ORGANICALLY RAISED NATURAL BARZONA BEEF & RECIPES
Aunt Patty’s Pot Roast: Place shoulder roast in dutch oven. Rub meat with salt, garlic, pepper. Pile atop roast 1/2 pint sour cream & 1 package onion soup mix. Cook low heat: 3 hours. Baste frequently with gravy. Good with potatoes. My children’s favorite!
Available July through December every year. (Limited Supply)
No Growth Hormones
No Antibiotics Added
Grass farm pioneer is home grown
By Dan DeWitt, Times Columnist | In Print: Sunday, September 20, 2009
At the eatwild.com Web site, you can learn all about grass farming, and, by implication, that William La Rosa was decades ahead of this trend. “A growing number of ranchers … are keeping their animals at home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet,” author Jo Robinson wrote on the site.
That means their cattle aren’t shipped to distant, jammed-packed feedlots, aren’t forced to stand hock-deep in their own waste, aren’t stuffed with corn, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Grass farming, which was featured in Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and this year’s movie, Food Inc., produces tastier, purer, more nutritious beef, Robinson wrote, adding that this has all been happening “since the late 1990s.”
Let’s forget for a minute that, really, it’s been happening since the start of civilization. Even returning to grass as a reaction against factory farming dates back at least to the 1960s, when La Rosa, then a Pinellas County urologist, noticed an increased incidence of bladder cancer in his patients.
It had to be chemicals in the food, he thought, and started raising a few Herefords for his family on a farm in Clearwater.
Organic farming was for hippies then, and La Rosa, who would later serve as chief of the medical staff at Morton Plant Hospital, “was as conventional as they come,” he said. “The other doctors thought I was totally insane.”
Three decades later — and more than two decades after La Rosa had bought the 600-acre Lake Oriole Ranch just east of Interstate 75 on Croom Rital Road in 1977— the natural food movement was just starting to turn its attention to raising meat.
“(La Rosa) was absolutely cutting edge and was one of the leading grass farms out there,” said Dennis Stoltzfoos, a farmer from Live Oak who worked at Lake Oriole in 1999.
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When journalists write features like this, they usually watch people do their jobs, which isn’t easy at Lake Oriole.
There’s mowing and putting up hay and fixing fences, of course, and in a few weeks a load of young bulls will be trucked to Plant City, where they will be slaughtered and butchered.
But there is no spreading of chemical fertilizers, no vaccinations, no worming, not even any castration — you don’t want to lose those natural growth hormones, after all. So mostly what happens at Lake Oriole is that cattle eat grass.
It has to be the right kind of cattle.
La Rosa switched to Barzona after he grew tired of rushing home from work to treat his delicate Herefords for pink eye. Bred by a rancher named F.N. Bard in Arizona (hence the name), they are resistant to heat, bugs and disease, and almost always give birth alone, in the field.
“We wanted long-lived animals that require very little maintenance,” La Rosa said.
In a pasture where the 100 chocolate-colored brood cows stood in the shade of scattered oaks, ranch manager Rodney Cooper pointed to number 861. Despite her bony hips and spine, she was nursing one of the biggest, healthiest-looking calves in the pasture.
“She’s 22 years old and she’s produced every year since she was 2 years old,” said Cooper, La Rosa’s son-in-law.
It also has to be the right kind of grass. Bulls grazing on high-protein grass that includes perennial peanut (and supplemented, La Rosa admits, by a small amount of grain) reach a slaughter weight of 800 to 1,000 pounds in 18 months. La Rosa sells either half or whole animals, mostly to long-standing customers, for about $4 per pound, including the cost of butchering.
It brings in just enough to cover the salary of Cooper, a former contractor, and one other worker, and to keep the tractors running.
“I just want a healthy meat for my family,” La Rosa said. “And anyone else who wants a healthy meat can buy it pretty much at cost.”
• • •
If it doesn’t sound as though there’s much profit in this kind of farming — the usual complaint about high-minded agriculture — well, there can be, said Stoltzfoos, one of 22 Florida grass farmers listed on eatwild.com.
Like La Rosa, Stoltzfoos calls himself a “beyond organic” farmer, meaning he raises crops naturally but doesn’t want the interference that comes with government certification. Unlike La Rosa, he’s introduced new methods of getting more production out of land.
Chickens in an “egg-mobile,” for example, are moved around his pastures, feeding off the larvae in cow manure, spreading it as they peck, then adding their own nitrogen-rich droppings to the soil, and, meanwhile, giving Stoltzfoos two more products to sell at the premium prices these farms demand — chicken meat and eggs.
“There are many grass farmers that have surpassed (La Rosa) at this point,” Stolzfoos said. “The industry is growing and busting at the seams. … With all the land available for lease (in eastern Hernando and Pasco counties), there’s tremendous opportunity to go in there with rotational grazing and make a heck of a living.”
• • •
But there’s no doubt that La Rosa has done what he intended: raise wholesome food for his wife, Dorothy, and three grown children, including former Hernando School Board member Susan Cooper. Grass-fed beef is rich in vitamins A and D, which are crucial for absorbing minerals, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids, usually associated with fish oil, Stoltzfoos said. “It’s the salmon of the land. It’s the healthiest thing you can eat.”
For proof, look at La Rosa. At 81, his skin is smooth. His hair is thick, and he has no problem climbing in and out of the back seat of his two-door 1978 Ford Bronco.
And if you want to dispel the myth that grass-finished beef isn’t as rich or tasty as corn-fed, talk to longtime customers like Joe White, a fencing contractor from Spring Lake. “The hamburger is unbelievable. It’s less fatty than regular hamburger, and the taste is more like ground sirloin,” he said. And after dining on La Rosa’s steaks, he said, the ones in restaurants taste mealy and flabby. “I can’t even go out and eat steak anymore.”