Monday, May 31, 2010

Meet The Meat Makers - Farmer Dan!

After a debacle with my seafood merchant (essentially, I asked him what his vacuum packs were made of since they made some of my fish smell toxic, and he decided that since I wasn't happy, he'd rather not sell fish to me! Um, what?), I've happily taken my business elsewhere, although now I'm supporting a larger business instead of my preferred family-owned company. My first delivery will arrive tomorrow, but I'm not expecting anything more than what I'd get were I to use Coles Online... If anyone in Melbourne knows of a market-direct delivery service for wild-caught seafood, let me know!

Organic Direct has been very good to me, providing me with beef, lamb and chicken with their once-per-month deliver service. However, it was hard to know how much I would need to order, and would end up running low, and have to supplement from the local, pricey butcher... Cut to the end - it just wasn't convenient.

I had been keen to make a direct-to-farm connection for quite a while, but since I prefer to use the Internet, and farmers aren't always great at maintaining an online presence, I struggled to find a farm that inspired me. However, a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across Gippsland Lean Beef, now run through The Farmers Market by Farmer Dan. As he espouses via his site, he believes in farms that maintain very high standards of sustainability, nurturing and nourishment. His animals are humanely raised and treated, given access to range freely in uncontaminated pastures, allowed to feed on grasses and are not supplemented by grains at any point, free of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. And the added bonus - this "beyond organic" approach is not only the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly option around, but he even manages to offer his customers affordable prices thanks to his choice not to purchase organic certification! His site also draws on supplementary supply from other like-minded beef and lamb farmers that meet his strict criteria, so it's great to know I'm supporting a community directly with my purchases.

Farmer Dan (above, left) & I had an email back & forth before I made my first order (which you can view in its enormity in my previous post), and here is his answer to my big question:

GGP: So what's the difference between your product & what's certified as 'organic' in the Australian market today?

The difference between us and organic is quite simple. We grow our cattle and lamb naturally in a free range environment without the use of hormones, antibiotics or rumen manipulators.

1. Our prices are much cheaper.

2. We do not use grains to finish our cattle – We finish them on pasture. The rumen of cattle is not designed for grain but for pasture. Grain is an unnatural method of fattening cattle. We grow our cattle using natural methods. If you use grain you must use a rumen manipulator.

3. Certain parts of the organic standard allow for exemptions which we don’t agree should be allowed.

4. You purchase cattle from someone else that have had chemical on them and keep them on your farm for a period of time and they are classified as organic – this is not right.

5. You can use Gibberelic acid to spray on your pasture to make it grow quicker and then feed it to your cattle and you are still organic - this is wrong.

6. The organic standard does not go far enough in the way animals are treated throughout the production process.

7. Have a look at the organic standard and you might be surprised.

Of course, we would easily make the standard. What stops us is the cost. We have to pay very large fees to register and then they want a gross percentage of our turnover. I object to this. This is the reason organic products are very expensive. There are a group of people setting a standard that they perceive to be right and they want a gross percentage of my turnover. To them it is a business proposition. They make money to keep themselves in a job. For us it is a passion. We love what we do knowing that we are providing a food source that has been humanely produced without the use of chemicals or hormones. I don’t think they understand how hard the work is to produce a quality animal. All these big businesses are the same, they want easy money while someone else is doing all the hard work. We are happy to supply excellent quality meat at a reasonable price. I would rather take a lower price and make our produce more widely available than to exclusive to a few. We are not the only farmers out there that think this way. All we want to do is remain sustainable and maintain our lifestyle not to make a million dollars.

I was planning a trip to Farmer Dan's farm to check out his workings for myself but, as luck would have it, another blogger has done the job for me! The writer of Cows In Clover chose Dan for her first farm to check out in her search of happy and healthy meat (also her pen-name), and has constructed a detailed review of the workings of the farm. Perfect! And, judging by the Farmers Market site, Dan is using his connections with like-minded local farmers to expand his delivery service's offerings. Cows In Clover suggests that offal will soon be readily available - Dan already threw in a lamb kidney in my delivery, so I'm looking forward to using that in an up-coming culinary experiment... Hopefully I'll have a chance tomorrow to play around with a couple of ideas I've been theorising, regarding two certain old favourites that still make me drool when I'm at a party... Hint hint!


Paleo Grrrl said...

That's an eye-opener, for sure! I'm going to give my organic butcher a call tomorrow and quiz him on where he sources his meat...then I'll call them!

Thanks, as always, for continuing to provide such important information :)

theshmaltz said...

Hey Jez. I love Farmer Dan and the crew at Farmers Direct. I've been using them since they were called Gippsland Lean Beef, probably over 12 months now. We tried organic Direct once, but we found GLB cheaper and more flexible for our requirements.

Our last purchase from Dan was a 4kg hunk of porterhouse. We sliced it up ourselves into about 16 good sized steaks. This was easily THE BEST porterhouse I've ever had. Absolutely magnificent - tender and melt-in-ya-mouth!


Scott Grice said...

Great read.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I discovered your blog recently and would like to ask you three questions. You may already have answered them and if so I am sorry to ask again.
1. you don't appear to ear vegetables, why is that.
2> You seem to add a lot of fat to your meals, any reason?
3. Do you fry your food?
I don't have a blog but would love to hear your comments.
New Zealand

Jezwyn said...

Thanks for the comments, all! I'm totally in love with Farmer Dan's lamb chops, and I'll be trying a leg roast soon... Squeee! I'm still getting back into beef, still not loving beef outside of a curry... No idea why!

Anon, the best starting point for you is my Show Me The Science page, since it explains and links to other explanations of what it means to be primal/paleo, the importance of eating a lot of fat, and why it's beneficial for most people to consume a meat-based diet, and why some benefit from cutting carbs and fibre altogether. Reading my past posts will help you understand how I got to this point in my health journey. If, after all that, you still have questions, just ask! :)

Murray said...

Hi Jezwyn,
Great to see some Melbourne based paleo devotees! I am in Rosebud and have been following the paleo style diet and exercise regime for about four years now. Until recently I thought I was the only one in this part of the world doing it!
I'm really enjoying your blog so please keep up the good work!
I have never bothered with buying directly from the farm for two reasons. One is convenience. My office is right next to the local Woolworths and a couple of really good butchers. Second is that my health and body composition have so greatly improved just by cutting the grains and refined foods (neolithic agents) that I really haven't felt the need.
Given that supermarket beef in Australia is primarily pasture raised, I just wonder how much better the meat from local farms like farmer Dan's really is with regard to its fatty acid composition and content of residues and antibiotics etc. I would love to find the science in this area to truly find the facts.
With regard to supermarket lamb, my belief is that it is always pasture fed right to the end, so the chance of its fatty acid balance being too high in omega 6 is probably unlikely. If you have any further info on this subject I would be interested in hearing what you know.
Regarding seafood.....even here on the peninsula availability is difficult. We can catch our own flathead and squid though but is very much a summertime activity.

Jezwyn said...

G'Day Murray!

Yay, another local! Given the abundance of fresh, local product in Victoria, I'm glad that lots of us are supporting organic, small-scale farming when we can, to try and start dissembling the Big Two supermarket domination and their impact on farmers.

Having grown up on a farm, I too saw no problem with supermarket meat, since the farms I was exposed to seemed to care for their animals well and let the live naturally. My wake-up call came when I was talking to a friend's dad who had been asked to add his animals to the Coles supply, but he had refused as they demanded that he give all of his animals antibiotics shots (which were unnecessary given his animal-friendly rearing and raising process - what does that suggest about other animals in the Coles supply?). He was also told that he should only use a specific brand of pesticide since it was less detectable..! He, of course, refused to use any pesticides anyway, but this request revealed a lot about Coles and the other farmers. Most of the meat at conventional butcheries are supplied by similar farms.

Given what we know about the dangers of exposure to antibiotics, and especially the recent discoveries surrounding the connection between pesticides and mental illnesses such as ADHD, I can't endorse conventional/supermarket meat to anyone. Convenience is a state of mind - planning ahead a couple of days means you can have high-quality, truly natural and healthful meat delivered to your door. I get meat less than once per month these days, even with my small freezer, and don't have to go to the supermarket/butcher at all unless I lose track of supply or there's an emergency.

You can't know what insidious effect the chemicals in conventional meat are having on your body - I often wonder whether 'common' illnesses in the elderly, such as dementia, are connected to our changing food supply. My reading has certainly suggested the the 'illnesses of age' are confined to the Western world. And I don't really think that you can judge your future health on your perception of your current health - cancers could be around the corner if you continue to consume carcinogens... I'm not perfect, but I'm doing my best to rule out my exposure to such agents in my control.

I did a blind experiment a while back to see whether I could pick the difference in taste between supermarket lamb and organic grass-fed lamb (both forequarter chops) and I identified the supermarket meat instantly. After this experiment, which was really to gauge whether organic meat tasted different, I certainly believe that there is a fundamental difference to how the animals are raised and processed, and given the way farms operate in Victoria, it must be related to chemical involvement.

Fatty acid balance can be impacted and controlled by a range of factors, and you can supplement with fish oil if you're worried. I find pesticides and antibiotics far more concerning.

Seafood is a bother, but now that I feel better about Tassie's salmon farms, I'm okay with using salmon as a significant component of my year-round diet. I'm craving prawns and octopus lately though, which is interesting to me, so I wish that was something I could garner easily. I guess I do need to shack up with a squid fisherman... :)

Deanna said...

I'm happy to say I found a farm in the area that I'm going to look into for my own organic meats. A lot of the free-range farms around here sell only beef -- this one has chicken, pork, and occassionally lamb. And I just found out it's down the street from a happy old couple that grows four kinds of blueberries and four kinds of blackberries. Neither farm delivers, but berry-picking and a meat pick-up sound like a pleasant enough way to spend a summer afternoon.

primalkim said...

Hi I'm really enjoying your blog, as I have just recently become "primal" after stumbling upon Marks daily apple. I've been primal for a couple of weeks and feeling the benefits already.

Its really interesting reading about the care you take and the researching of the products you are eating.

Anyway I'm from the UK so taking your lead, I'm going to be checking out the provenance of the organic meats we have available here.

Murray said...

Thanks for your input Jezwyn. Having read the Farmer Dan website I'm keen to give it a go. You're certainly right on the point of supporting small producers and businesses. The corporations and multinationals are making it hard for the small operator these days and we really should all be supporting them when we can. Good to know that you're putting your money straight back into the community; supporting your neighbour so to speak.

tashabird said...

Do you know anything about the alleged carcinogens in cooked meats? I'm feeling so good about my new paleo diet, but this part has me a little concerned.
Any info about that?

Jezwyn said...

Hi Tashabird,

There's a lot of info out there, but here's a summary to help you target your searches:

Essentially, meats can develop carcinogenic compounds when exposed to direct flames. The black 'char' on the outside of meats cooked on the 'grill' section of the barbecue? Bad news. If you look into how hunter-gatherers prepare their cooked meats, they protect the flesh from the flame, cooking it beside the heat or over hot stones/bricks rather than flame.

The other issue is that fats (usually the fats used in the marinating of the meat, or lubrication of the cooking surface) can overheat during the cooking process, becoming damaged and then dangerous. If you ever see your cooking oil smoking, it's too hot and should not be consumed (and neither should the foods cooked in it as they will have absorbed some of these damaged fats).

There are some studies that suggest that cooking meat at all damages the proteins, and then when we consume them and use the proteins to repair our own muscles, we're setting ourselves up for trouble. I don't give much credit to this theory though since we evolved to eat cooked meat - a great book was released recently arguing that the human animal was only able to evolve because of the advent of cooking. Cooking is what makes us human. It's an intriguing idea, but it's worth remembering that the hunter-gatherers know not to flame-grill their steak, and they certainly never bathed it in a canola oil marinade first!