I love benevolent crazy people, people who just do things because they have to. Sometimes they make sense (Dickson Despommier and vertical farming). Sometimes they make no sense at all (making a farm and raising livestock in urban Oakland, which is what Novella Carpenter did—totally crazy, and she wrote a fabulous book about it called Farm City). I know benevolent insanity the moment I hear it and I heard it the moment I heard Prescott Frost's voice:
“Every acre I can change from corn to grass, the better. It’s the only way we’re going to change this train wreck that we have now,” he told me by phone last week. He was calm and direct. “My mission is to change agriculture, to rip up the corn and put it to pasture.”
Easier said than done, of course, but he, like Despommier and Carpenter, like Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm and literally countless others who are making their own cheeses and opening small bakeries and charcuteries and salmerias, they're doing what they think is right and good and because their passion exceeds their sense, and we're lucky for it.
Frost left stock brokerage in Los Angeles to pick up old family reins on an Illinois farm (heritage is substantial here—he’s Robert Frost’s great grandson). But ultimately he decided he wanted to raise beef, raise it on pasture and raise it organically (the good kind).
To raise it, he set up farm in Nebraska because that’s where the raising of cattle is best, he said. As Napa is to wine, Nebraska is to beef. My fellow Ohioan, another of the benevolent ones, Aaron Miller will beg to differ (Aaron believes a major factor is the grass they eat, and time to develop enough fat), but Frost believes the land, plus the genetics is the key to great tasting, well-marbled organic grass-fed beef. Toward that end, he’s enlisted Rick Calvo, an expert in breeding cattle specifically to be raised on grass, to run the farm and the program for him, as Frost works on the business.
Frost, age 53, grows Red Angus and Murray Greys, a breed I hadn't heard of. The internet commerce site, OpenSky, sourced this beef, Prescott sent me samples, and it's excellent—OpenSky has organized an offer for the Frost/Calvo raised beef—as good as Miller's beef, so, after tasting, I asked to speak with Frost and find out how a 1982 econ grad, stock broker decided to attempt to upend industrial agriculture.
There's no simple answer, but there is a simple goal: “Grass-based, sustainable agriculture," he said, "will be good for the environment, good for the animals, good for the community, good for everyone.”
Of course, he can't do it alone. He's got 6,000 acres, and 600 heifers. If he can find a market for more, he's got the farmers willing to do the organic growing. But one guy can't do it. He and Aaron can't do it. But they are part of a growing legion who are doing something to change the way America eats and lives.
Here are some other farms that raise and sell grass-fed beef:
Cobblestone Valley Farm, Preble, New York
Circle Arrow Longhorns, Harrisburg, Nebraska
Deck Family Farm, Junction City, Oregon
Aaron Miller, in eastern Ohio
Eat Wild is a website that connects people with farmers who raise their animals on grass diets
If you liked this post on the Prescott Frost Organic Beef Venture, check out these other links:
- Michael Pollan's influential book, Omnivore's Dilemma, describes the dangers of industrial agriculture, with special attention given to our reliznce on corn and the sense of raising cattle on grass.
- My post on how to make the best burgers.
- Tara Parker-Pop of the New York Times writes about the benefits of beef being grass fed.
- Local Harvest is a website that connects you to local farmers, markets, and real food.
- Besides Pollan's books, try reading Real Food by Nina Planck.
- My favorite Rober Frost poem, and one of the few poems I can recite from memory: Fire and Ice.
© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved.