A growing movement is emerging that questions the role of the agriculture industry in contributing to a myriad of social problems. Specifically, environmental, public health, economic, and animal welfare issues, exacerbated by modern agricultural practices are of much concern. Fortunately, many farmers like Deer Run Farm of Amelia are working to operate farms in a manner that addresses these concerns and they are making their products more accessible to residents in Chester.
Deer Run Farm is a third generation farm managed by Robert and Ruth Ann Hutchinson and their children Kara and Reid. Just like many farmers of the post-World War II era, the Hutchinson’s predecessors raised grain-fed livestock on their farms. In 2007, a friend recommended the book Pasture Perfect by Joe Robinson and Ruth Ann began reading. This was the catalyst for Ruth Ann and her husband to begin learning about and taking into consideration mounting evidence that suggests the many benefits of consuming and raising grass-fed versus grain-fed beef.
Initially, the farm raised only cattle and has expanded to raise chickens as well. Over the last few years, they have been building a network of six host homes where they deliver fresh grass-finished beef, chicken and eggs to local customers. Today, you can pick up their products at local farmers markets in the Richmond-Metro area or at local host homes where there are scheduled monthly deliveries.
“We started doing host homes for a more personal and community feel,” said Ruth Ann Hutchinson. And it seems that they have been successful in achieving this goal because their customers couldn’t be happier.
Host home family and Chester residents, Matthew and Sheila Coffield, are the epitome of satisfied customers. Sheila and Matthew found Deer Run Farm through a website localharvest.com, after viewing the documentary Food, Inc., in which the filmmakers shed light on the farming practices utilized by the industrial agriculture industry.
Upon finding Deer Run Farm, the Hutchinsons invited the Coffields out to their farm in an effort to educate them about their animals and their farming practices.
Coffield thoroughly appreciates the transparency between farmer and consumer.
“If a farmer will not answer your questions, there is reason to be concerned,” said Sheila Coffield.
She touts transparency and relationship between farmer and consumer to be of utmost importance when choosing a farmer. She encourages others to ask the right questions of their farmer and to be cautious about buying from farmers who do not have an “open-door” policy like the Hutchinsons have.
Another point of importance Coffield noted, was ensuring that a farmer’s cattle are not only grass-fed, but grass-finished. This simply means that the cow is fed a diet of grass throughout its lifespan from birth to finish. Some farmers will opt to feed their cattle a diet of grain during the last several months of their life, prior to slaughter, essentially negating the benefits of grass-feeding in the first place.
The Coffields freezer is stocked with meat from Deer Run Farm and they are passionate about educating others about the benefits of consuming grass-fed beef.
“There’s a difference in grass-fed beef over grocery store meat,” said Coffield. “We have been very happy with Deer Run Farm beef and chickens.”
The Coffields enjoy knowing exactly where their food comes from, that the animals are treated in a humane manner, and are thrilled to help support the local economy by consuming products from a local farm.
When asked about the common misconception that grass-fed animals are tougher and taste more gamey than their grain-fed counterparts, Coffield suggested that part of the reason for this misconception is that there is a need to cook grass-fed meat with different methods than grain-fed beef. She said that the key to cooking grass-fed beef is to “cook slow and low,” meaning low temperatures and slower cooking time will yield the most tender and tasty result.
Another customer, Jen Krajewski, met the Hutchinsons at their farm approximately two years ago when they hosted one of their twice-yearly family farm days. Krajewski’s husband had done some research and the family was interested in learning more. They attended the family farm day at Deer Run Farm and they have been buying their products ever since.
“It [the meat] tastes so much better,” said Krajewski.
In order to nourish cattle in the way that is most beneficial to the overall health of the animal, cattle from Deer Run Farm, dine solely on grass and hay throughout their lifespan. Their chickens at the farm are also raised on a grass diet.
Additionally, the animals at Deer Run Farm “are never given additives, synthetic growth hormones, or antibiotics.”
Industrial agriculture currently dominates the U.S. food system, but public awareness of the problems associated with industrial agriculture practices has grown drastically, building support for use of sustainable practices in agriculture such as those utilized by Deer Run Farm.
By choosing to utilize sustainable practices in farming the Hutchinsons are not only able to bring healthier food to your table, but are able to provide food from animals that have been raised in a humane manner, protect and preserve the environment, all while supporting the local economy.
Robert Hutchinson is currently working on a project that calls for the clearing of approximately 35 acres of land. The cleared land will be used for what is known as Silvopasture, and will provide a vast area of shaded pasture where the cattle are free to roam and graze. This allows the cows to have a comfortable area to graze during the hot months and drastically reduces stress on the animal. Ruth Ann Hutchinson says this so important because “stress leads to tougher meat.”
“We use easy handling techniques,” said Robert Hutchinson. “There is no need for cattle driving or herding dogs, when the cattle need to be move to another area, they simply follow their farmer.”
Additionally, Hutchinson believes they are one of the only farms in the area to utilize this innovative technique. Robert Hutchinson is also involved with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, which encourages conservation practices to help support rural economies, protect wildlife habitats and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. According to Hutchinson, this is beneficial to the farm because supporting conservation activities can help improve soil and water quality.
It seems that those involved in the farm to table movement are motivated by the opportunity it brings for involvement in community, knowing where their food comes from, and wanting to support local economies. As with any movements, this is one that really thrives when one is willing to get involved and educated, and willing to educate others. Hutchinson suggested the following websites and books to learn more about sustainable farming and agriculture: eatwild.com, The Weston A. Price Foundation, and Mother Earth News. You can visit the Deer Run Farm website at http://deerrunfarmofamelia.drupalgardens.com/.