Pasture to Plate: Black Earth Meats

Feature Stories Summer 2010 Issue

Pasture to Plate: Black Earth Meats

By Dan Johnson | Photos By Jim Klousia 3

On a wall above the Black Earth Meats slaughter room, a red lettered sign sums it up: “We honor these animals for by their death we gain life.” It is both a blessing and a stark reminder that the business of meat eating requires the killing of animals. Steaks, chops, burgers and brats may be the delicious income generating final product, but it is the process of how these products get from the farm pastures to the customer’s plate that is the foundation of Black Earth Meats’ business.

Grass-fed beef may be a novelty in your grocer’s meat department, but before chemical fertilizers and herbicides, agricultural tax subsidizes and 32 row corn planters provided cheap grain-based cattle feeds, Wisconsin’s meat and dairy industry was run primarily on grass. The cheesehead at Packer’s games might just as aptly be a grassy green chia head as a salute to the natural resource that fed the cattle supplying Green Bay’s meat packing industry in the early 1900s after which the Packers are named.

For Black Earth Meats, located in their namesake, Black Earth, Wisconsin, it is upon this traditional pasture-based agriculture, along with humane animal treatment, organic farming and modern conservation practices that they have built their meat processing facility and old style butcher shop. In their newly renovated, USDA-inspected and certified organic facility, they process grass-fed, certified organic, local cattle and pasture-raised hogs for their Black Earth Meats and Grandpa’s Way labels, as well as offer area farmers custom meat processing services.

It may come as a surprise to discover that Black Earth Meats’ managing partner, Bartlett Durand, is a practicing Buddhist and former vegetarian. He explains that his former meat-free diet was not based upon a belief that the killing of animals for food is inherently wrong, but was instead a rejection of the way animals were raised and sold. By this, he is referring to the animals run through the industrial meat system that are, as Durand says, “treated like widgets—anonymous and without any connection to the animal, farm or farmer.”

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