The journey from farm to table: where the beef in your favourite dishes comes from
Local Ontario farmers are making a difference with their beef—and it’s a difference consumers can taste
Take a walk around the city of Toronto and you’ll find yourself immersed in many different cultures. As the most diverse metropolitan city in the world, Toronto has made a name for itself amongst foodies looking for the next best eat. Ingredients and dishes are shared cross-culturally, and beef is no exception. From beef vindaloo to carne asada and a simple steak and eggs, you’ll find the star ingredient in just about any cuisine. But there’s much more to know about this versatile staple protein than just how it tastes, like the journey it takes to get to your supermarket and onto your plate, too.
We know that those who fight in the name of sustainability have, well, beef with the ways factory farming contributes to global warming. Consumers are calling for transparency about the foods they put into their bodies. Now more than ever, they want to know where their food is coming from to support farmers, the environment, the local economy and their values. Farmers across Ontario put caring for the environment, the quality of their product and their animals first—and it’s a difference consumers can taste.
South 50 Farms has been in the Sculthorpe family since James Sculthorpe and his brother started it in 2008; their roots in Port Hope go as far back as the 1790s. It’s a multi-generational family business focusing on regenerative and organic agricultural practices—and growing delicious, nutritious food.
“Farm-to-table provides an opportunity to create greater levels of transparency within the supply chain,” James says. “Ultimately, [this] can lead to greater consumer trust and a focus on ‘local.’”
Their holistic approach to managing their farm hones in on working in harmony with natural biological systems, like using an intensive rotational grazing system that sees their cattle moved daily over 500 acres of land during the growing season.
“Our cattle play an integral role on our farm and are raised with great respect and attention to their welfare,” he says. “We’re very proud of our herd.”
“Beef production has been vilified over the years,” he adds. “[But] when integrated into a holistic farming system, [it] can actually be a very valuable resource and tool in helping combat many [environmental] issues.”
Over in Brant County, Sandra Vos, a sole female cow-calf operator at Vos Farm, came into farming from her love of gardening. Without the generational knowledge that most farmers come by, Vos taught herself with the help of caring, farm-savvy neighbours and her family. Her goal was always to raise cattle to improve the land, soil and biodiversity on her farm—but there is a bonus to doing so.
“The bonus for me is the enjoyment of the end product by my customers,” she says. “I’m often told ‘you aren’t allowed to ever stop’ because they love the product so much.”
Vos sells her grass-fed beef directly to her customers, mainly in Brant County but in the Toronto area, too. Her cows live on her farm for years, only being sent to a local family-owned processor when they’re ready to be harvested.
“The richness of life that cattle bring by grazing on the land is indescribable,” she says. “My contribution is to bring a product to the table that people want to enjoy.”
A third-generation farmer at J&E Meats, Emma Butler of Croton knows the farm-to-table narrative starts with the farmers. With her partner Josh, Emma has been running the family farm, which has been around since the 1930s.
“It’s an ingrained family tradition,” she says. “We raise cattle from birth to table right here on our farm…and make all their food on the farm here, as well.”
J&E Meats prides itself on breeding its cows naturally and letting them roam rotationally. Animal health and welfare are their top priority, and they can trace every product they sell back to the specific animal they came from with a view of their lineage, health record, date of birth and more.
“Welfare of our animals doesn’t end after consumption,” she says. “It’s a continual part of the story.”
Click here to learn more about Beef Farmers of Ontario.