Why does Skagit River Ranch (SRR) meat taste so good? That was the question asked by Capitol Hill and Columbia City Market Manager, Patrick Law, as the NFM team drove up to Sedro Woolley to tour the SRR operation. As we stepped out of the car and into the farm shop, owners Eiko and George Vojkovich greeted us with warm smiles and plenty of coffee.
George took a seat in his nearby rocking chair and answered the posing question with a simple answer, “you never stress an animal”. Skagit River Ranch is a certified organic farm that operates on 3 guiding principles, with the humane treatment of animals at the top of the list. The other two principles they stress are sustainable farming and chemical-free, organic practices. Through rotational grazing and the avoidance of harmful chemicals, antibiotics, and unnecessary hormones, Eiko and George ensure their animals are healthy and their fields are full of nutrient rich grass and grain.
As we strolled through the pastures, Eiko pointed to the gawking turkeys and said “our job is to give them what they want.” She and George continued walking past, calling the turkeys and listening as they squawked in reply. The cows were also looking happy as they munched on fresh green grass and clover. George explained how he measures the sugar content of the grass using a refractometer, which helps him determine the best time to move and feed the cows. Skagit River Ranch ensures that the cows eat their nutrition rather than getting injections, so if the soil is missing something, so are the cows.
Contrary to how some large, conventional operations do it, another practice that sets Skagit River Ranch apart is they begin calving in April, rather than February. Doing so is more in line with the animal’s natural cycle and therefore puts less stress on the animal’s body. What is more, Skagit River Ranch butchers the majority of their beef from April through December when pasture grasses are at optimum nutritional levels.
The amount of hard work and labor that goes into every step to ensure the animals and their feed are organic is tedious and painstaking. But the rewards and benefits are beyond justified. Organic methods are healthy for you, healthy for the animals, and healthy for the environment. Grass-fed beef has almost 6 times more Omega-3 fatty acids than grain finished beef and the recommended level of Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 3:1.
However, instead of rewarding these healthy, good farming practices, certified organic farms like Skagit River Ranch have to pay more to the government in order to obtain their certification. The annual fees and mandatory inspections by the USDA are costly and require multiple days’ worth of administrative paperwork that could otherwise be spent working on the farm. According to the USDA website, “certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.”
But for the last 17 years, Skagit River Ranch has been committed to providing their customers with the most wholesome, best tasting, organic grass-fed beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs. They believe it is their job to be good stewards of the land and their hope is that their daughter Nicole will take over the family farm one day and continue farming in harmony with the environment. What we can do as consumers to support farmers such as George and Eiko is to continue buying directly from them, either online or at the farmers markets. We should also teach future generations the importance of using local, organic food to benefit our physical health as well as our physical home.
Photos and story by Anna Sparks