Grassfed in Ghent: An Extended Two-Family Affair
The first defining moment for Dan Gibson occurred when his daughter Christine finally walked through the door of their house in Katonah, NY on September 13, 2001, still covered with ash from the catastrophe that had destroyed her NYU dormitory on the corner of Water and Wall Streets two days before. A second epiphany came five years later, after he’d already given up his job as Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at the Starwood Hotels and Resorts and gone into the Registered Black Angus business on an 800-acre former dairy farm in Ghent, NY. This one was precipitated not by a trauma, but by the publication of Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
“I want to be the Joel Salatin of Columbia County,” Gibson says. Salatin, a cantankerous, off-the-grid Virginia farmer whose innovative methods are detailed in Pollan’s book, found that there is a perfect symbiosis between dirt-scratching chickens and grass-fed beef cattle—a symbiosis that rests on crap.
As it happens, chickens like the lush grass that springs up around cow-paddies and the grubs and larvae (future flies) than thrive within it. And cattle like the nitrogen-rich grass that quickly sprouts anywhere chickens have recently been. Once a herd has grazed a pasture off, the chickens move in. During the day, they wander about at will; at night, when they would otherwise fall prey to predators, they enter portable coops called egg-mobiles, modeled on the ones Salatin devised. The result: not a drop of their precious waste is lost.
Steer: a castrated male
Cow: a mother
Heifer: a female who has not yet borne a calf
When grass-fed, all of the above yield equally high-quality meat.
Bull: a male
Natural cover: a bull inseminating a heifer or cow as nature intended
Artificial insemination: When natural cover is impractical, this technique is used to upgrade the prestige hence marketability of the resulting calf.
Farm subsidies: A USDA program benefiting, among other farming sectors, the grain industry. By subsidizing corn used as cattle feed, the cost of industrial meat is kept artificially low and the presence of antibiotics dangerously high. (Corn makes cattle sick; antibiotics fix that.) Ubiquitous corn (corn syrup is present in three components of a McDonald’s burger) is suspected by some to be the root cause of the nation’s obesity epidemic. That and ridiculously cheap food, of course.
Certified Angus Beef: Not necessarily 100% Black Angus; likely crossbred and grain fed.
Registered Black Angus: 100% Black Angus, a breed that has superior intra-muscular marbelling, hence better flavor
Grass-fed Registered Black Angus: 100% Black Angus humanely raised on an optimal diet.
Free range: Legally defined as a chicken that is given access to the outdoors for at least 15 minutes a day.
Pastured poultry: Everything the term “free-range” implies but no longer delivers; largely grass diet, hence higher in Omega-3 fatty acids.
This clearly makes sense for the farmer and also makes for a happier life for his chickens and cattle, who get to do it their way and for twice as long as commercially-raised poultry and beef. What’s in it for the consumer, of course, is what’s in it—and what’s not. Hormone and antibiotic-free grass fed beef, according to a University of California study, has ten-fold the beta-carotene of grain-fed, a minimum of 60% more omega-3 fatty acids (putting it on a par—by this measure, at least—with wild salmon). It also has two or three times the conjugated linoleic acid and three times the Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol antioxidants). All of which are thought to be factors in the prevention of everything from depression and Alzheimers, to cancer, arteriosclerosis and diabetes and in the promotion of vision, bone health, and weight control. The flavor? “How it was supposed to taste,” according to Gibson; in other words, like non-industrialized beef.
So how did this city slicker, whose expertise heretofore centered on running hotels, suddenly transform himself into an innovative cattleman? First and most crucial, by making the farm managers, Jim and Ilene Stark, who were already in place when he bought the dairy farm, full partners. Then, in time-honored farm tradition, he added his own family to the workforce, turning Grazin’ Angus Acres into a multi-generational enterprise. Dan and Susan Gibson’s son Keith and his wife, Nicole, live and work on the farm. Gibson’s wife, Susan, who was literally the girl next door in Bucks County, PA, when they were growing up, has added collecting eggs each afternoon to a range of pastimes that heretofore centered on gardening and decorating. Grazin’s manpower increases in summer when Dan’s formerly-widowed father, Frank, comes up from Florida with his bride of less than one year, Susan’s formerly-widowed mother, Betty, to lend a hand.
That’s right. In journalism, that’s called burying the lead.
Grazin’ Angus Acres grass-fed beef is served at many local restaurants, including Vico and The Red Dot in Hudson, Local 111 in Philmont, and The Blue Plate in Chatham.
It is also sold frozen at The Berry Farm, Route 203 in Chatham; Hawthorne Valley Store, Route 21 A, Ghent; Random Harvest, Route 23, Craryville; Honest Weight Retail Store, on Central Avenue, Albany, and at the Grazin’ Angus Acres farm store, where chickens and eggs are also available.
Grazin’ Angus Acres, 125 Bartel Road, Ghent; 518.392.3620 Orders may be placed by phone or e-mail (see website) and may be picked up at the Grazin’ Angus Acres farm store.