Please don’t ask me if my cows are grass fed

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I get asked a lot, “Are your cows grass fed?” A fair question, right? I mean, we’ve all watched the movies and read enough Michael Pollan books to know that we are going to get cancer or destroy our earth if we don’t get an emphatic YES when we ask our farmer this very question. But is this really the right question to ask? Do you REALLY want to know if the burger you are about to buy came from a cow who ate exclusively grass or hay her entire life? 

What if that cow stood in a paddock, shoulder to shoulder with other cows eating from a big round bale of organic hay? What if she never got the chance to canter in a field, what if the farmer raising her was in debt up to his eyeballs? What if the run off from the manure of the cow ran into local streams because the animals are packed so tightly together there was nowhere else for it to go? What if that burger travelled thousands of miles, or even internationally to get to your grill?

Now what if that burger came from a cow that was not technically grass fed (meaning that from birth to death, that cow never had a taste of grain at all)? What if the cow had access to fields during the growing season? Was able to browse AND graze on maple trees, clover, broome grass, autumn olive? What if that cow made use of areas of her farm that weren’t usable for other farming activities? What if that cow spread her manure around the farm evenly, moving from field to field, so that when the rain came, the grass in the pastures would soak up the nutrients from the manure right into the ground below? What if the income from that cow provided a living for your neighbor, making sure that their 50 acres right in the center of town stayed pastureland and not Walmart? And what if that cow, every once in a while, for training and for treats, got to eat some grain? Not a lot of grain. Not enough to make them sick. Not force fed, but offered alongside all the pasture they could eat?

Each farmer chooses her farming practices for reasons specific to her farm. So ask questions! But don’t look for specific answers. Be open to discussion and learning. Share with the farmer what you value in your food. We are all on this journey together.