We’re part of the Marin Sun Farms CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a monthly ‘meat box’ from our farm. As a member of the CSA programme we are not only a share-holder in the future farm harvests—and therefore support their ability to plan and manage the farm for that year—but we also know where our meat comes from and how it was raised. Just how much do we know, you ask?
We’re getting a ‘meat box’ delivered, so we thought we’d better go and meet our meat at the Marin Sun Farms CSA.
We’re part of the Marin Sun Farms CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a monthly ‘meat box’ from our farm. As a member of the CSA programme we are not only a share-holder in the future farm harvests—and therefore support their ability to plan and manage the farm for that year—but we also know where our meat comes from and how it was raised.
Just how much do we know, you ask?
Well, last weekend we made our first farm visit. We were part of a tour for the morning with other CSA participants, local restaurateurs, and those keen to look into the farm first hand.
The first important fact is that this farm is less than two hours drive from our doorstep. Second, it’s a small family run farm where “grass” is king and age-old cyclic principles of soil and grass management are followed.
If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, you’ll already know about the style of grass management that is being adopted by farms like Marin Sun. They are going back to pre-industrial methods, reducing technical inputs, increasing manual inputs, and where possible not bringing anything (feed or fertilizers) onto the farm from outside.
“Grass is a tree,” explains Nate Chisholm, Marin Sun Farm manager. “What we can see is only the canopy. Everything below the soil surface is where the interesting stuff goes on. In one cubic meter of land are thousands of living organisms, whose value isn’t generally understood or appreciated. We can’t have healthy grass without grazing animals. We try to mimic the grazing activities of the wild elk that originally populated this area.”
Nate rotates the cattle from field to field daily. Fresh grass can shoot up before it is eaten beyond recovery. This constant and quick regeneration results in a huge amount of carbon capture.
“If all of America’s existing farm land was converted to this kind of grass management, we would return CO2 levels to equal that of pre-industrial measurements in just one year,” continues Nate.
That’s a remarkable statistic.
In addition to cattle, the farm rears ‘broiler’ and laying hens.
The chicken breed that we’re all used to eating is what the farm rears, but this breed is a man-made hybrid of different breeds that industrial farming likes because they grow so quickly. Unfortunately they’re hopeless runners and hopeless at defending themselves, so while the laying hens have free reign to wander around on the grass, the ‘broilers’ are reared in small groups, and in coops that have wire walls and a ceiling.
Nate assures us that he feels the local market is finally getting to the point where it will consider buying a different kind of chicken meat.
“Alternative breeds that could do better in our environment where we have prey like stouts, foxes, and mountain lions, will be significantly more lean and the meat will be darker. It will be a big change for our chicken eaters, but it’s a change we have to make to remain strong to our principles,” explains Nate.
These chickens are grass fed, with some corn and soy supplements, and their coops are moved to fresh grass twice daily. Watching the moving process, we noticed the chicken scramble happily to the fresh grass to eat new shoots and find bugs and grubs. It seems like a healthy natural diet, even if they have to be in a coop for their own protection.
The laying hens also have mobile coops and like all the animals on their farm, as they are moved on to a new piece of land each day, they leave behind their manure which fertilizes the land.
Chicken friendly dogs bound up to us and we find out that there’s an important relationship here where the dogs help guard the laying chickens from predators.
Symbiotic relationships between animals, and between animal and land, are what make this farm go round.
And part of these relationships is us. After the tour, we travelled from the farm to its local butchery and were served a delicious lunch of BBQ chicken. Before starting the tour we were nervous about how we’d feel about our lunch. After meeting the farm owners and being introduced to the full rearing process, we couldn’t have felt like we were in safer hands.