Protein. MEAT! We’d nearly given up on it while we were in Asia because anything store-bought either tasted terrible (don’t even think about touching the chicken!) or cost a pretty penny if it was actually edible (meaning sourced from Australia). I knew better than to think anything coming in a little yellow styrofoam container from mainland China was high quality. We ate lots of salad, lots of noodo’s, and even more cheap ice cream to sustain ourselves. Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic. HK has world class Western-style dining and one of the highest per-capita concentrations of cafes and restaurants on the planet (truth, look it up), so we certainly didn’t go hungry – but cooking at home was a bit challenging.
So, one of the things we looked forward to most when we returned to Chi was GOOD, home-cooked meat. (More specifically, my mom’s lamb chops, steaks, and ever-present fresh lunchmeat in the fridge.) After a few months of delish grilled meats (and the resulting few extra pounds on our frames), I swore to Jake that when we were FINALLY back on our own, we too would become Grill Masters and what’s more, totally healthy, clean food eaters.
Fast forward a few months. Our third week in AZ, I stumbled across eatwild.com and its list of hundreds of local farms that sell meat, eggs, and dairy from pastured animals directly to consumers. Local, protein and clean eating?! That was enough to catch my attention. Buying in bulk could make stocking our freezer with quality meat a breeze (and at an affordable price, to boot)… while supporting our local farmer. Seemed like a no brainer. But what sealed the deal was finding out that we could actually go and VISIT some of these farms to learn more. I love a good road trip!! And coincidentally, I’ve been involved with helping set up a blog at work (check it out here) focused on natural/organic foods… where better to share the experience?!
I could barely contain my excitement so of course, FT’ed Jake to get him on board. And as usual, he was excited about the idea too. (Somehow it’s become easier and easier to get him to indulge me on my whims. Are my sales skills improving? I think he’d argue, jokingly of course, that he’s just a so-called hen-pecked husband.) So it was decided: We’d go ASAP. Ah yes, the beauty of a new move – weekends are suddenly free. The slightly harder part came in scheduling a visit. I noticed there were only a handful of farms that openly welcome visitors and even fewer than do so on Saturdays. But as luck would have it, I made a phone call to Date Creek Ranch, ended up speaking directly to the owner, and scored an invite for the very next weekend!
We really had no idea what to expect. Do other crazy people drive for two hours (and get pulled over for speeding) to talk their local farmer? I don’t know, but I’ll tell ya what. They should. Our experience was THAT great.
(Oh and if you’re wondering, Jake got off with a warning and not a ticket. Despite going what the cop in Wickenburg called ‘criminal’ speeds!)
We owe a huge thank you to the marvelous couple that owns, runs and basicallyis Date Creek Ranch. Kim and Stefan took the time out of their busy day to basically just chat with us, to answer our questions, to swap stories, to humor me in letting me take their picture. I wish everyone got the opportunity to have the same experience we did… it would go a long way in people making the leap to eat better, to know where their food comes from, and to support the farms that treat their animals the way they should be treated.
It’s like they knew one of them would be mine.
But seriously – I’ve seen the disturbing images of what goes on in factory farm settings, and the reality of what livestock production has become over the past five or six decades has nearly been enough to turn me off from eating meat completely. Not only are the conditions in these feedlots and factories completely inhumane, but the meat that is produced is often riddled with residual hormones and antibiotics as the animals are administered drugs to help them to grow larger and survive the unsanitary living conditions. The meat has fewer health benefits, lacking the optimal levels of healthy omega 3-fats, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), beta-carotene, and vitamins A, D, & E that come from a grass rather than grain-based diet. And, it is often full of dangerous levels of bacteria such as E. coli. With bacterial poisoning being a big issue in the US, I was shocked to find out that grassfed beef has virtually no E. coli because it can’t thrive within cows that don’t eat grain. What’s more, when the meat is processed in smaller facilities like the one Date Creek uses, there is much less of a margin for error in getting the meat contaminated from parts of the cow that you do NOT want to be eating!
Couple other cool things about the ranch: It started in the 1870s and has been in Kim’s family since 1966. There are 39 THOUSAND acres with over 50 pastures between which the cattle herds move. One of my first questions: ‘This is the Arizona desert – isn’t it difficult to find grass?!’ The answer in a nutshell: Yes. And it’s become harder to do so because we’ve been in a drought for the past eleven years. When it does rain, it needs to be a gradual rainfall for it to be beneficial, not a monsoon. So what’s to be done? Well, the ranch operates on holistic management of the land, which provides the pastures better opportunities to rest and for the grass to regrow. The cattle graze in herds and in turn, naturally fertilize and till the soil with their hooves so that the land is ready for new vegetation. The movement of the herds is based on the vegetation cycle.
Once the cows have reached their last 8 weeks, they also get to eat barley sprouts. Lovely, thick and full of nutrients, this stuff grows in a solar powered greenhouse of sorts in only six days!
All eyes on me again.
Loved this fun fact… The ranch has not always been what it is today. Kim’s dad acquired it as a working cattle ranch but expanded its horizons, planting an orchard to provide the local community with fresh fruit. The family’s fruit customers knew they raised cattle and asked to buy beef as well, thus spurring the business that it is today! The ranch has not used any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers on the land or the animals since 1983, but when Kim took over, she took things further and went grassfed.
Aaand because I am just that nerdy, my excitement levels were pretty high when I found out the ranch still has over 600 apple trees AND 250 peach trees! Peaches are one of my favorite fruits in the world, but they can be hit or miss in AZ… so you can imagine how happy I was when Stefan ushered us into the orchard and we spotted nearly ripe peaches…
Even the boy who only eats red apples was loving it! This has sealed the deal for more You-Pick excursions in the future. We’ll have to wait until the cooler months here, but can you imagine picking grapefruit?!
We ended up leaving Date Creek with huge smiles on our faces, an arsenal of new knowledge (and a notebook full of barely legible notes!), a newfound respect for ranches that take so much pride in their livelihood, and an order for 1/4 of a cow.
Our trip to Date Creek truly made our weekend… and may have just changed our lives for the better. For anyone that has access to a ranch like it, TAKE ADVANTAGE! You will not be disappointed.
Kim and Stefan, thank you immensely and see you in the fall for the apple festival!
A couple tips for anyone interested in purchasing beef from your local farmer: