Prescott Frost raises organic, grass-fed cattle in Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Prescott Frost)

I love benevolent crazy people, people who just do things because they have to. Sometimes they make sense (Dickson Despommier and vertical farming). Sometimes they make no sense at all (making a farm and raising livestock in urban Oakland, which is what Novella Carpenter did—totally crazy, and she wrote a fabulous book about it called Farm City). I know benevolent insanity the moment I hear it and I heard it the moment I heard Prescott Frost’s voice:

“Every acre I can change from corn to grass, the better.  It’s the only way we’re going to change this train wreck that we have now,” he told me by phone last week.  He was calm and direct. “My mission is to change agriculture, to rip up the corn and put it to pasture.”

Easier said than done, of course, but he, like Despommier and Carpenter, like Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm and literally countless others who are making their own cheeses and opening small bakeries and charcuteries and salmerias, they’re doing what they think is right and good and because their passion exceeds their sense, and we’re lucky for it.

Frost left stock brokerage in Los Angeles to pick up old family reins on an Illinois farm (heritage is substantial here—he’s Robert Frost’s great grandson). But ultimately he decided he wanted to raise beef, raise it on pasture and raise it organically (the good kind).

To raise it, he set up farm in Nebraska because that’s where the raising of cattle is best, he said.  As Napa is to wine, Nebraska is to beef.  My fellow Ohioan, another of the benevolent ones, Aaron Miller will beg to differ (Aaron believes a major factor is the grass they eat, and time to develop enough fat), but Frost believes the land, plus the genetics is the key to great tasting, well-marbled organic grass-fed beef. Toward that end, he’s enlisted Rick Calvo, an expert in breeding cattle specifically to be raised on grass, to run the farm and the program for him, as Frost works on the business.

Frost, age 53, grows Red Angus and Murray Greys, a breed I hadn’t heard of.  The internet commerce site, OpenSky, sourced this beef, Prescott sent me samples, and it’s excellent—OpenSky has organized an offer for the Frost/Calvo raised beef—as good as Miller’s beef, so, after tasting, I asked to speak with Frost and find out how a 1982 econ grad, stock broker decided to attempt to upend industrial agriculture.

There’s no simple answer, but there is a simple goal: “Grass-based, sustainable agriculture,” he said, “will be good for the environment, good for the animals, good for the community, good for everyone.”

Of course, he can’t do it alone.  He’s got 6,000 acres, and 600 heifers.  If he can find a market for more, he’s got the farmers willing to do the organic growing.  But one guy can’t do it.  He and Aaron can’t do it.  But they are part of a growing legion who are doing something to change the way America eats and lives.

Here are some other farms that raise and sell grass-fed beef:

Cobblestone Valley Farm, Preble, New York

Circle Arrow Longhorns, Harrisburg, Nebraska

Deck Family Farm, Junction City, Oregon

Aaron Miller, in eastern Ohio

Eat Wild is a website that connects people with farmers who raise their animals on grass diets

If you liked this post on the Prescott Frost Organic Beef Venture, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

Share

25 Wonderful responses to “Prescott Frost Organic Beef Venture”

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Just some reading recommendations for your list.

    Everyone should read Carlo Petrini”s Slow Food Revolution: a Manifesto for Eating and Living. It is the basis for the dedication you observe in farmers/ranchers like Frost.

    Also, recommend Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook … plants not animals but just right philosophically.

    Paul

  • NMissC

    Brown Family Farm (whose dairy operation was the subject of a NY Times Sunday magazine food piece) in Yocona, Mississippi sells grass-fed beef, along with pasture raised pork. Their stellar products are the milk from the dairy and the pork; the beef is also very good. As far as I know, it is only available in Oxford, Water Valley, and Hernando, Mississippi.

    Their operation is a model of sustainable farming. As a side interest, the owner is the son of novelist Larry Brown, who wrote an essay about his son’s desire to have a farm, the title essay in Billy Ray’s Farm.

  • mantonat

    I’ve been put off by Mark Bittman’s recent screeds on veganism and the horrors of eating meat, so it’s good to hear another voice in the world of food writers talking about responsible meat eating as a healthy, delicious, and viable way to move away from industrial agriculture.

  • Will

    No doubt that we need more humane treatment of livestock. But the fact of the matter is that, as Bittman is saying, we need to *reduce* our meat consumption drastically, especially with the demand for meat (and growing population) in the developing world. I think a lot of people are playing lip-service to some of these ideas, but I don’t think anyone really comprehends how *much* less meat we (collectively) need to be eating.

    I don’t think it’s so much that this is “another voice” — just another side of the same coin. Bittman is far from a vegan — he just eats a mostly vegan diet before dinnertime, and many of the recipes he publishes contain meat, and I think he’s certainly a proponent of pastured livestock etc.

    Yes, there is some amount of land which isn’t suited for growing crops, but which is suitable for pasture. But if we magically moved tomorrow to a system of 100% pastured animals with no factory farming, not only would the price of meat be much, much higher (though we’d be paying fewer of the “hidden costs” of industrial animal agriculture), but there would simply be much less meat available, even for our own consumption. Today’s system, while horrific in a lot of ways, does supply the massive demand for “cheap” (in the short term) meat in large amounts.

    So (and yes, standing on my vegetarian soap box now), it really bugs me when folks like Pollan insist that a certain type of animal agriculture, and eating local and seasonal is the complete answer. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be vegetarian, nor do I think that’s a realistic suggestion, but people need to think about eating more plants and much, much less meat (especially beef), eating more different parts of the animal, etc. I know nose-to-tail eating is trendy right now in certain circles, but very few people in the US prepare offal at home or eat it frequently. We’re talking about using meat as an accent rather than the main course, or eating meat only a few times a week. Things that, coincidentally, are also along the lines of recommendations we frequently hear for better health.

    Some of Pollan’s ideas are good, but I don’t think he really thinks them through to their logical conclusions. How does he think everyone is going to have food to eat if the entire world followed his principles. I don’t think even he can live up to his principles all the time, unless he eats an almost entirely vegan diet outside of his home kitchen or a handful of restaurants.

    • mantonat

      Didn’t mean to hijack the thread and take away from highlighting Prescott Frost, so I’ll try to bring it back around. One of the advantages to eating free-range meat of all kinds – and this rarely gets mentioned – is that the animal fat is considerably healthier. The omega 3 fatty acids are higher and the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is more in balance so that grass-fed meat can actually reduce levels of bad cholesterol in a way similar to the effects of high omega-3 vegetable fats or fish oils. With a diet of moderate quality meat consumption combined with grains, vegetables, and dairy grown with similar care, there’s no correlation between poor heart health, high blood pressure and this type of diet. Keep in mind that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids (especially when out of balance with omega-3) can actually lead to arteriosclerosis. Many vegetarians get most of their fats from sources that have little or no omega-3s. Eating grass-fed beef has been shown to actually improve overall cardiovascular health.

    • Robyn M.

      You’re disappointed that Pollan isn’t a strong enough proponent of drastic reduction in meat (especially beef) consumption? Er… so you missed his most-oft-stated catch-phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” ? He seems pretty clear about this to me.

  • Chuck shaw

    Marin Sun Farms is a source in the SF Bay Area I buy at Baron’s Meats in Alameda. You really can taste the difference.

  • Marilyn Noble

    Another source for information about grassfed meats is the American Grassfed Association web site, which contains a producer listing, recipes, news, and information. The AGA also offers certification to grassfed livestock producers, assuring consumers that the meat they’re buying is raised without confinement and fed a diet of 100% grass or forage from weaning until harvest. AGA-certified animals are also raised in accordance with humane standards. http://www.americangrassfed.org.

  • Felicia

    Fire and Ice is also my favorite Frost poem and one of the few poems I can recite by memory. “From what I’ve tasted of desire” mmmm.. delicious line…

  • John

    Great article – there are so many people interested in where their beef comes from these days. I have developed a business to support independent farmers and help give consumers transparency and choice – it’s free for farmers to sign-up and use and we have farms all over the nation. Farms list themselves according to their farm practices to make them easy to match with custoemrs. Whether you want to know where your meat comes from, or are looking for an easy way to sell it – please check us out.

  • Dru Peters

    Food Alliance Certification is another way to locate sustainable, grass fed livestock farms. The certification process also examines water and waste, employee treatment practices and a variety of other practices that will help sustain the earth.
    I’d certainly rather see people eating grass fed livestock, with cattle happily chewing their cud on grass filled fields than to see people drinking soda and eating highly processed food. Most of it derived from that inedible corn/soy/wheat/alfalfa that gets subsidized by the government to grow..and now copywritten by Monsanto and the like so that everything else in the vicinity dies..but farmers are arrested if it drifts onto their fields. I say let them eat grass, and the vast majority of health issues experienced by Americans would no longer be an issue.

  • Mari

    Goose Pond Farm in Hartselle, Alabama has the most beautiful, delicious chickens and beef raised on fresh pasture and blue skies.

  • Glennf

    For a Canadian twist, here’s another group of grass fed beef growers that decided, like Frost, they couldn’t do it on their own. They have a number of unique ground products too – even liver-free beef pate!

  • Lorraine

    Bravo to Farmer Frost. The market for ethically raised, grassfed meat is growing. New Yorkers and Hudson Valley folks can buy reasonably-priced grassfed beef, lamb, pork and boar from Spring Lake Farm, the family farm of Twitter’s @NYCUlla: http://healthymeat.org/. I buy meat From SLF in quantity–including bargain-priced ground bull meat for my dog–and store it in a freezer I found on Craigslist ($50!).

    On a related note, I agree with Will: To make the grassfed thing viable, Americans have to eat less meat. Up until the advent of factory farming, meat was considered a feast food, served on festivals, holidays and perhaps Sundays–not every day. My family eats meat 2-3 times a week, tops.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Roast & Braise Turkey Method | Michael Ruhlman