Anyone who has visited a Chipotle Mexican Grill knows their business model: pretty, tasty tacos and burritos prepared to order in an assembly line of tortillas, savory shredded meats, beans and an array of salsas to fit your heat tolerance.
What you might not know is that Chipotle is leading the way for “fast food” chains to transform their food sourcing to a more environmentally responsible model that taps local farmers, patronizes humanely-raised meat farms and gives customers a more healthful mouthful. Or, as Chipotle puts it, “Food With Integrity”.
Jake’s Country Meats is more than just a pig farm—it is a family legacy. After six generations of raising pigs in the Michigan countryside, the Robinson family has developed a special connection to the land and remains dedicated to their mission of bridging the gap between food production and consumption.
According to the Robinson’s youngest daughter Renee, her father, Nate Robinson, has pig farming “in his blood” and he does a top-notch job of raising his Heritage breed pigs on pasture.
Renee, who came back to work on the farm after earning a degree in Marketing from Western Michigan University, takes part in all aspects of the family business.
About ten years ago, a former country boy was sitting in his office at a successful engineering firm in Bethlehem, Pa., wondering what he was doing with his life. As he gazed out the window at a nearby farm, Nate Thomas became nostalgic for his childhood days on his parents’ Lancaster County farm, where he helped to raise animals and enjoyed nature and adventures through a young boy’s eyes.
During his seven years working in the real world, he became increasingly unsatisfied with his professional life. “Even though financially it was a very good decision, my soul wasn’t satisfied,” says Thomas, who broke away from the real world to run a farm on land adjacent to his parents’ farm to fulfill a desire to live sustainably and self sufficiently. The deliberately named Breakaway Farms represents Thomas’ resolute drive for personal freedom, self-sufficiency and a life more in line with what he experienced growing up.
Paul Magedson, owner of 175-acre Good Earth Organic Farm in Hunt County, near Celeste, Texas, is hopeful that his organic farm will be profitable enough that his now 13-year-old son, Andrew, and 15-year-old son, William, will want to carry on the tradition.
“There’s so much to put into organic farming, and generally speaking, people don’t realize the important difference between eating large-scale commercially grown products and organically-certified products,” Magedson says.
Magedson, 67, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, bought his farm outright 30 years ago after selling several homes in Dallas and profiting from a former contracting and tropical plant maintenance businesses.
Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry spent one of their first romantic outings at a local livestock auction, and over 30 years later find themselves running an animal farm of their own. Stokesberry Farm of Olympia, Washington raises a variety of livestock with a passion for providing nutrient-filled, local meat to their community. They feel strongly about the accessibility of their product as well as working with Mother Nature rather than against her.
I recently spoke with Janelle Stokesberry to learn more about the farm’s beginnings, challenges, and future goals.
Nowadays, there seems to be at least one hackathon per hacker. Even in the notoriously tech-adverse sustainable agriculture world, we’ve seen events ranging from the software-focused Hacking for Good (Food) to the policy-oriented Farm Bill Hack to the National Young Farmer’s Coalition’s Farm Hack, which adapts commonplace farm equipment to innovative uses. Yet, there are still plenty of food chain issues that could use innovative approaches.
This past weekend, Stanford University hosted the Hack//Meat SF, the second of a series of meat supply chain hackathons organized by New York-based Food+Tech Connect. The event brought together in excess of 150 coders, ranchers, chefs, and designers to create better solutions for the meat supply chain over a rainy weekend, a particularly tough challenge in light of the complexity of the issues involved.
As a young man, Wallace Farms CEO Nick Wallace faced a health crisis that would radically alter the future of the Wallace family. “Wallace Farms started out of our parent’s garage in 2001 and it started because a year and a half earlier I had cancer— I was 19. Everyone was starting to ask questions as to how that could happen.”
What the Wallace family uncovered in their search for answers was unsettling information about our modern food system and the negative impact it was having on human health. “My dad heard [Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation] talk and he came home and said ‘I think I know why you had cancer’ and we realized that the foundation of our food production had changed drastically in the last 20 to 30 years.”
The peacefully grazing cows and incrementally ripening vegetables on southern Arizona’s Walking J Farm only hint at the ardent work of their owners, Tina Bartsch and Jim McManus.
The 40-something husband and wife duo are pouring their most productive years into this land, so it will sustain them, along with dozens of other families. Bartsch also speaks of shifting cultural attitudes toward eating, changing expectations that food be cheap and processed.
“When you’re dealing with the food system, you’re trying to change a culture,” said Bartsch.