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Grass Run Farm: A Different Look at Beef

By Sarah Johnson

Kristine, Eliza and Ryan Jepsen, with their dog Freckles of Grass Run Farms.Kristine, Eliza and Ryan Jepsen, with their dog Freckles of Grass Run Farms.

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. Even before the National Livestock and Meat Board introduced that famous slogan set to Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” suite in 1992, Americans have loved red meat. Unfortunately, as the love of beef has grown, so have unscrupulous methods of raising and processing cattle to keep up with demand. Nearly all of the beef available in conventional grocery stores today comes from animals raised in large facilities called confined animal feeding operations, more commonly referred to as CAFOs or “factory farms.”

While these highly efficient feedlot farms provide a steady supply of food at a reasonable price, there is growing awareness that this type of production is leading to other less visible hazards including widespread environmental pollution, the inhumane treatment of animals, hazardous conditions for farm workers, and the unnecessary use of hormones such as antibiotics, which some doctors believe is contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant “super bugs” that pose an imminent threat to human health.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of farmers and family-owned companies passionate about supplying beef to consumers in a way that neither is inhumane to the animals, destroys the land or puts human safety at risk. Oh, and their products taste great, too. Grass Run Farms is one of these. Located on the border of Minnesota and Iowa, this seven-year-old business owned by Kristine and Ryan Jepsen specializes in producing high-quality 100-percent-grass-fed beef raised through sustainable and humane farming practices.

After living in Idaho, the native Midwesterners decided to “come home” because they wanted their family life to be based on a farm. “Ryan and I are both former wilderness guides, which is how we got rooted in the ethics and philosophy of land stewardship,” says Kristine Jepsen. “We’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out how various cultures and professions interact with their natural environment.”

Sustainable. Humane. Transparent. For the Jepsens, these are more than just buzzwords. They’re a way of life.

Grass Run Farms works with more than 30 producers in any given year from Midwest states including North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. The processing starts at J.F. O’Neill Pack, a family-owned packing plant in Omaha that handles only a few hundred animals a day, all hand-cut. They work with Unger Meat Company in St. Paul to further process the meat and get it ready for distribution.

While their processing system may seem spread out to some, Jepsen explained that the decision to operate in Omaha actually helps their company cut down on “food miles.” “As a business, we need to be connected to the center of the American meat industry, which allows us to sell all the non-meat parts of the carcass in bulk either to conventional brokers or to other niche manufacturers who can economically ship to and from Omaha on established trucking routes. Taking advantage of established food infrastructure actually reduces the miles per pound of our meat and makes each animal more profitable, which allows us to continue to pay premiums to farmers for sustainable land and animal management,” explained Jepsen.

For those who can’t live without their beef but also have health issues ranging from high blood pressure to elevated cholesterol levels, grass -fed beef can be a good alternative. Compared with feedlot beef, grass-fed beef has less saturated fat, lower cholesterol, and is higher in vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. Grass Run Farms products can be found in 30 grocery stores and restaurants around the upper Midwest, including some of the Twin Cities best restaurants such as Bar La Grassa and the 112 Eatery.

Local food co-ops are supportive of the Jepsens as they seek to bring pasture-raised cattle to the local dinner plate. “We have been aware of Grass Run Farms since they started,” said Greg Dick, Lakewinds Natural Foods meat and seafood manager. “They fit very nicely into what we believe at Lakewinds, and we love dealing with a locally owned family business,” he remarked.

Grass Run Farms are also routinely selected by the region’s top chefs to showcase meat on their menus. In 2011, David Wiesenek, owner of the Motley Cow Café, won Iowa City’s Downtown Top Chef title with a house-cured Grass Run Farm pastrami.

Since transparency is paramount to their business, Kristine Jepsen says that taking a tour of their farm to see firsthand what Grass Run Farms does is as simple as calling them to arrange a convenient time. They also host educational events throughout the year with local sustainable agricultural organizations, with the next event being a Land Stewardship Project workshop in July. For those who aren’t able to travel to Iowa, they frequently appear at Twin Cities co-ops to do product demos and samplings.

Sarah Johnson is a local food enthusiast and freelance writer who has authored articles for Minnesota History, Twin Cities Daily Planet, Gameday and Simple, Good and Tasty.

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