict diet of grass and barley/oat hay, and their Berkshire pigs eat an exclusive feed formulated by the Christiansens. Their website explains, “Our feed consists of oats, wheat, barley, triticale, and alfalfa. In fact the small grains we use as opposed to the traditional corn/soy pig feed produces a beautiful fat that is firm and white. This is part of the secret to our farm fresh lard. All of our feed is grown in Utah, mostly from local farmers we know. All of our feed is GMO-free. Our feed contains no animal by products, no medication/antibiotics, and no GMO products.”

For specialty shops, like Salt Lake City’s whole butcher shop Beltex Meats, that kind of attention to natural farming and feed matters. Owner and head butcher Philip Grubisa says, “We do something that isn’t done too much here in Utah—we source our meats from local small farms right in our area. We have personal relationships with each farmer and rancher; we go out and handpick who we want to do business with. By doing that we know the exact process the farmers and ranchers use.”

Grubisa says Beltex’s customers like being able to talk to their butcher about where their meat came from, what it ate, and that it’s GMO and antibiotic/hormone free. To that end, the store also offers a variety of classes. “Education is something we pride ourselves on, making people understand that well-raised meat grows right down the road.”

Packaged with care

According to these folks, it’s not just the farming and feeding that plays into high-quality natural meat—it’s also how it’s processed. For farms like Utah Natural Meat and Christiansen’s Family Farm, that means butchering happens right on site. It also means customers can have access to the whole animal—or at least a good chunk of it, with CSA shares.

“A CSA share is a 30-pound package of meat,” explains Christian. “When customers purchase a CSA share, they are buying about one-fifth to one-fourth of a pig, or about one-sixteenth of a cow. The money we receive goes toward the cost of raising the animal. Once the animal reaches a butcher weight, the customers gets their ‘share’ of the meat. This means the share owner gets a little bit of everything you would expect with a cow or pig without the need for a large freezer.”

For Utah Natural Meat, care also goes into making sure meat from the entire animal is sold before another is slaughtered. Bowler says that can create a dearth of Utah Natural Meat’s popular bacon, which they process using a proprietary no-nitrate curing process. “I will sell out of bacon quickly, but have to wait until I sell the pork chops and roasts before I kill more pigs,” he says.

At the farm stores and at Beltex, you’ll also find parts of the animal you don’t normally see at the big grocery stores, including bones, organs, fresh lard and tallow. Utah Natural Meat offers farm fresh eggs and raw milk. Christiansen’s makes its own sausage, not surprisingly without MSG, BHA or BHT.

Beltex Meats likewise creates its own charcuterie, an art Grubisa became interested in while working at the Waldorf Astoria’s acclaimed Spruce restaurant. “At Beltex, we use always the freshest cut. There’s nothing more than meat and spices in our charcuterie,” says Grubisa.

So the next time you’re getting ready to heat up the grill or set out a charcuterie plate, you may want to consider going to the source for your meats—right to the farm or the butcher shop that takes its role seriously in producing natural meat.