by Mallory Moad
Let’s assume you are someone who includes meat in your diet, whether it’s because you have certain nutritional goals or you just enjoy a steak or burger now and then. Got that? Now, what if you are concerned about the quality of that meat, the way in which it is produced, and how the livestock is raised. You could spend a ridiculous amount of time searching online and end up with not much more than eye strain.
Google is only your friend up to a point so forget about technology. The best and possibly most enjoyable way to make educated choices about the food you eat is to get to know the people behind it – the farmers themselves. And if it’s quality, grass fed beef you seek, Jeff Butts can tell you all about it.
Jeff is the owner of Riverland Farms Grass Fed Beef. For the past seven years, he and his daughter, Jestine, have been raising cattle the old fashioned way on their ranch in Sanger. That means the cows live and graze freely in pastures, not pens, eating only non-GMO grass or hay that has been grown on the premises. Jestine says, “It’s how my grandmother raised them.” Hormones and antibiotics aren’t part of the plan, either. According to Jeff, there has never been a health issue within the herd and no calves have ever been lost to infection. The finished product is clean and free of nasty, unnecessary stuff. After all, you are what you eat.
There was never any intention on Jeff’s part to become a cattle rancher, even on a small scale, although he is a third-generation farmer. In fact, he gives all the credit to Jestine. The story goes like this:
Jestine’s cousin had been vegan for over twenty years, but eventually her body could no longer handle the restrictions. When a doctor strongly suggested she reintroduce beef to her diet, she made a deal with Jestine: if she would raise some beef “the way Grandma used to grow it,” she would help her sell it in the Bay Area. Everything starts somewhere and the rest, as they say, is history.
To say Jestine has experience raising livestock is an understatement. It’s in her blood. She began raising and showing sheep when she joined 4-H at the age of nine, moving up to raising and showing beef cattle in high school and serving as president of the Sanger chapter of the Future Farmers of America while attending Reedley College. She started participating in equestrian competitions when she was six-years-old, has been hauling her own horses since she could drive, and often wins her division championships. As if she doesn’t have anything better to do, Jestine has trained her friend’s pack mules to jump. Did I mention she can disc a field and operate a backhoe, too? Maybe you thought women like this only existed in books or movies but this one’s the real deal.
With only ten head of cattle in the fall and winter and up to forty in spring and summer, Riverland Farms is small potatoes by modern cattle industry standards. But with the farm-to-table movement and a growing desire among consumers to eat in ways that can be considered healthy, Jeff is building a loyal following of people who appreciate the benefits of eating grass fed beef and the respectful ways in which the animals are raised.
Amy Durham was one of Jeff’s original customers. “For me, I prefer to know that the animals are treated humanely and had a good quality of life. This means more to me than a USDA organic label.” On a recent Saturday morning in Fresno, Vineyard Farmers Market shopper, Molly, said she eats grass fed beef whenever possible with a goal to eliminate conventionally produced beef from her diet completely. She appreciates the opportunity to go to the source and talk to the farmers who grow the food she eats. Felix Muzquiz, executive director of the Vineyard Farmers Market, sings the praises of the meat’s flavor. “I have made the most divinely flavorful burgers with Jeff’s ground beef. I’ve had the short ribs, which were yummy, and I have a beautiful brisket full of promise in my freezer now.” I have eaten Riverland Farms beef, too, and what Felix says is absolutely true.
Personable and knowledgeable with an easy-going sense of humor, Jeff is always happy to engage customers in conversation. He believes in his products and stands behind them. Aware of the murkiness of USDA rules regarding grass fed beef and the confusion it often causes for the consumer, he answers questions directly, citing facts, and sharing his experience in the field. But if the conversation drifts to music (Jeff played bass in a band in a former life), feral pigs, or the colorful history of the Reedley-Sanger area, he’s OK with that, too. Remember, it’s always good to get to know the people who grow your food.
Those of us who live in the Central San Joaquin Valley are fortunate when it comes to options for a healthy diet. Not only do we have access to all kinds of locally grown foods, we have the opportunity to actually meet the people who produce them. At Riverland Farms, what began as a solution to one person’s need for a dietary change has become a stepping stone towards a healthier way of eating (ethically as well as physically) for many more. I know this is true because the farmer told me.
You can visit Jeff Butts, learn about Riverland Farms Grass Fed Beef, and purchase a variety of quality meat products including steaks, sausage, ground beef, and more at the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno near the corner of Blackstone and Shaw on Saturday mornings from 6 a.m. until noon and Wednesdays from 3 p.m. til 6:00 p.m. Riverland Farms Grass Fed Beef is also available at the Visalia Farmers Market in the Sears parking lot on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. EBT is accepted at both locations through the Market Match program, helping everyone meet their goals for a nutritious and tasty way of eating. Learn more online at www.tastycows.com and www.facebook.com/Tastycows.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe if it’s local, it’s best.