Diners at a recent Grass-Fed Beef event at Harvest Restaurant weren't worrying about the latest warnings about beef in the diet. The group of 40 confirmed beef lovers were enjoying some of the first Wisconsin Meadows brand beef from the newly formed Wisconsin Grass-Fed Beef Coop.
The Co-op teamed up with Harvest Restaurant to host a 'meet the farmer' event to celebrate the launch of the co-op. "We're thrilled to be one of the coop's first customers," said Tami Lax, the restaurant's owner. "We try to buy local as much as we can, and it's tough for any one farmer to supply the quantities of beef we need year round. The coop is a great way for small family farms to work together to fill that need."
The Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Co-op is one of several projects supported by the Buy Local-Buy Wisconsin Grant program. "Our goal with this program is to support projects that make more local food available to Wisconsin citizens," said Randy Romanski, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection. "The co-op allows small WI farmers to pool resources and gain access to premium markets for their beef. A start-up grant from the Buy Local program is helping their new business get off the ground."
About 27 farmers from across Wisconsin have joined the new coop. Member Mandy McGee of LaFarge is typical. "Our farm is very hilly. It's important to us to manage our cattle and our land in a way that protects the environment and provides us with a sustainable living," she said.
And the assessment of the crowd was that Wisconsin Meadows is a good product. Participants chose from a New York strip steak, short ribs, or a pasta dish. "This meat is a pleasure to work with," said Derek Rowe, head chef at Harvest. "Our customers aren't the 16-ounce-steak type of diner. We do smaller portions and use recipes that complement the beefy flavor of grass-fed."
Smaller portions is what health officials are recommending. "People shouldn't be afraid to enjoy a good meal of beef, said Laura Paine, Economic Development Consultant at DATCP and advisor to the Co-op. "A growing body of research suggests that grass-fed beef has the added benefit of being generally leaner, lower in saturated fats, and higher in beneficial fatty acids than conventional beef."
Co-op members aren't too concerned about the recent health reports on red meat, "The important thing is flavor and quality," said Bob Van De Boom, president of the co-op. "People like the meat because it tastes good. Our customers like to buy from us because well-managed pasture-based farms are good for the environment and because they like supporting local farmers."
The Co-op has no shortage of buyers. With their first sales in January, the co-op has steadily increased its sales to several restaurants, meat markets, and food co-ops across southern Wisconsin. "There's no shortage of buyers out there. Right now we need more members and more animals that meet our protocol," said Van De Boom. Interested farmers are encouraged to contact the Co-op production manager at (715) 965-2092. Interested wholesale buyers can contact the sales manager at (608) 452-2861.