James Ranch, Durango CO

james ranch market durango

Last Friday we were driving from Durango to Silverton and Ouray (on an incredibly scenic road–if you are in the area, do it), and just north of Durango we saw a sign for James Ranch Market: Open Saturday. It being mid-April, farmers market-type places are in short supply, so we happily returned the next day to check out the James Ranch offerings. It’s a gorgeous property, with rolling green fields dotted with cows, a mobile chicken coop, picnic tables, and a little burger hut serving their own beef and cheese, in addition to the shop selling the farm’s products. We were disappointed that we’d already had breakfast so didn’t get to try a burger, but we did buy some ground beef, flank steak, and eggs, and strolled the grounds hoping to spot some baby animals.

james ranch food cart durango james ranch durango cheese james ranch durango meat cooler

James Ranch raises beef cows on a 100% grass diet with no chemicals or hormones. The beeves (a new word to me since spending time out West and I love it) spend their entire lives with the family herd in a stress-free atmosphere. The dairy cows and goats also live on grass, or rather leaves, bark, and shrubs for the goats. Pigs are new to the farm, living in herds on pasture, able to root and wallow like pigs do. Chickens are pastured too, happily eating fly larvae from cow pies to keep the fly population in check–and they have a guard donkey to protect them from predators!

james ranch durango picnic area james ranch durango pasturesjames ranch durango pastures james ranch durango

The James family practices sustainable agriculture in preserving soil and water quality, and believes in transparency in farming: they encourage consumers to visit the farm to see where the meat, eggs, and milk come from and how the animals are treated, and if you have questions about the animals or the meat, they are happy to answer them. It’s how a farm should be!

james ranch durango james ranch durango grass fed beef

Stockholm’s Best Burgers

exterior view of Flippin' Burgers

Just before Team HP left on a short jaunt to Stockholm, the ever-observant Mr HP caught a tip in one of Huffington Post’s ubiquitous Top X Most Amazing [Random Thing]s Ever lists: the Number One Greatest Burger Outside America is at Flippin’ Burgers in Stockholm–and, per the article:

All Widegren’s beef is grass-fed, sourced from local farms, and ground in-house. A nearby bakery provides the buns.

As a recently recovered pescatarian, I have discovered that I love a good burger, but my rule is that I will only eat a burger if it’s from a local, happy, pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, humanely slaughtered cow. Flippin’ Burgers does it right:

Well, we only buy meat from small producers who have an eye on animal husbandry and slaughter. With animals staying outside and eat grass because they simply feel the best of it… Right now, we use E-marked Archipelago Meat from a small slaughterhouse in Värmdö who slaughter animals mainly from farms in the Stockholm archipelago. We have also worked with  Swedish Grass Meat and Greens Farms .

In Charlottesville this summer, Mr HP and I have enjoyed a Sunday tradition of burgers and beers at Champion Brewery: Every Sunday Champion hosts JM Stock Provisions and their magical grill of delights, serving fantastic burgers from local, pastured, hormone/chemical free cows, and man, are they good. So we were excited at the prospect of local happy-cow burgers on Sunday despite being 4200 miles from home.

Flippin’ Burgers has a wait for tables ALL THE TIME. We arrived at 5 and still waited for a half hour at the bar. While there, we got some tips from the (normal-sized) man next to us polishing off his order of FIVE cheeseburgers.

Flippin' Burgers bar

Flippin' Burgers menu

Based on our bar friend’s recommendation, we opted for Burglers, a basic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and house sauce. Mr HP got a double because he is extra manly. My sad phone pictures do not do the food justice, so you’ll have to take my word for it that these burgers were excellent: juicy, flavorful, not too saucy, and the buns were fresh and not overly bready (you know how sometimes there’s too much bread for the quantity of innards? these were well-sized).

Flippin' Burgers Burgler

Part of the fun of the Flippin’ Burgers experience was the Americanish diner scene. The food was American-inspired: burgers, fries, and Ben and Jerry’s milkshakes. The Swedes next to us ordered Blue Ribbon beer (PBR to you and me). The Spotify station (Spotify started in Sweden, remember? Seems like all restaurants/cafes/stores here have “Check out our playlist on Spotify” signs.) was heavy on early-90s American Top 40. But we were surrounded by Swedish-speakers and we were drinking Swedish beer, so all culture was not lost.

Flippin' Burgers diner scene

Ice cream case

Stockholm Brewing Co

We considered sharing a milkshake for dessert, but instead shared another burger for dessert. Five Burger Guy’s ladyfriend recommended the Cricket burger, which is not made of crickets, but rather a burger topped with cream cheese, pickled onions and jalapenos, inspired by the Cherry Cricket in Denver; this was our dessert.

Flippin' Burgers Cricket

Oh what a terrible picture. The onions were sweet, so it was sort of dessertesque. I wonder how the calorie count compares to that of a milkshake… no, I don’t want to know anything about the calories involved in this meal. It was an interesting and surprisingly tasty combo, but the more traditional burger was better in my opinion.

In conclusion, pastured, local, happy cows make the best burgers, and if you’re craving a top-notch burger in Stockholm and have the time to wait for a table, check out Flippin’ Burgers. If you’re craving a top-notch burger in Charlottesville, meet me at Champion on Sunday!

Babe(s) in the Wood

Here is the first guest post from the fabulous Ewe-nique!

Since the HPs, Cheenius, Mr. Dr. Cheenius, and the Tiny Twosome were all off to more exotic locales over Labor Day, it fell squarely on my shoulders to ensure that at least one of us attended the 2014 “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour. I accepted this self-directed mission with gravity and pride. In fact, I was so stealthy in my plan that the whole thing was unbeknownst to HP until I sent her this guest post and begged to be featured.

Meet Yer Eats

For those not familiar with the “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour, it is an annual Central Virginia event where a number of local farms roll out their welcome mat and offer the general public the chance to explore and “meet” their food sources. As an avid cook, locavore, and conscientious (i.e. picky) eater, I think that we can all benefit substantially by learning about and being aware of where our food comes from.

I must admit that my choice of farm this year was driven by an ulterior motive. As a longtime vegetarian, and more recently a pescatarian, I’ve been considering including other meats in my diet again for the past few months. However, one of my chief objections to the carnivorous lifestyle has long been the manner in which the consumed animals are raised and slaughtered. Thus, I decided to truly meet my eats and visit Babes in the Wood, a farm out in Dillwyn, Virginia that raises free-roaming, forest-foraging pigs.

The drive out to pastoral Dillwyn was winding, warm, and sunny. I’d been out VA-20 South many a time, but never this far south. I knew that I had ventured into uncharted territory when I passed a larger than life inflated chicken outside of an establishment called Lumpkin’s.

Since this was a solo expedition, I played one of my favorite alone-time games on the drive out: Rockin’ Road Name Revue. Believe me, people get creative on the backroads of Virginia. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here were my top favorites:

  • Troublesome Creek Road (That pesky creek is forever making mischief.)
  • Little Heaven Road (Leading to a trailer park, but… perhaps a reference to the Tiny House movement as chronicled by the Tiny Twosome on HP back in June?)
  • B-A-H Road (I can only assume this name is in reference to sheep or that it is one Bad Ass Homestead.)

I arrived at Babes in the Wood in time to wander around before we began a tour of the farm. In addition to sighting the piggies from afar, I also ventured over to the chicken coop and a small barn where there were a few calves hanging out.

Farmyard scene

Bill Jones, the owner and founder of Babes in the Wood, took us on an excellent hike in the farm woods, where he answered a bevy of questions from our curious group. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  • Bill raises English Tamworths, a breed that is well suited for forest life. The Tamworths have a lovely red coat and enjoy foraging for their food.
  • The sows give birth approximately twice a year (although if a sow had a very tough birth or large litter, Bill will only breed her once during that year), and the average litter size is eight piglets.
  • The pigs are fed at the farm once a day, and then are free to forage as they like throughout the forest.

Forest scene

  • Quite a few of us were eager to know how Bill keeps track of his pigs since they are free to wander. The simple answer is, he recognizes them when they arrive for the daily feeding, and if they don’t show up, he goes looking for them.
  • Unfortunately, I did not bring my pen and paper, so I don’t recall the exact number of pigs that are currently being raised on the farm. The numbers tend to vary with the seasons. However, Bill does keep the number proportional to the acreage of the farm (only two to three pigs per acre). If there are too many pigs per acre, their extensive rooting for food exposes the roots of the trees and can cause the trees to fall.
  • The pigs are approximately 12 to 15 months old when they go to slaughter.
  • Pigs are considered ready for butchering based on their weight, with about 300 pounds generally being the desirable weight.

Whilst traipsing through the woods, we kept keen eyes open for Kevin Bacon, the farm’s boar, but he regrettably did not show his snout. Bill mentioned that Kevin had decided a day or so ago that he was going into the woods and not staying in the pen. Apparently, one cannot persuade a 400 pound boar to change his mind if he has other intentions. Another fun fact: Kevin will grow to approximately 1000 pounds!

On our forest tour, we wandered down to a creek in the woods in hopes of sighting a few pigs, the creek being one of their favorite hangouts. However, the piggies must not have been in the wallowing mood, because we did not spot any near the creek. We did see a large sow hanging out in the woods by herself, and Bill mentioned that she had been feeling under the weather for the past few days. During this conversation, I learned that the primary health risk that his pigs face is pneumonia. The onset of the condition is sudden, and the pigs can die within three days of showing symptoms, so it must be caught and treated quickly. Thus, Bill had been keeping a close eye on this girl.

sick piggy

As our hike drew closer to the farm’s estate, we found many pigs hanging out near the farm’s fence. Many of the older pigs were relaxing, quite sensibly, in the shade of the trees, while the younger ones were cavorting together in a large group.

pig digs

Though the pigs are somewhat skittish around visitors (there was a lot of oinking and running away as I drew near), they are very social among themselves and establish a clear pecking (or perhaps porking?) order that lasts throughout their lives. The pigs are no stranger to putting a fellow pig in his or her place, and sometimes squabble amongst themselves to enforce this social hierarchy.

I’d like to present an analysis of the traits that can determine an individual pig’s status within his or her drove:

pig trait analysis

Toward the end of the tour, I got down to the nitty gritty and asked Bill about the manner in which his pigs are slaughtered. Interestingly, Bill is not allowed to slaughter and butcher the pigs himself if he is going to sell the meat to the public. Instead, by law, he must have the pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility. Hearing this initially raised my hackles a bit, but after I received the full story, my worries were abated.

Bill, as I mentioned, knows his pigs by sight. Every few weeks, he identifies the ones that are ready to be butchered and catches them (which is usually just the case of closing the gate when they come to the farm pen for their daily meal). The pigs then spend a few days in the pen, where there is plenty of space and lovely mud to wallow in, so that they can get used to the enclosed quarters.

mud wallow

When it is butchering day, he personally takes the pigs down to Blue Ridge Meats, his butcher in Front Royal.

Bill mentioned that his butcher is certified humane, but as we both agreed, like “certified organic”, “certified humane” can encompass a variety of abattoir environments and practices. Here’s the skinny on what goes down for the Babes from the Wood:

  • The pigs are slaughtered individually, and the other pigs are not exposed to the death of their fellow animals.
  • The pigs are killed with a single shot to the back of the neck/head, and then they are bled out and butchered. I thought that the “shot” was an electrical shock of some sort, but I forgot to clarify, and after doing some Internet research, it might also be a captive bolt gun. The common alternative to this practice is that the pigs have their throats slit and are bled out while they are still alive and, quite literally, screaming.
  • At Bill’s butcher, on a really, really, busy day, they may butcher up to 20 pigs. Contrast that with a typical commercial factory farm, which may slaughter thousands of pigs per day.
  • I checked out Blue Ridge Meats’ website post-tour, and was pleased to see that they clearly support and adhere to the humane butchery of their animals.

Thus, in my opinion, if you are trying to source humanely raised and slaughtered pork, you need look no further than Babes in the Wood. These are happy, healthy pigs who are extremely well cared for and have the chance to lead a natural, piggy lives before they are butchered with consideration and compassion. [Ed: And Mr. HP assures you that Babes in the Wood pork is DELICIOUS. You can get a sandwich at their tent at Charlottesville’s Saturday City Market, in addition to buying packaged meat.]

Having exhausted Rockin’ Road Name Revue on my way out, I found time on the drive home to reflect on my visit and compose a few pig-related haikus, also known as hamkus:

meat on cloven feet
bacon, ham, sausage, pork are
names for pigs we eat


My dear porcine friend,
I’m glad you had a good life
up until the end.

And with that, I’ll turn, appropriately, to the words of Porky Pig to sum up this post: “Th-th-that’s all, folks!”

happy pig

Adventures in Brazilian steak eating: the Rubaiyat restaurants

While in São Paulo last week, I was lucky enough to feast at A Figueira Rubaiyat, one of the city’s top restaurants. The “figueira” part of the name comes from the magnificent Bengal fig tree, over 100-years-old, that the dining room was built around. Here’s a picture from the restaurant’s website:

… because the pictures I took don’t do it justice:





But probably more interesting to you, dear readers: who are the cows served at A Figueira Rubaiyat and its sister restaurants in the Rubaiyat Group?

The Rubaiyat Group claims to be a “Farm to Plate” operation that rears pasture-raised beef cattle, chicken, and pigs on their own farm in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, since 1968. The animals are “fed naturally and raised in freedom,” according to a press release; but it is unclear from everything I could find online if “naturally” means they’re not fed hormones or unnecessary antibiotics, if the cows are finished on grass or on a feedlot, and if humane slaughtering practices are employed.

The meal was enormous and delicious and we were too busy cramming food into our faces for me to take any pictures, other than of the tree as we were leaving. Sorry. Imagine, along with the steak and fish entrees: fresh breads; an appetizer platter of sliced salami, olives, mozzarella balls and tomatoes, and salmon chunks; sides of grilled veggies, puffed potato slices, and hearts of palm; and an elaborate dessert buffet that we were sadly too painfully stuffed to try.

I’m sure you’re wondering if I ate steak. Unfortunately for me (by all accounts from my cohorts at the table), I didn’t do this research into the origins of the beef until after our dinner, so not knowing if the meat was from happy cows, I didn’t try the steak. Instead, I tried the exotic-sounding pirarucu, a large, ancient, air-breathing fish from the Amazon. It was good, but the steak eaters said there was no comparison to the meat. I’ll just have to go back to Brazil to try it!

In closing, since I didn’t get a food shot, here’s a cityscape. It’s a really neat town.

Sao Paulo

Meet Yer Eats: Happy Piggy Photos

I’m working on assembling a real post on our fun and educational day visiting Babes in the Wood, Caromont Farm, and The Rock Barn (I, the squeamish pescatarian, watched a pig get butchered–and took photos, don’t worry) as part of the Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my favorite (live) pig photos from Babes in the Wood. Those are some happy pigs. Enjoy!

Eating animal products responsibly

Eating meat and dairy responsibly can be challenging: always reading labels, asking questions of waitstaff and proprietors, researching stores and brands. I rely on a collection of web sites to help me find my way, and a notable one is The Whole9, a health and wellness site that preaches a very paleo way of eating.

Yes, paleo followers eat a lot of meat, but they pay close attention to the composition of the meat, as any added hormones or chemicals are transferred from the meat to the eater, and the healthier the animal and more natural and higher quality the animal’s diet, the more nutritious the meat or dairy product. The treatment of the animal is important too, since stress dumps bad hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream, and from there into the meat.

The Whole9 has a ton of really good information about eating healthy meat and eggs. They believe dairy products are irritants and cause health problems, so they don’t address milk, cheese, etc in their articles, but the same rules apply: get your dairy from happy, healthy, naturally raised animals.

Without further ado, here are some useful references to help you along your merry responsible consumer way!

  • The Conscientious Omnivore from The Whole9: A great overview of the importance of eating healthy, happy, well cared for and humanely slaughtered animals.
    • The Conscientious Omnivore: Eggs  Covers the hidden cost of cheap eggs, and instructs how to read egg carton labels–or even better: find egg that are so fresh and local, their cartons don’t even have labels!
    • The Conscientious Omnivore: From the Sea  Discusses the pros and cons of wild-caught and farmed seafood. Consumers need to use caution when choosing wild fish as many populations are over-fished. Farmed fish presents similar problems as factory farmed livestock: pollution, chemicals, and animals fed unnatural diets. The Whole9 gives seafood recommendations, including “consider farmed salmon your worst choice in any setting.”
  • The Whole9 crew then did all sorts of cross-referencing about mercury content, sustainability, and Omega-3 content to come up with this list of fish recommendations.

Following links from The Whole9 articles led me to these resources:

  • Eat Wild is a directory of local farms selling grass-fed products, and a resource for both farmers and consumers on the how-tos and benefits of pasture-raising livestock. To sum up, they help you to “find out how choosing grassfed products is good for: Animal Welfare, Farmer Benefits, the Environment, and Human Health.” I can locate local grass-fed farms in the Virginia farm directory, or on the Virginia map, and there’s list of Virginia stores, restaurant, farmers markets, and buying clubs with grass-fed products. Look up your state!
  • US Wellness Meats is a consortium of family farms in the central US, raising livestock that’s free to forage on grass at will, and practicing sustainable pasture management. They ship meat, cheese, and butter around the country, and the farmers’ beliefs about how livestock and land should be treated is worth reading.
  • Heritage Food USA, a site selling grass-fed, antibiotic-free regional or heritage meat, is affiliated with Slow Food USA. They have a manifesto worth reading, the gist of which is “We are proud combatants in the fight to promote difference and diversity in a marketplace dominated by monocultures. In this kind of marketplace, animals raised on pasture without antibiotics are hard to come by, as are rare and heritage genetics that evolved naturally rather than from laboratories designed for meat production and fast growth.

There are many, many good resources out there instructing consumers on the importance and benefits of eating responsibly raised and produced animal products. These are just a few; please share your favorites in the comments!

The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

If you think eating responsibly is too expensive–

The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves…

…for if quality matters so much more than quantity, then the price of a food may bear little relation to the value of the nutrients in it. If units of omega-3s and beta-carotene and vitamin E are what an egg shopper is really after, then Joel’s $2.20 a dozen pastured eggs actually represent a much better deal than the $0.79 a dozen industrial eggs at the supermarket.

from p. 200-201, Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture; and p.269, The Meal: Grass Fed.

Surprise Ally: The Paleo Diet

What? How can a diet that encourages eating large quantities of meat be considered a friend to the anti-factory farming movement?

The Paleo Diet preaches the consumption of pasture raised, humanely treated meat and eggs. The emphasis is on the fact that these foods are more wholesome, and therefore better for humans than factory farmed meats and eggs, but the side effect of supporting humane farms is a welcome one.

Animals raised on pasture and slaughtered humanely produce healthier food: more vitamins, a better fat profile and fatty acid ratios, no unnecessary antibiotics, and less stress hormones.

In short: eat only happy, healthy animals (or products from those animals) and you will be a happy, healthy human! Remember: you are what what you eat eats!






The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

(From Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture, p. 197-198)

In fact, grassing over that portion of the world’s cropland now being used to grow grain to feed ruminants would offset fossil fuel emissions appreciably. For example, if the sixteen million acres now being used to grow corn to feed cows in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove fourteen billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.

Moral: consumers have the ability to create change through purchase power. Make a difference by avoiding corn-fed beef and support your local farmers who raise cows on pasture.

How farms should be: Polyface, Inc.

You may have heard of the Salatins and Polyface Farms from the farm’s feature in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Building their family farm from scratch, the Salatins formed strong principles regarding how a farm should treat both its denizens and customers. They believe that the earth and animals should be respected, so they allow the livestock free-range access to foods that they would naturally eat in the wild, and they compost and encourage healthy soil. They also respect customers, and do not ship food in order to give consumers the freshest possible food, and therefore the best possible experience.

All animals, including chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs, at Polyface are allowed to eat as much grass as they’d like. Cows are moved to new grazing areas daily, and chickens roll in behind them to enjoy the newly-cropped grass. As the chickens graze and scratch, they break up the manure, cleansing the ground. Pigs root through the fermenting hay and corn bedding in the cows’ shed, aerating it, and turning it into rich compost that is used around the farm. Poultry birds’ diets are supplemented with local grain, and the rabbits are specially bred to thrive on a roughage-only diet.

To get the best sense for how Polyface operates, visit the farm for a special tour, and if you live in the area, be sure to patronize restaurants that purchase Polyface products.