To be sustainable, Roseland Farms leaves organic label behind
Some lucky cows live at Roseland Organic Farms in Cassopolis, MI.
The colorful mix of Charolais cattle at Roseland have more than 500 acres to roam. They have been pasture residents since birth, and everything they eat is grown right there on the farm. During the warm months, their diet is an all-you-can eat deli of organically grown green pasture. The winter menu is more of the same, but presented in a tasteful bale fashion, the julienned grasses and legumes prepared and preserved over the previous season and served family style.
No chemicals have been used to infuse or taint the cows’ farm fare, and no grain is served a la carte to disturb their digestion. The herd is so healthy that antibiotics are not needed or offered.
Roseland, owned and operated by the Clark family, has been free of pesticides, herbicides, parasiticides, hormones or growth regulators and synthetic fertilizers since 1978. The farm became certified organic in 1985. The meat was sold through several local and regional grocery stores and food co-ops, and a small meat store was also available on site.
In recent years, the costs involved in certifying and processing organic meat products started taking an ever-larger bite out of the overall sustainability of the operation at Roseland, according to Lincoln Clark, who manages the farm along with his brother, Toby. It’s not that the annual USDA inspections were difficult for Roseland, because the same organic practices had been in place for decades. Instead, the farm no longer had access to local USDA-certified meat processing facilities that could divide and package the meat cuts for sale. Those facilities also were stymied by the expense and general rigmarole of federal organic certification.
A marketing dilemma subsequently appeared on the Clark family list of chores. Should they trek four hours to the closest certified processor, adding transportation stress to the animals and themselves, or should they allow the organic certification to lapse and instead focus on the high-quality grass-fed feature of their end product, while still maintaining organic practices? Could they remain profitable by only selling directly to established customers?
“Honestly, we kicked around the idea for a couple years, because we could see it coming, and it was a hard decision,” Lincoln says. The family appreciated the relationship they had with grocery stores, and they knew they had a product that was important to hundreds of devoted customers. So they asked their customers about the idea, and the consensus was in favor of the more sustainable route. Most customers wanted 100% grass-fed beef, raised organically, even if it didn’t have a USDA Certified Organic label.
Consequently, in early 2016, Roseland discontinued its organic labeling and started using a meat processing operation that was just a five-minute drive up the road. Their current customer base of approximately 100 families places reservations for quarters or halves, available at various dates throughout the year. The meat is processed and labeled specifically to each customer’s specifications and picked up at the farm or from the processor. Consumers like the convenience of keeping a variety of cuts in their home freezers, all from a trusted local organic farm, and have adjusted their food budget accordingly.
What could’ve been a marketing disaster for the Clarks has instead settled into a different, more efficient and sustainable scenario.
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the Roseland herd. They are indulging in a fresh green summer salad bar as they make their way across chemical-free pastures with new spring calves sprinkled in among the moms.