Archive for the ‘Nature’s Green Acres’ Category

Episode 49 – Rge Rd 135


Last year’s Rge Rd 135 farm-to-table epic at Nature’s Green Acres [Episode 19] is still engraved into the minds of everyone that had the pleasure of being involved, making me more than slightly trepdatious at the prospect of trying to duplicate, nevermind top that farm-to-table extravaganza. But as far as I see it, they pulled it off.

Maybe I’m biased. It was a menu heavy on grass fed free-range meats, fresh garden veg and a splash of wild foods, all cooked on fire. I’m into that kind of thing. It also was the true maiden voyage of the 2nd cob oven build of the year, the first being mine. Add a lucky card-draw on the weather [again], a crew that busted their butts to make it happen, a few bottles of wine, a farm tour, and a few beautiful dishes for a large crew of happy guests – what’s not to like? The cob oven performed fabulously, I’ll add. It was a joy to watch it shed the last of its moisture from the build, get insanely hot, and cook some beautiful food. I wish I’d shot a video about the build, but was soaked to squishy-socks-in-my-shoes-stage and muddy as all heck.

This event is a labour of love, and for that I adore it.

From The Farmers’ Mouth – Time to Vote


My highlight reel of ‘From Local Farms‘ videos was just chosen by Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate as a top-four contender in their recent video competition. I’m honored to be on the list, to say the least. The very reason I started a video series at all was directly because of Daniel and Mirra’s earliest episodes – inspiring me to pick up a cheap Flip camera, introduce myself to some farmers, and press some record button. My life, quite literally, has not been the same since.

So a big thank you goes out today to Daniel, Mirra, all the passionate farmers, and especially to you for taking the time to watch what other folks have to say about our food world. You plugging into and supporting projects like The Perennial Plate matters – it creates cracks in a food culture needing to evolve.

Please click over here to like the video on facebook, and vote for it too while you’re at it. If the vid wins the day, it will replace the regular programming of The Perennial Plate next Monday, exposing it to a very large viewership of like minded folks across many borders. That would be very cool. Even if it doesn’t, big thanks to Daniel and Mirra for your support of what I’m up to and sharing your audience.

Beef Butchering 2011


Beef butchering is over for another year. My cellar is empty of hanging quarters, once again, only having been empty a day between elk and beef. All that’s left as evidence of the beef is the reducing pot of stock on my stove and the high population of magpies in my back yard cleaning up the remaining bones. Two things are top of mind for me about this experience this year: quality, and economics.

Quality. This cow is this year’s calf, having fed on milk and grass only, so the meat nearly looks like pork when cooked it’s so light in colour. The copious fat has an exceptionally clean flavour. I harvest moose at this same age, and find similarities in that nearly every cut is tender and delicate in flavour. This stuff’s a joy to work with.

This is a drug-free cow. A cow that actually grazed on grass rather than having eaten trucked corn or some other feed it’s not built to eat. It wasn’t stressed by being trucked around to auctions and feedlots prior to slaughter. I’ve spent a good amount of time in the pasture where this cow lived, and know the farmers well. I’m not sure what else I could ask for when it comes to quality of product.

Economics. Here‘s my beef-onomics from last year. This year, same asking price from the farm per pound of hook weight: $3. Worked out to $2.40/lb for front quarter, $3.51 for hind quarter. 81 lbs front, 95lbs hind. A big difference this year is that they used a different processor and rather than $76.13 for kill/chill cost, it was $26.25/quarter. My all-in cost for the front quarter was $220.66 for 81 lbs, or $2.72/lb hook weight. Last year’s numbers were $263.63/75lbs = $3.51/lb. I had to look at that math a few times…23% lower cost. Most of that is simply lower processor fees, but part is due to an error in assuming 50% of the side was front quarter, when in fact this year it proved to be 46%.

Weight of wrapped/packed cuts: 64.4 lbs. $220.66/ 64.4lbs = $3.43/lb, not including bones. Including about 5 lbs of stock bones, the total’s about $3.18/lb. Substantially less than last year. Interesting. Yay for lower processing costs.

There’s a point here beyond simply understanding what my food costs are when butchering it myself. The point is this: local, antibiotic and hormone free, stress-minimized, milk and grass fed beef bought from a farmer that sells at a farmers’ market can COST LESS than conventional box-store meat. People often tell me: ‘yeah, but‘ and cite the high cost of local food as a barrier to eating local. I have a ‘Save-On Foods’ flyer in front of me, beef outside round oven roast is $3.49 a lb for meat that is from ‘Western Canada’, conventionally raised and fed, likely finished at a feed lot, and shipped here and there. For the cost-senstive would-be-ethical-eaters [this was me at one time], the big question is this: do you care enough about the meat you eat to buy raw ag product from a farmer and process it yourself? If yes, welcome to the world of high quality AND lower cost. If not, please don’t complain to me that local food is expensive – it certainly can be if you choose, but doesn’t need to be.

Farm-to-Table w/ RGE RD & Riverbend Gardens


The last farm-to-table dinner I attended was a resounding success, and I’m not surprised Blair and his crew have done a few of these since then. By happenstance we ran into each other at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago and I ended up involved with his upcoming dinner at Riverbend Gardens. He ended up buying the last half of the 3 pigs we cut on Pig Day for the event, came over to butcher it, and also wanted to include some rescued fruit in his dessert so I ended up supplying some urban-fruit-rescued apples and evans cherries harvested by myself and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton volunteers. I offered to give Blair a hand, shoot some video and such, cause, well, it’s just a lovely kind of thing to be involved with, really.

It was a 6 course wine-paired menu based on winter-veg from Riverbend Gardens, and pork and beef from Nature’s Green Acres. Plus 3 hors d’oeurvres. Pretty impressive menu, really, and glad it was he and not I in charge of making it happen for the 25 or so guests. It was a well-conceived and well-executed festival of winter squashes, pork, local cheese, kales, cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beef, potatoes, urban fruit, live music, and local and Okanagan wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a spare seat at the huge table, and between shooting video of the courses as they were plated, got to eat the food and be a guest. Thanks to Blair and the RGE RD crew for that, and for becoming such fantastic advocates and supporters of our local food producers, and for cooking with fire. It matters. Enjoy the video.

Farm to Table w/ RGE RD & Nature’s Green Acres


Farm-to-table dining, while commonplace elsewhere, is still an extremely progressive concept in our restaurant scene. When one of the most well-respected chefs in the city, Blair Lebsack, mentioned he was going to tackle serving a multi-course dinner to 30-40 guests out in the cow pasture at Nature’s Green Acres, I wanted to be there.

I find in the food service industry, ‘Local‘ normally equates to an element, maybe two on the plate being local, and it’s usually a protein. ‘Seasonal‘ often really means, ‘seasonal somewhere’. Not here. The beef, pork, and chicken was from the farm, yes, but when the farm didn’t have enough garden to supply the dinner, Blair and Caitlin got out there and built and planted garden months in advance. They foraged nettle for one of the iced teas and the ice cream, and nicked edible flowers from farm yard to include in the menu. They made butter for bread and for the pastries in the desert course. Blair chased the pig into the trailer to haul off to the abattoir, and butchered it himself. They butchered chickens, made stock for the soup, and used the livers in a terrine. He even helped the farmer rip the ancient, neglected, wood burning stove out of one of the farm’s outbuildings so he could cook on it – the entire service being done over wood fire. Essentially, if it wasn’t from the farm or a neighbour, it wasn’t on the menu.

It was an epic evening for everyone involved, I think – certainly the kind of event you don’t soon forget, if ever. Keep an eye out for more from Blair and RGE RD [the name of his new venture], as this wasn’t a one-off. Perhaps farm-to-table has finally truly arrived.

Beef Throw-Down: 14 vs 24


This past fall, some friends and I bought 2 head of cattle from Shannon and Danny at Nature’s Green Acres [details of the butchering of my quarter are here]. I picked up my quarter after 14 days of dry aging. My friends had theirs cut at the meat shop after roughly 24 days. A recent discussion with the farmer about our experience with each approach led to a taste-test of the two side-by-side. Today was the day for the throw-down. Was 14 day or 24 day better? That was the question.

We did two preparations: a plain meatball and a rib steak. Although there were significant variations between the two meatballs, they were deemed more attributable to a) the grind and b) the fat content. The 14 day was fattier as I included far more fat, and I ground it coarser. The 24 day was ground finer, far leaner, and yielded an extremely juicy meatball. Neither had a perceptibly different complexity of flavor on the nose or palate.

On to the steak. I figured if there was a difference in texture, it’d show up here. But again, our conclusion was that the thickness, and cut [although both rib steak, no two steaks on an animal are perfectly homogeneous] contributed to the differences in experience rather than the age. Did we find one more tender with a greater concentration of flavor? Not really. Certainly not significantly so.

My conclusion: as with the big game calves I hunt, my choice is for less dry aging for the following reasons. 1] the animal’s already tender as a calf, so further tenderization is not needed; 2] concentration of flavor is not a goal of mine in my meats – delicately flavored calf meats is fine with me, and 3] dry aging creates waste via trim loss, something I can’t get behind with such a marginal benefit on the experience end. I’m certain that older animals or different palates would see this differently, but this is how I currently see it. Another important conclusion: both the 14 day and 24 day were both fantastic.

Many thanks to a good friend who hooked us up with the 24 day, and the 1975 Margaux.

Nouveau Beef-onomics


Pork, then antelope, then pork, then moose, then pork, now beef. I’m at the point now that when finished cleaning down after butchering I lightly dread the next. Until I’m into the next one, that is – at which point it’s fun again. This one was particularly exciting as I’d long wanted to pick up a front quarter of top quality beef to appease my love for braised beef and big red wine – and Nature’s Green Acres nouveau beef, as they call it, is this year’s calf, harvested at the beginning of November – precisely how I prefer my game: largely milk fed, young, mild, and tender throughout.

What I paid. The price I agreed on was $2.50/lb for the hook weight [hook weight = killed, gutted, skinned, ready to cut] of the front quarter – which is cheaper than the hind quarter which carries the bulk of the prime cuts. A whole nouveau beef weighs in at 300lbs or so on the hook [vs 'on the hoof' = live weight], putting a side at 150lbs, and a front quarter at about 75 lbs [I'm awaiting final figures, will update numbers when I get them]. So I owe the farm $187.50 for my quarter. The balance is meat processing cost – namely having the butcher shop kill and chill the animal, which for beef is $150 at Forsetburg Meat Processing Inc. [farmer's choice of butcher] as well as the cost of dry aging the beef. Paying for dry aging is new to me, at a cost of $2.50/day which I’m fine with as cooler space requires significant capital and operating costs. Consuming the space also could limit their capacity to take on game animals at this time of year. Total processing cost: $76.13. All-in total for the quarter = $263.63.

What I got. I weighed out 14 lbs of ground, 37 lbs of roasts [blade and rib primarily], and 10 lbs of loin and rib steaks for a total of 61 lbs of cut and wrapped meat. A bonus to cutting  young beef is that the bones are optimal for stock, and I roasted them immediately and tossed them into a stock pot making 10L or so of stock. I didn’t weigh the bone yield, but will guess 10 lbs. Key to this deal for me is that I got milk and grass fed calf from a farmer whose practices I respect, and had the opportunity to cut it how I want, with me having the final call on quality control in the meat cutting department. I also got a really crappy 2+ hr drive through ice fog in -24C each way to go pick it up, which was not enjoyable. Thankfully the staff at the butcher shop were the best I’ve dealt with anywhere.

The bottom line? $263/61=$4.31/lb of straight meat cuts, not accounting for soup bones. Assuming 10 lbs of bones at their rate of $1.25/lb, I’d adjust the net figure to ($263-12.50)/61=$4.11/lb. Honestly, I was a bit surprised how high this ended up. With pork, a hook weight of $2/lb from the same farm resulted in an all-in cost of $2.39/lb – the net cost being 20% higher than hook weight. With the beef, that increase is 64%. Why the spread? With pork, a kill/chill costs $55 now/animal. That’s it. With beef, the kill chill is $150 [why the spread, I have no idea, as pigs require scald/scraping, and I'd think it be quicker to skin a beef], and the $2.50/day for dry aging for 14 days adds up to $304.50/animal. That’s a big difference. With pigs, my processing cost is 14% of the value of the animal. With beef, that figure’s 33% – quite significant.

So how is $4.11? They charge $14.91/lb for rib steaks, $7.12/lb for blade/chuck roasts, $8/lb for ribs, and $5/lb for ground. Some quick spread-sheeting puts what I got priced at about $525 if I were to buy the same stuff at the market ‘retail’. So my cost at the end of the day is very nearly 50% of market retail cost from the same farm. Not only that, the best bit is that the farmer’s not getting short-changed in the deal – quite the opposite. I’m buying direct and reducing the effort on their end – no middle men, reduced sales hrs per head, reduced transportation costs to markets, reduced freezer capital and operating costs, etc. Good deal.

Oh, and I know – there’s cheaper beef out there. But I’m a QPR guy [quality/price ratio], and in my mind, the quality here for the price is a bargain. Want a look at how my cow was raised? Watch the Nature’s Green Acres ‘From Local Farms‘ episode here.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Nature’s Green Acres


Shannon & Danny Ruzicka at Nature’s Green Acres are pretty tough not to like, their kids are cute, their farm is neat, their dog is gentle, their land is gorgeous. But tossing all that bias aside, how they raise their beef, chicken, and pork is truly remarkable. Clearly heavily influenced by Joel Salatin [If you haven't watched Food Inc, you should] and well read and mentored in contemporary sustainable agricultural practices, these two are operating at an incredibly high standard right out of the gates.

For example. I’d arrived early in the morning, and hopped in the truck to tag along while Danny did his morning chores tending to the pigs. First off, their pen looked pretty nice. Their water’s overhead and always clean, the ground was not nuked to bare dirt as pigs tend to do, and the animals looked rather…clean. Didn’t even stink. He proceeded to hook up the truck to the pen and move it onto fresh knee-deep-grass. The shocker: he’d done it the evening before. Every morning. Every evening. Every day. The pigs are on deep, thick, fresh pasture essentially every few hours. I probably looked a little stunned.

The good news is they do the same for their chickens. I had arrived with a question from my wife wanting to know why their chicken was so exceptionally good. It could be their ration of 90% wheat/10% peas [they avoid soy, the standard protein-rich item in feed, to avoid GMOs], could be the grass – I left without a conclusive answer. As for their Nouveau Beef – a brand they’re creating for milk-and-grass-fed 6-7 month-old beef calves slaughtered in the fall – they’re tougher to spot when you visit. They have just under 20 cow-calf pairs on 200 acres of beautiful land. The way I figure it, that’s more than 5 acres per animal. And it sounds like the next step is implementing a rotational grazing program to further improve the health of the soil, grasses, animals, and ultimately us. How nice of them.

The bottom line is I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing already, and where they’re headed. They’re happy to sell sides and whole animals [important to me], are completely transparent, and as best they know how are growing the healthiest food they can in the healthiest way for the land. What more could you ask from the farmer who raises your meats?