Magruder Ranch and Grass-Fed Beef
On Labor Day, thanks to an introduction by Keith of Lovers Lane Farm (source of fantastic pork and honey), we drove out to Potter Valley in eastern Mendocino County to meet the Magruder family at their ranch and pick up the quarter of beef we had ordered. Potter Valley is hot and dry, compared to the cool, wet coastal area we live in, but Magruder Ranch has plenty of water, allowing them to irrigate and keep green pastures for year-round grazing by their beef cattle, sheep and pigs. It was a real privilege to not only see the ranch, with the son-in-law as our tour guide, but to eat lunch with Mac Magruder, daughter Grace, her husband Ben, and another visitor, then we met Mac’s wife Kate before we left. I was instantly charmed by her warmth and vibrance. She shared with us her journey through vegetarianism, cancer, and ultimately full circle to eating meat again. I got teary, of course, and remarked a couple of times, to both Ben and Kate, how wonderful it must be to work at a job that you can really believe in. Since I didn’t think to take photos of the family while there (it seemed intrusive, as a guest), here is video of the foursome from last year.
Magruder Ranch is a fifth-generation family farm. Mac’s mother grew up on what was then the Inglehaven Ranch, and Mac’s father, originally from Mississippi, took up ranching when he married Mac’s mother. He had raised pears, and when it came time for Mac, a trained sculptor, to take over, he decided to go a different route. The hilly land was really more suited to use as pasture. He didn’t like the feedlot system and soon opted out of that, decades before the current grass-feeding trend. He employes a sustainable rotational grazing system. He couldn’t see why he should pay the feedlots to fatten his cattle on grains, when he could keep them on green pasture much less expensively, market the meat to restaurants and wholesalers himself, and keep more of the profit. It was a winning idea. Not a road to instant riches, but a satisfying road to self-sufficiency, preservation of the land, humane treatment of the animals, and a life lived doing honest work. How can you not feel good about producing delicious, healthful food that people love? And we love our Magruder beef. Here’s a video profile of the ranch.
I renamed this blog (again!) Kind Food Farm, borrowing the name from a previous venture by my boyfriend David, because I like the sound of it and I deeply believe in the ethic it implies. Why shouldn’t our food be kind to the animals, the plants, the soil, the ecosystem, to us? I am, like Kate Magruder and so many of our generation, a former vegetarian who chooses to eat meat AND cares about animal welfare. Since childhood I have been drawn to animals and always wanted to live on a farm. (I said that once to my mom, who grew up on a fruit farm during the Great Depression, and she said “No, you don’t, it’s a lot of work.” As if work is something to be avoided? At least that’s how my child brain remembered the exchange.) I look at people like the Magruders and the Salatins and think, this is a good life, a noble life, even.
Everyone is interested in food, but not everyone wants to think about it or read about it or participate in its production and preparation. I’m interested in all aspects, and early on I intuited that it was, or should be, closely connected to agriculture and the environment. My early “study” of food included reading the nutrition and ingredient labels of cold cereal boxes as I ate my breakfast before school. With a working mom and a blended family of seven kids, we didn’t always get hot breakfasts with eggs and bacon. There was a Carnation Instant Breakfast phase and a “space sticks” phase (was that even breakfast? It certainly wasn’t food). Hot cereals like oatmeal and “mush” made me gag and I literally couldn’t swallow them (I would wait until Mom or Grandma left the kitchen and I’d slip into the bathroom to pour it down the toilet. My body was trying to tell me something). But mostly it was cold cereal. I proudly chose the “healthy” options like Product 19 and Wheaties over the overtly junky ones like Count Chocula or Fruit Loops. Although, I do have some memories of the last, lonely Fruit Loops floating in the bowl of milk. There was an art to getting just the right amounts of cereal and milk so you didn’t end up with too much of one and too little of another.
We had meat and vegetables, and Mom taught me how to make homemade bread — which I briefly parlayed into a business when I was in high school, to earn money to go to Europe — and pie, but we also had lots of convenience foods and processed junk. Mom stocked up at the Hostess Bakery outlet and filled the freezer with Hostess Fruit Pies, Ho-Ho’s, and their version of apple tart. I remember watching the Watergate hearings in the basement of our home one summer, fueled by thawed-out Hostess treats.
Next stop was Diet for a Small Planet (1971) and a raised consciousness. I longed to go vegetarian to help save the world, but I didn’t dare suggest that to my parents, who I knew wouldn’t understand. From there it was brown bread, brown rice, tofu and lots of cheese. Laurel’s Kitchen was one of my first cookbooks (along with Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook (1979) — not vegetarian), though I’m not sure how much I really cooked from it. At some point I read Diet for a New America (1998) by John Robbins, and it troubled me greatly to learn about factory farming. I was pretty much on board with vegetarianism (though I wasn’t really strict about it for long), but I was hesitant to give up dairy, as well as meat. How do you be a good vegetarian without cheese and eggs??
I lived in Japan several times during and after college, and during graduate school in South Carolina before returning for a 9-year stint in Japan, I was introduced to macrobiotics, which had a certain intellectual, or at least philosophical, appeal. Later I read Susan Powter‘s Stop the Insanity (1993) and Kenneth Cooper’s Aerobics (1997), read Nathan Pritikin and got on the low-fat, high-carbohydrate bandwagon, and continued to be plagued with chubbiness, acne, depression, anxiety, lack of energy, sugar cravings, recurrent yeast infections and menstrual troubles. No matter how much I ran — even training for and completing a marathon years later — I was always pretty flabby, though in reality never terribly heavy. Still, an extra 10-20 pounds of fat never helped my self image, given that it all settled from my hips to my knees.
The first crack in that paradigm was when I began to get quite ill from the attempts at following macrobiotics. In fact, all too often I was living off of baked goods with a little cheese and fish and little meat, instead of actually cooking all the labor-intensive macrobiotic meals, but even when I did, there was so much missing from that diet that it wasn’t going to work for me. While living in Japan, I got a scary diagnosis of endometriosis and ovarian cysts, and I worked harder to get off sugar, which helped, and I started acupuncture, which also helped. Next step in my nutritional education was Ann-Louise Gittleman‘s landmark Beyond Pritikin (1996). The former Pritikin Longevity Center nutritionist helped me to understand that fats were necessary, at least the new-to-me concept of “essential fatty acids,” and she also was the first as far as I know to write about the smear campaign against coconut oil by the oil seed manufacturers association, aided and abetted by CSPI, the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Now resettled in the U.S., just before Sept. 11, 2001, I went through a series of shocks that left me battered and bruised emotionally, spiritually, and physically. (Someday I’ll write about that, but not today.) As part of my efforts at recovery, I enrolled in the National AIDS Marathon Training Program in San Francisco and trained for and ran the Vancouver Marathon in 2003. During the training I went to see Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure, both of which I’d read. She gave me good advice, not all of which I followed, unfortunately. Also during this period, in either late 2002 or early 2003, I stumbled upon the book that really changed my life: Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD. In short order I also read Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine, The Untold Story of Milk, started on Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, and joined the Weston A. Price Foundation. Living in San Francisco, I happened to be in Rainbow Grocery one day when it was announced that someone named Sandor Katz was there to give a workshop on making kimchee and sauerkraut and sell his new book, Wild Fermentation. I sat on the front row and eagerly absorbed everything Sandor had to say, bought the book, after noting the foreword by Sally Fallon, and started introducing lacto-fermented foods to my diet — and gradually got over the chronic systemic candidiasis that had plagued me for years. (I’m leaving out the details of that journey for now. Suffice to say, it went way beyond vaginal yeast infections and was pretty miserable for years.)
So that’s how I got started on my Read Food journey. I moved from San Francisco to Oakland during this period, then later to Concord, where I could finally start a garden, met David and moved up here to Mendocino County to live on his farm. I started keeping chickens a year and a half ago. I’m now incorporating Paleo/Primal principles into my diet, but it all comes back to eating read food, eliminating processed junk, and learning to prepare foods in traditional ways. Now I make a double batch of kombucha every week, then do a secondary fermentation with added fruit juice. I recently started making sauerkraut again, and I’ve experimented with lacto-fermented salsa, cranberry relish, mayonnaise, jam, and anything else I can think of to add whey to, to let lactic acid-producing friendly microbes work their magic. We bought a quarter of beef from Magruder Ranch (I had done this once before from a different farm), a half a hog from Lovers Lane Farm (second time with them, third time overall), and even got an extra freezer. I rendered gallons of lard. I regularly make ghee, preferably from cows raised on grass, and I blend it with coconut oil (coconut ghee is heavenly). We save chicken bones in the freezer and I regularly check for chicken feet at Harvest Market (as well as necks and backs), and I toss them in a huge stock pot to make 24-hour bone stock, sooo nutritious. Stock is great for flavoring many dishes, reheating leftovers, as the basis of heavenly soups, and it’s excellent for the digestion and for good skin and for adding minerals to the diet.
Let’s see, what else? I’ve experimented with making yogurt, kefir, water kefir, but it’s hard to keep too many different cultures going at once, so I’ve let those go. I’ve experimented a lot with recipes for gluten-free crackers, but haven’t found the ideal one. We eat lots of kale, broccoli, and salad greens, and other vegetables with our pastured meats and eggs from our hens. We recently went to a showing of “Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms” with a Farm-to-Table dinner that turned out to be vegan and vegetarian. It was all delicious, and I would have loved to get the recipes to expand my repertoire of vegetable dishes, but the meal was sorely lacking protein and fat and my body was really craving those, so I overdid it on the potatoes and rice — basically, that was the story of how I ate before I discovered Real Food and the importance of sacred animal foods. Animals belong on the farm, to fertilize the soil, to feed us, and to make us whole. It’s a privilege to share space with them.