As many of you know, I believe that the best food we can eat is food that nature intended. And as far as meat goes, that food is grass-fed, free-range animals. In the Madison area, one of the best providers of those products is Jordandal Farms.
Despite the fact that there’s snow on the ground – more than we’ve had most winter, in fact – March is still the month when many of us start thinking about spring. So, in honor of March, the possibility of spring and the hint of grass and daffodils, I’ve decided to feature my favorite pasture-fed farm.
Eric and Carrie Johnson started out thirteen years ago with the idea of owning a small farm and growing as many of their own fruits and vegetables as possible. They did hope to someday have a commercial angle to their produce, an idea they moved into soon after they planted their garden. However, after just a couple years it became clear that, while intense competition existed in the area produce marketplace, there were almost no purveyors of quality meat and dairy products. (Although even this has changed since Eric and Carrie got started.)
They started with chickens, but it wasn’t simply the lack of competition that set them on the road to pasture-raised meat and natural farm practices. “We just felt there was something wrong with an industry that had to force-feed its livestock antibiotics to keep them from getting sick while they were raising them. We did a little research and realized that the meat industry was raising their animals on the wrong kinds of foods – foods that they’d rarely eat in nature – and that feeding them that way actually made them sick. Even aside from the inhumane living conditions, the very foods the animals were eating would keep them from thriving. Ruminants aren’t supposed to eat grains. It’s as simple as that. And then, those unhealthy, sick animals became our food.”
Indeed, Carrie and Eric – and hundreds of customers – know that the meat and prepared foods – soups, broths, and pasties, for instance – that come from Jordandal Farms taste better. But pasture-raised meat is better for you, better for the environment, and better for the world. A strong statement, but Carrie and I both know it’s true. “Pasture-raised animals are happier and less stressed, but more importantly, they’re generally eating the foods they’re meant to eat. When we eat meat from those animals, we’re getting the best combination of nutrients those foods have to offer. The industrialization of the meat industry isn’t good for us. It’s cheaper, to be sure. But we’re paying for it in a thousand other ways, ways we can’t even see.”
While Jordandal started as a produce farm, over time they’ve moved to raising only animals. No matter what they’re focused on, however, they’ve always kept the process natural and chemical-free. They test the soil to make sure it’s as healthy as possible, and only use compost and natural fertilizers on their pastures and fields. “Using natural, holistic principles with animals just makes it more profound – you’re dealing with live creatures, not just plants. Of course they’re going to thrive more without drugs, without toxins, with access to air and sun and space to run freely.”
Today, Jordandal partners with another farmer and between them, they raise chickens, turkeys, beef, sheep and pork. From their first batch of approximately 50 chickens 13 years ago, they now offer over 8,000 chickens alone each year. The chickens are bought when they hatch and shipped from an East Coast supplier, surviving on the nutrients from their yolk sac during the 2-day journey. They live in a brooder house until they’ve feathered out, and then live in-pasture for the rest of their lives. This ensures that they will provide the best meat possible, with the best combination of nutrients and all the benefits of a good, whole, natural life.
Jordandal’s beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. Many farmers feed these animals grass for most of their lives, and then finish them on grains for the last sixty days or so, which bulks them up in size before slaughter, but also severely reduces most of the health benefits of grass feeding. Jordanal pork and poultry are pasture-based but always have a grain ration of corn, soy and mineral/vitamins. This ration enables them to grow and mature properly, otherwise they would take way too long to grow, and the resulting meat would be tough.
Last year, Jordanal raised over 300 turkeys, 350 hogs, 70 beef, and approximately 50 sheep (lamb). Unlike the turkeys and chickens, the beef and sheep are raised in closed herds, which means the animals are born and bred on-site, with only the purchase of a male every few years to add some new genes to the growing numbers of livestock.
To Jordanal, raising animals for meat in this way is much more than a professional or commercial choice. “It truly is a way of life,” Carrie contemplates. “It was hard in the beginning, knowing that you were raising them for food. It was hard to say good-bye. Hard to see them go to slaughter. But I realized we can’t keep everything, and this is what we are meant to do with these animals. We’re omnivores. We’re supposed to eat meat. And these animals are supposed to be raised in a way that provides them a graceful, happy life that also provides us good, whole, nutritious meat. It’s very fulfilling. We’re providing a service to people who want natural, nutritious food.”
The team works hard to get Jordandal distributed locally, and have succeeded in placing their meats and products in a number of retail outlets, including Metcalfe, Jennifer Street Market, Miller & Sons in Verona and the Hy-Vee (soups, only). Also look for them at the Westside Community Market on Saturday, the Middleton Market on Tuesday evenings, and of course, the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square (including the winter market).
Jordandal – real, good meat, the way nature intended. And so, so yummy!