|Cows grazing on grass as they were meant to do|
Last week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a local farm and meet the young and energetic farmer behind it all, Matt Rales. Located in Potomac, MD this unique farm is named Grassential. Rales chose this name “as a way to illustrate how essential the grass is to the health of our animals and the ecology and its subsequent contribution to our own health and quality of life. We farm grass FIRST, our animals convert the grass into the products that we sell.”
At the beginning of the tour Matt explained that he did not like to use the word “sustainable” when describing his farm, which is surrounded on all sides by million dollar McMansions. Instead, he prefers the terms “restorative” and “regenerative.” He explained that until we heal the land, there is nothing to sustain! In order to accomplish this, Rales uses the the process of biological mimicry, where cows are managed like bison and chickens like cattle egrets.
“Managed grazing, which attempts to mimic the grazing patterns of these great wild herds, can produce an abundance of nutritious animal foods, while sequestering massive amounts of atmospheric carbon. We are told by the global warming gurus that the earth is heating up due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Through specific grazing strategies we can sequester this excess carbon and form rich, productive topsoil in the process. We do this not by planting more trees, or even setting aside more wildlife preserves. We do this with domesticated ruminants—pulsing the landscape with large numbers of animals for short periods of time.”
As described by this progressive farmer, cows are like solar panels. They are able to harness the sun’s energy and convert it into nutrients like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamin K simply by unlocking cellulose, which is indigestible by humans. By doing what they do best and eating nature’s most nutrient dense vegetable (grass!), cows produce superior food for people in the form of butter, milk and meat.
But remember, it’s all about the grass. The healthy food is a lucky byproduct of the grass farming which relies on the cows.
“The hoof action, manure, urine and saliva all act as bio-stimulants on the pasture, encouraging the grass plants to thicken, bare spots to fill in, and species diversity and succession to accelerate forward from simplicity to complexity. The productive grasslands of the world and the massive herds of herbivores that grazed them co-evolved together. One cannot exist without the other. The grass relies on the ruminant for its full expression just as much as the ruminant relies on grass. Without ruminants to fertilize the soil and break down cellulose in dry climates, prairies quickly become deserts; and with managed grazing of ruminant animals, deserts can be restored to productive land.”
|Pigs living in the suburban “forest.”|
Rales also is passionate about the importance of finishing cows on grass rather than grain. Not only does grain finishing support carbon releasing agriculture, but less than two weeks of grain feeding completely changes the fatty acid profile, omega balance and fat soluble vitamin content of the animal products, according to Rales. So do your research, and if you are paying for grass fed products, make sure the cow is grass fed right up to the end. Better yet, visit the farm from which your food originates. See the conditions in which the animals live and talk to the farmer about how they are fed. If it is too far to visit or if the farmer doesn’t allow visitors, maybe you should reconsider the source.
It was wonderful to be in the presence of many like minded consumers who want to know the source of their food and want to participate in climate stabilization by supporting pasture-based farms. “The managed landscapes of these pasture-based farms are the healthiest, most biologically diverse places on earth, and the sheer volume of life in their soils proves it.”
Eat Well, Be Well,
If you live in the area try to visit Grassential farm and talk with the farmers. Matt welcomes visitors and seems to truly enjoy answering questions and sharing his vision. Many products can be purchased from the onsite farm store.