Interview with Tyler Webb of Stony Pond Farms Many of you know that in the last year I have switched to an all grass-fed beef diet due to my research on websites such as EatWild.com and The Weston A. Price Foundation website. If you haven’t checked them out, then I highly suggest you find the time. There is so…
Many of you know that in the last year I have switched to an all grass-fed beef diet due to my research on websites such as EatWild.com and The Weston A. Price Foundation website. If you haven’t checked them out, then I highly suggest you find the time. There is so much good information about nutrition and health that it would take a lifetime to learn it all but these resources are a great start.
Over the summer I started to frequent both the Shelburne Town and Burlington City Farmer’s market in search of a good grass fed beef source. After trying some of the others in the area (which were great by the way), I came across the Stony Pond Farm booth which had an extremely long line. I figured this guy (Tyler Webb, Owner) must have the good stuff. Boy was I right. His beef is by far the best tasting and leanest I have tried. From then on I started to purchase from him every week and now arrange an order with him every other week.
I was going to write an article on the benefits of the beef but decided to go right to the source and interview Tyler. I think you’ll find the interview as informative and interesting.
AB: Hey Tyler. Thanks for agreeing to do an interview to help educate my followers and myself on the importance of grass fed beef and what goes into producing a quality organic product.
First off, please tell us a little about yourself, your background, how you got into farming etc. Was your childhood family involved in farming or is it something that you had an interest in and pursued?
TW: My wife Melanie and I are both first generation farmers from suburban areas in Connecticut and New York respectively. I grew up an outside kid. Fort building, Nerf footballs, and toy guns were my friends. At supper time my mom would let rip a few blasts on a referee whistle to indicate to me and every able bodied critter in the neighborhood that food was ready and would be on the back porch if I was not home in twenty minutes. Needless to say this desire for the outdoors and active energy has carried through my whole life. I am a terrible student and office employee. In college after a couple initial attempts I finally found connection with introduction to soils. Suddenly the chemistry and physics that bored me to death in class made so much sense in the context of soil and the relationships to plants, animals and people; thus the start of my farming career.
AB: Very cool. It is funny how things become interesting once they are put into context or are relatable to ourselves.
TW: In grad school I developed a career goal to work with livestock farmers to apply conservation and specifically grazing practices on their farms. My advisor gave me a choice for my summer work: either I could rent a little piece of ground and practice what I wanted to preach- that being grazing some cattle, or I could stay in the lab and count parasite egg levels in sheep turds. The outdoors kid in me answered loudly and I rented a small farm in Charlotte, VT. Oh yeah…I attended UVM.
I will never forget the day the farmer from Swanton dropped off some 50+ heifers to be under my care from that May till October. What a rush. I had like 5 acres of land fenced with water. I learned how to build more real fast. That was the true start. I loved moving cattle around the land.
After school I got a job working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service doing exactly what I wanted. So I thought. The bureaucratic nightmare that is working for the government slowly ate away and began to ruin my passion for working in conservation. At this point to maintain sanity I rented a small farm in Fairfield where we are today, and began raising beef cattle. In 2004 I quit my job and began farming full time.
AB: Please tell us about your farm? What, besides the beef does your farm produce?
TW: Stony Pond Farm is primarily a grass based organic dairy farm. We milk 45 Jersey cows selling our milk wholesale to Organic Valley. Our beef herd remains and is composed of British White cattle and is managed entirely on grass and hay year round outside. Jersey heifers are bred to a British White bull with cross calves being raised as milk-fed pasture reared organic veal. Small side enterprises include pastured pork, duck, eggs, goat, and fermented vegetables.
AB: Seasonally, what happens on a farm such as yours?
TW: Our farm is unique in that we are very in tuned to the seasonality of farming in a place that has such stark seasons. Both the dairy and beef herds’ calve from mid-March through April and produce milk for either sale or their calves through the end of December. Dairy cows are dried off, and beef calves weaned in early January when all cows get a rest for the winter. We prep for grazing in April, turn the herds out to pasture in early May, and are generally able to provide full daily feed requirements from pasture until the end of October. We make hay in the summer, and feed fermented grass hay from November through April. The farmers work their tails off most of the year with the exception of the January through mid-March timeframe when we catch up on lost sleep, ski every powder day there is, read good books and watch too much T.V.
AB: Can you tell us a little about your stock (right word?) and why you choose this breed? How you feed, treat and care for them etc.
TW: Our herds are composed of two different breeds. Although Jersey cows excel at producing high fat high quality whole milk, and British White’s excel at putting on frame size and muscle, both are descendants of the original cattle occupying the harsh, cold, wet, yet lush pastures of the isles around Great Britain.
Our farming practices although certified organic are designed to go beyond those standards with a significant investment in soil health, and a goal of mimicking natural systems as closely as possible. With a focus on low stress handling, nutrient dense forages resulting from a well fed soil ecosystem, access to additional minerals as needed, plenty of fresh air and exercise; rarely is there a need to treat or care for an animal in a wellness sense. Like people it seems a properly nourished body maintained with exercise and fresh air rarely breaks down. Occasionally we have a physical injury to deal with, or if on the rare occasion an animal gets sick, we have plenty of support options through herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies, nut honestly generally engaging in an exercise to identify what stresses might have led to a breakdown in health, and then eliminating as many as possible is the best option. Cattle have a remarkable ability to “wall off” infection, and provided the environment to heal, will do so rapidly without outside intervention.
AB: Getting to the grass fed beef, can you talk about the benefits of using an organic product such as yours over a grain fed animal. Maybe anything you have about the difference in the fatty acids, vitamin and mineral levels etc.
TW: Considering I have been so busy it has taken me two months just to answer these questions my next statement is clearly a lie, but honestly I wish I could write a book in response to this question.
Benefits of an organic product: Clearly the primary interest here is in personal health. I think often, however, folks miss the link between personal health and organic production in respect to the environment. Organic beef is produced without the use of synthetic hormones, antibiotics or toxic pesticides.
Over the past decade increasingly has there been a documented incident of groundwater pollution by toxic pesticides and bacteria from confinement feeding operations. School children in Seattle tested three times the EPA’s accepted levels for Atrazine in drinking water (an herbicide used on corn) in urine samples. Three times! These kids do not even live in the Corn Belt where widespread water contamination occurs. They were consuming this in their food.
Most beef cattle in this country are born and raised by farms owning thirty cows or less. 90+% of those cattle are finished on feed lots and processed in facilities owned by three companies. There is a strangle hold on production in this country and one in which the prevailing model pumps the cattle with so much cheap taxpayer subsidized corn that they require a daily dose of three pounds of antibiotics in their ration just to keep them alive. 90 days is the standard finishing period because they cannot keep the cows alive in a lot any longer than that.
AB: Woah, some of that is really startling. Now, I understand that cows being natural grass eaters have problems digesting corn feed in their diets and the bacteria in their guts, when fed a corn diet, seem to produce more leading to a condition called “subacute acidosis”. Can you talk about what this does to the animal? From what I understand, this lets the contents of the digestive system get into the meat and intra-gastric space. And this is why these farmers end up giving their animals antibiotics. Am I on the right track here? Does this affect the taste and quality of the meat? What happens from giving them too much anti-biotics?
TW: Cows are designed to ferment cellulose and protein. When forced to ferment starch the byproduct is acid. Cows fed immense amount of starch in the form of grain often become acidotic hence the antibiotics for prevention of infection. The largest barrier between humans and “bad bugs” like E-Coli is the fact that a cows stomach pH is close to neutral, while a humans is very acidic. However in feedlot systems where cows rumen pH is driven down into an acidotic state artificially selects for strains of E-Coli bacteria that can survive the acidic environment. Hence the increase in E-Coli based food borne illness. Add the massive nutrient erosion from these confinement lots and groundwater pollution and we have E-Coli based spinach outbreaks like a few years back.
AB: I’ve read some articles about CAFOs or “Confined Animal Feeding Operations.” Can you explain what these are and the problems associated with them for both the animal and the farmer.
TW: Ground beef recalls are a result of trying to process thousands of animals a day in one facility. These animals are covered in manure and despite efforts to clean them, E-coli contamination is occurring in more frequency every year. That means folks are consuming beef with crap on it. The government’s solution: irradiation. Now you can eat meat with crap on it, but you won’t get sick.
Studies have shown you can take a highly acidotic animal from a feedlot and in just days eliminate E-coli presence and bring the pH of the rumen back to neutral by simply letting them graze fresh pasture.
The point to this ramble is that before you can begin to worry about eating healthy you need to first eliminate the toxicity. Choosing organic does so for your personal body, but also for the larger environment in which you live.
Organic production requires the farmer to have a close relationship with the ecological world. Without the crutches of chemical Ag, an organic farmer needs to nourish a system in which the complex biological relationships of the environment work in harmony to support each other. One such example is protein. Grass likes nitrogen to grow. After WWII faced with a shortage of manpower, and a plethora of urea (a byproduct from the munitions industry), and a bunch of nerve gas type compounds ideal for pest control we as an agricultural nation embraced the sky rocketing yields with less people from hammering our ground with cheap nitrogen.
Aside from countless other ramifications, one significant consequence was the un-noticed depletion of our soils micro-nutrients. Grass fed with nitrogen luxury consumes Potassium, an ion that hogs space on soil colloids. Micronutrients like boron, manganese, major nutrients like Calcium and magnesium are washed out of the soil without consideration for replacement in our predominantly N-P-K managed chemical Ag approach. The problem is that Boron is the key to the door in the plant for Calcium. Magnesium is the dump truck that brings Calcium up. Without one the plant misses out on the other. How does this impact protein. Protein in a plant is really nitrogen linked with an enzyme to create an amino acid.
Like people cows require essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential they can build themselves. Essential must be in the diet. It won’t be in the diet if the nutrients are not present in the soil, or utilized by the plant. We are what we eat, and so is a cow. When consumption of “protein” really in the form of non-protein nitrogen occurs in a cow this “funny protein” passes through the rumen wall and into the cow’s bloodstream where it is converted to Ammonia a highly toxic compound requiring a significant metabolic investment in energy to convert it to Urea and excrete in urine and or milk, requiring additional energy (grain) to essentially detox the cow.
AB: I like to take on that thought myself of “we are what eat has eaten.”
TW: Basically we as a nation are destroying our soils and excelling at the production of poor quality bland tasting meat of which muscle and protein are built by incomplete building blocks fueled by tax payer subsidized cheap corn, supported by cheap oil and the lives of our nation’s army to ensure its availability. Yuck!
The organic grass farmer through the use of composts, aged manure, organic nutrient sources, and careful grazing management stewards a complex environment in which complete building blocks support a healthy vibrant system.
Beneficial fatty acids are a primary example. Every day more and more research links the increased content of beneficial fatty acids in grass based products. One such study spent time reviewing hundreds of samples of both organic and conventional whole milk from around the country over an 18-month period, the study, out of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, found that organic milk contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids — which nutrition experts generally agree are beneficial. The organic milk also had a significantly lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than conventional milk (2.28 compared to 5.77).
AB: Note that the typical American diet puts people somewhere around a 10:1 to 20:1 ratio of Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s. This puts people in a pro-inflammatory state, which leads to many of the diseases that plague society today. Ideally, we would like to be at a 1:1 to 5:1 ratio of 6 to 3.
TW: Anyway for the sake of answering other questions we need to move on. Trust me that when you buy Stony Pond Farm Grass-based beef and milk you are supporting a farm that carefully invests in the environment knowing that healthy alive vibrant soil supports the growth of healthy plants with complete nutrient profiles and ultimately healthy vibrant cattle and healthy vibrant people. Thanks.
AB: Wow. That was a lot of information. Here’s one last question: Can you tell us the differences in 100% organic grass fed/finished beef versus the organic beef we might see in the grocery store. From what I understand, these farmers feed their animals grass until the last few weeks before slaughter. At this point they switch to corn to “fatten” them up. Is this true and why would they do this. Is it just for profits?
TW: Ahhh the USDA, we can always count on them for an effort to make someone richer and compromise the integrity of our food system. The definition of Grass-fed allows for the finish of corn for the last 90 days. A grass-finished animal could have grain over its life and is finished for the last 90 days on grass alone. The latter is a better alternative than the first as really the benefits of a grass-fed beef is actually in the fat. Some other time we can discuss the complexity of producing fat in a grass based system here in New England with our predominantly cool season grass pastures.
AB: I think that would be another great discussion and look forward to learning about this when you have the time.
TW: Anyway to be sure the best thing to buy is a product that was grass-fed and grass-finished. Even better is to know your farmer. Build a level of trust and understanding about their individual production approach, and invest in their farm and your body by supporting their efforts. Thank you all for your support of Stony Pond Farm.
AB: No Tyler, thank you for your time and your efforts to make a wholesome, natural, nutritious food product. I am sure I speak for everyone that has tried your beef when I say that it is the best! I might have more questions based on your answers in the future.
TW: No problem. It was a pleasure. Wow, so question number 5 was kind of epic. Hopefully you all made it through. Like I said we could all take a whole college semester of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, entomology, nutrition, anthropology, natural resources, etc. and still struggle to understand all this. Fortunately high functioning brains and bodies work better with good fuel. Start with that, and let’s keep learning. Thanks so much for asking these questions.
Stony Pond Farm