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When shopping at the butcher’s counter you’ll likely come upon the familiar labels of AAA Canadian and Angus beef, grass-fed, non-GMOs or hormone-free, which we trust as indicators of premium meats. The newest designation to this list which you may not have heard of is the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). This is not just another vague marketing phrase to gloss over, rather the ROC movement is one to know as it’s steadily defining itself through its efforts to combat climate change.
Though it’s not an official label used within Canada yet, many say that it will dominate 2020 conversations about food as it comes into the US market. The main principals of Regenerative Farming have been outlined within three categories and farms are graded upon a three-tier system ranging from Bronze to Gold classification. The three principals are soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness (see link). As described by the Regenerative Organic Alliance:
Soil Health: “Agricultural practices that build, rather than degrade, soils by increasing soil organic matter, biodiversity, and fertility.” Farms achieve this through careful tillage of their soil with little disruption, as well as neutering of natural bodies of water, flora and habitats.
Animal Welfare: “[The farm] ensures humane practices in the raising and/or handling of animals that intend to be sold or marketed using ROC claims”. To meet these standards farmers must already be approved under an Organic certification, to reach a Gold classification under ROC animal welfare extends to all animals on the property not just those being sold. Some examples of this are dogs and horses used for herding and protection.
Farmer and worker fairness: “[The farm maintains] continuous improvement to better the social and economic position of farmers and workers.” This element protects workers' agency and gives them the room to negotiate contracts and open dialogue between workers and farmers.
Learning from the Experts: 8-Acres Farm
The Regenerative practice is not new, cattle have long foraged from Canada’s grassy Prairie lands and the Regenerative farming movement itself goes back to the 1980’s. What has changed is the distance between the average person and the food on their plate as well as a growing appetite for knowledge about how it got there and the larger food systems at play.
Through an understanding of the life cycle of a cow on a Regenerative farm, we can begin to see how climate change may be affected. When cows are able to roam freely and graze from a variety of grasses their manure fertilizes the land, through their movement from pasture to pasture they carry seeds within their hooves and replant them as they walk. In the natural world, movement is key in the nutrient cycling between plants and animals. Over grazing or smothering of one area can kill the grass they depend on, and leave the ground exposed to emit precious carbon from the soil. The benefit to the farmer is that the cow, as well as a diversified group of animals (city folk, think back to your childhood books on farm animals) chickens, pigs, sheep etc. all do their own special part in fostering important biodiversity on the farm.
In our business we labour over the quality of the final products that we offer our guests, but during this time of reflection through COVID-19 we’ve acknowledged that there is nearly endless information that can be learned about our modern food systems and that you can never stop educating yourself on it. This is why we connected with 8-Acre farms, one of the largest and experienced grass-finished and organic cattle ranchers in Canada. As home to over 10,000 cattle and over 45,000 acres under their management, 8 Acres’ expertise is exemplified in the care and quality of their product. In a recent interview, we discussed Regenerative farming in Canada as well as the differences between grass-fed and grass finished beef.
8 Acres' Grass-fed program prides itself in being able to guarantee the traceability of their cattle, diet, genetics, and welfare. Their cattle spend their whole lives in the same environment, sparing them from the stress of excess transportation and confined feeding which greatly effects the meat. While other farms wean off their calves from their mothers in October to be sent to feed-lots, 8 Acres allows them to be together throughout the winter months into spring, which supports better physical and mental health for the animal. Reducing stress throughout the lifetime of the animal is a priority of 8 Acres. Grass-fed as well as organic labels denote many important indicators of special care. However, as the public knowledge of the whole food system and our own dietary needs expand so comes room for growth within these labels in the form of Regenerative farming and grass-finished beef.
There is misconception about grass-fed beef, while these cattle may have started their early lives eating grass, they will also be fed a mixture of corn, and other grains as well as fats to help them to bulk up to get that ideal marbling effect. In contrast grass-finished beef assures that cattle only consume grass that they naturally forage and easily digest. The benefit to the shopper is that these grasses contain important nutrients we would be unable to digest on our own with the help of the cattle first absorbing them. 8 Acres notes that, “Meat from cattle feeding on grass has a high degree of the healthy omega-3 fats in it. It also has less of the unhealthy saturated fats.” See more from our interview with 8 Acres below.
Q&A with 8 Acres
We spoke with Mike Delaney of 8 Acres on what it means to run a Regenerative Farm, why transparency in food is important and what the challenges have been starting a new business during COVID-19.
We spoke with Mike Delaney of 8 Acres on what it means to launch a regenerative beef business and what the challenges have been starting a new business during COVID-19.
We [8-Acres] started back in April, and have been building the program out since then. Some of the challenges have just been that everything takes longer. You can’t see anyone or have any face to face interactions, meaning you can’t exactly just grill up a steak with your customers. Everyone’s capacity at meat plants as you probably read in the news has decreased a lot. It’s been a process of patience, even with getting marketing materials together and branding, it’s been a lot of work. My partner and his wife are about to have a kid, and there’s a lot going on, but I guess that’s just normal life during a weird time.
Why do you think the shift towards Regenerative farming is coming into popular discussion now rather than a few years ago?
People’s appetite for information is growing, ultimately people want to know where their food comes from, they want to know who grew it and they want to know what it ate. We have all this information on hand, and we can be super open, honest and proud of what we do because we don’t cut any corners. We want to be the pinnacle of integrity in the grass-fed space.
Can you speak more on the traceability of your herds?
All our cattle come from the same ranches. They’re not getting onto trucks and moving around all the time. There’s no hormones or antibiotics, and because of this the cows have an excellent life. Ben Stuart is our grass-finished rancher in Saskatchewan who originated from New Zealand and he brought with him a lot of the same practices Kiwi ranchers have been using for generations. We use a high-tech monitoring system that is able to trace the movements of the herds from pasture to pasture which is being updated in real time using software and photos to create a lifelong timeline for each animal. One of the main differences and biggest hurdles [between Canada and New Zealand] has been the extreme cold in Canada, he’s had to adapt but the program is thriving.
What are the different kinds of grass that the cows will eat and what’s the process like in growing it?
We’ve taken farmland which may have otherwise grown conventional crops and replanted it with grasses and plants such as Italian ryegrass, alfalfa, radishes, turnips and other legumes which help to put more carbon back into the soil. After these multi-specie crops are planted, the soil is disturbed as little as possible. Animals graze these crops directly in the fields they're grown in, which helps build organic matter and restore the carbon cycle.
We understand that because the cows are fed a grass diet their steaks will have less marbling, is there anything else that shoppers can look for in terms of physical differences in their meat or is it up to taste?
Grass-fed steaks are naturally going to be smaller loins because they’re coming from smaller more athletic beef. For example, you might be used to seeing larger striploins but cattle were never meant to be as big as they are. You may also notice a bit more colour to the fat, this is because it contains more omega-3 fatty acids similar to salmon.
Look For These 8-Acres Products On Your Next Shop:
Grass-Fed & Finished Ribeye Steaks 280g - known as the “King of Steaks”, with a higher fat content, this steak is perfect for the grill or a sizzling cast iron pan. Cook this steak to a medium rare for a perfect blend of texture and flavour.
Grass-Fed & Finished New York Striploins Steaks 280g – a boneless cut from the short loin that is highly prized for its balance of flavour and tenderness. The Striploin is perfect for the barbeque or a stovetop.
Grass-Fed & Finished Lean Ground Beef 454g - is full of flavour and texture, a perfect ingredient for home-made burgers or a classic Bolognese.
Grass-Fed & Finished Beef Tenderloin 280g - is a true family favourite for any celebration, pairs excellent with seasonal veggies, corn on the cob or potatoes.
Grass-Fed & Finished Stew Beef 454g - is lean and full of flavour with melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, a perfect ingredient to braise into your favourite stew, stir fry and curry recipe.
Grass-Fed & Finished Beef Top Sirloin 280g - is a flavourful cut that is versatile and juicy. Great as a steak or cut into kabobs. This steak is excellent on its own with salt and pepper or included into a recipe such as a steak salad, or a stir fry.
Try them with these products:
Other Must-Try Products:
Imported from the Campania region in Italy, BUFA buffalo mozzarella is made from grass-fed, free-range water buffalos. Created with care and delicacy this DOP product is cruelty-free so you can feel good about using this fresh cheese your next Caprese salad.
Pusateri’s new Meal Bowls come with a mix of protein, veggies and tasty toppings. For an easy, filling lunch try one of our 5 new meals: Tropical Shrimp, Apple & Chicken Cobb, Chimichurri Flank Steak, Mediterranean Falafel & the Vaquero Chicken Bowl.
Truff hot sauce is made from a curated blend of ripe chili peppers, organic agave nectar, black truffle, and savoury spices. This combination of ingredients delivers a flavour profile unprecedented to hot sauce.