Butternut Woods Farm

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to visit Butternut Woods Farm in Silver Lake, MN.  Dave and I started eating locally-sourced, grass-fed beef several years ago after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  We'd been buying Thousand Hill's beef and we liked it just fine.

My love of Butternut Woods Farm all started with a recipe for avocado burgers.  The recipe was sent to me by a coworker and it called for grass-fed beef.  The burgers were delicious.  I thanked my coworker for the tip and told her that we use grass-fed beef all the time and prefer it to "regular" beef both in principle and flavor.  And that's how we came on Butternut Woods Farm.  The niece of this coworker runs the farm with her family.  When they had their next beef offering, I snatched up 20 pounds of hamburger.  No, Dave and I don't eat that much hamburger but that was the offer!  I had no problem finding folks to split that with me.  The burger was delicious.  I immediately contacted them to get on the list for the spring package.  Yesterday was pick up day!

The farm is about an hour and fifteen minute drive from home.  Not too bad.  It was a military weekend for Dave.  The weather was gloomy, not good for much but a great day for a tour of the farm.

The farm house is set far back from the road.  The driveway is long and unpaved and it takes you right past the pasture and the grazing cows.  I waved to John and Jack as I drove in.  Up ahead Tom was working with the cows.  As I pulled up, one of the cows, her name was Ruby I would later learn, jumped the fence and started charging my car!  That will get your heart going!  As I tried to find my camera in my purse (never taking my eye off the charging cow) Tom was able to herd her back into the pasture, saving Ruby, me and my little PT Cruiser from any bumps or bruises.

Poor Ruby had just had a calf.  She had to be separated from him so that he could be banded and she was just a little upset about that.  I forgive her!


I said hi to Tom and the two very happy dogs then drove up to the house where I met Amy.

The house is absolutely gorgeous, built out of old wood with a big stone fireplace.  I could live there!  Inside I met the rest of the family, John's fiance Lori, Tom and Amy's other son Jack and Sue, also known as Nana.

I mentioned that the first thing I was going to cook was one of the roasts.  They brought out one of their favorite cookbooks, Good Meat by Deborah Krasner.  The book is a comprehensive guide to sourcing and enjoying sustainable meat and there are over 200 recipes in it.  It is one of Lori's favorite cookbooks.  Yes, I've ordered it.  It will be at the house on Monday or Tuesday!

After introductions and a little history on the family Tom took me on an amazing tour of the farm. 

The family used to lease out the land for conventional farming.  Then one day a friend of Tom's had him try some Highland Beef and he decided he had to have some of those cows!  Over the past several years they have converted the traditional farmland into good grazing land for the cows.  They have more to go on their many acres (Tom told me how many but I can't remember!) but they are getting there.  

The family has three main objectives, to raise heritage breed Highland Cattle, focusing on their health and compassionate handling, to preserve their wooded prairie landscape through sustainable farming practices, and to realize the farm's potential as a source of community and learning for their family and their customers.

From what I saw they are doing just that.  Our tour started by meeting the stars of the show, the cows.  Both male and female Highland cows have horns so it's important to keep any aggression to a minimum.  The cows are so docile they are almost like pets.  They are handled from birth so they aren't afraid of people at all.  Tom brought out a bag of horse treats and one the most social of the herd couldn't get enough of them.  She was so cute!  Really like a big pet!  I was happy to learn she has earned the right to live out her days on the farm.  Tom pointed to another of the cows and said "that one there is going to be hamburger".
I asked John why his beef tastes different from the Thousand Hills beef we'd been eating.  It's the Highland breed.  Thousand Hills is a different breeds of cow, all grass-fed, but not the Highland breed.  I agree with John, the Highland is really tasty beef!

I would have taken this one home if I could!
They are such beautiful animals!
The dog knows the routine!  He begs for horse treats and he led the way around the farm.

As I was driven around the farm on their golf cart, John pointed out their neighboring farm.  It's a corporate cattle farm.  I looked over and there were a bunch of cows, all crowded together around a trough, penned into a small area.  They were surrounded by muddy fields in which corn would probably be planted.  They won't be doing any grazing.  It was really a stark contrast to the beautiful beings who were eating horse treats out of the hands of their owner.  John's comment was "that's what's entering the food chain".

During the winter the herd is bail fed.  They move the bails around so the herd isn't always in the same place.  There is shelter but John explained that these cattle are made for this climate and they hate to be indoors.  They love to go into the woods and winter just isn't a problem for them.

I asked if they would be branching out into chickens since I'd read that sustainable cattle farming usually includes chickens to help with the flies and the soil.  Yes, they plan on adding chickens in a year or so.  Guess where I'll be buying my chicken?
I could have talked with John all day.  We share the same opinions on a lot of things!
After the tour I was treated to lunch!  We had an amazing salad of spinach, blueberries, walnuts and goat cheese, fresh fruit, cookies and, of course, burgers!  Everything was delicious.

I had such a great time.  I want to go back!  I thought it would be hard to eat the beef after meeting the cows.  No.  It's still delicious.  I think knowing that one special cow will be there if I go back made a difference!
Thank you so much to the Moore family for inviting me out and taking time out of their weekend to show me around and make me lunch!  You are an amazing family and I'm honored to have gotten to know you.  Thank you Michelle for making that happen!

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