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Feb 15, 2007 12:02 PM

Natural/organic meat directly from source in SD

I had a lot of discussions in the last several months about organic vs. natural vs. local regarding meat and produce. It is relatively easy to get local organic fruits and vegetables in San Diego at different places. But what about meat ? There are of course several shops which offer organic meat or natural meat, e.g. WholeFoods, TJ, Jimbos, Henrys etc. But at all thoses places it is very unlikely that you get local meat. So what are good sources in San Diego for local organic or natural meat ? And I am looking specifically for sources where I have the possibility to visit the farm and see how they raise their animals. (I don't want to go too much into detail about what organic means in terms of raising your animals but if you do some research you will find out that it doesn't have a big influence on the actual life of the animals). I just started some research on local places and was hoping somebody could point towards good starting points in San Diego.

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  1. I have looked into this, and I don't believe there are any - but if I am wrong I would be very interested! If I had the freezer space, I would order directly from Niman Ranch, in Northern Cal. It's not organic, but humanely raised - and they do offer tours.

    1. Jay P. of Linkery has some excelent information on his Blog. He visited Brandt farms in Brawley.

      Here is the link it's towards the bottom of the page.

      4 Replies
      1. re: stevuchan

        Jonathan's Market in La Jolla sells Brandt beef, FYI. I bought a chuck roast there the other day and made a killer pot roast with it.

        1. re: stevuchan

          I looked into Brandt Beef and even though it is an improvement over what you get at Ralphs but it is also far from natural. Any farm who claims to be natural and at the same time claims to cornfeed the animals still cares way too much about the customers instead to care about the animals. I think there is a good reason why Jay has a link to "the Ominvore's dilemma". But it is good to see that he has also a link to "Old Creek Ranch". This is true natural/organic farming and nothing what Brandt is doing. I am interested to find out if there is something comparable to Old Creek Ranch closer to San Diego.

          1. re: honkman

            Why don't you buy the New Zealand grass-fed organic beef at Whole Foods? I mean, I realize it's not from California, but I've had it many times and it's quite good. Tastes quite a bit different than what we get around here.

            RE: the Brandt beef, I noticed some pretty big differences in the pot roast I made between that and what I got at Vons. It was leaner, and had a "beefier" flavor than the Vons beef, if that makes sense to you.

            1. re: Josh

              I also like the Western Grasslands beef at Trader Joes (now apparently called "Panorama Meats.") Check it out at I also buy their organic chicken and the Niman Ranch pork, especially the bacon.

              Mmmmm.... bacon....

        2. They actually had a stand at the Slow Food event a few months ago. I don't think they are organic, though their website says they engage in humane practices. I think their products are becoming more available as far as I know they don't sell directly to consumers. It looks like they are going to start selling online soon -

          1 Reply
          1. re: Alice Q

            I use to kill the beef at O`Nillel beef here in Fresno years ago, a Family owned
            slaughter house and they sold their beef to the local stores and also to indiviguals.
            so you might check the slaughter houses in the San Diego area and see if they
            have any. I know that was some of the best I have ever eaten.

          2. have you tried a search on

            When I was looking for meat sources, I did a search for "farms" producing "beef" (or chicken or pork) in my state. I then looked for ones within driving distance so I could check them out. After meeting the farmer, I now do most of my purchasing by mail, or I place a larger order just a couple of times a year to avoid driving for meat too often.

            Note if you just search around a city you'll have a harder time finding meat as I think the search radius is quite small/specific. This is why I suggest searching the state.

            1. I'll chip in with a few things I've learned, or at least think I've learned (carefully, so as not to upset the censors).

              For the most part, Niman, I believe, is the real deal, at least with pork. They use independent family farms, and require the farms to follow a set of standards in regards to sustainability and humane treatment of the animals. One of the basics, I think, is that the pigs be on pasture and not confined. It's my understanding that some of the independent farms may embody all the ideals of Niman better than others (of course), but that Niman is constantly working with all its suppliers to bring everybody up to the highest possible level.

              I recall from reading the Art of Eating article about Niman, that most of these farmers raise Farmer's Hybrid pigs, and I think I remember that Eliza MacLean (who was the Niman rep when they were operating in North Carolina) confirmed that fact to me when I asked her about it. The Farmer's Hybrid pig is substantially different than the typical factory pigs I've eaten or seen. (Caveat: I haven't been to any really big Smithfield/Cargill-style factory integrators).

              Note that no pork I'm aware of is purely pastured, as the pigs eat a lot in the months prior to being killed, and what they're "finished" on at that time is very important to the quality of the meat. If you recall in the Omnivore's Dilemma, the pigs at Polyface farms were described fattening up on slightly fermented corn (I think) in bulk.

              As far as beef goes, I've been unable to find any totally grass-grazing ranchers in California south of Old Creek Ranch.

              I gather that some farmers in the Imperial Valley do graze some of their animals, but not as the primary feeding. When we asked Mark Brandt about why they don't graze their Brandt beef, he explained that some breeds of cattle are better suited for grazing (in terms of developing their meat) than others. Good grazing breeds include what Old Creek has (which I think are an Angus-Hereford cross, but my memory is a little fuzzy). The Holsteins which Brandt raises are castoff males from dairy farms, and according to the Brandts they need to have a fair amount of corn in their diet in order to develop meat that people want to eat. (I think the Brandt feed is about 80-20 corn to grasses, by weight). Brandt does graze some of their other breeds of cattle, but those beeves don't go into the "branded" Brandt program.

              I'll leave the humane-ness of Brandt's operations for others to decide; I will say that in visiting the entire process (young calves entering the feedlot, all the way to the cutting line at the processor) it didn't violate any of my basic sensibilities, and was very respectful of the animals. As a feedlot operation it's obviously dependent substantially on fossil fuel and is therefore not a fully sustainable practice; on the other hand, the Brandts are committed to resource stewardship and advancing sustainability, including their practices in raising grasses and composting animal waste. It's not Polyface Farms or Old Creek, but it's an interesting and honest operation.

              In terms of local pastured animals in Southern California, the biggest problem is that there appear to be no small USDA-certified processors to handle animals from independent farms. Michael Pollan emphasized this issue a lot in Omnivore's Dilemma, and I think it's even bigger than people realize. The folks at the Ethicurean blog ( ) seem to stay on top of this issue as well as anyone; I recommend keeping an eye on that blog and other news about processors as this will soon become a big issue in independent agriculture, as the movement locally grows from produce-based to a complete agricultural movement including meats.

              I bought local emu from A & W Emu Ranch in Lakeside, but that was processed up in Central California at the same plant that Old Creek uses. I think any local farmer with animals would have to bring them up at least that far.

              We've been working on this stuff for a while now but obviously I may be unaware of a lot of farms or processors in town (I hope I am!). If there are places locally I don't know about, please let me know either here, on my blog, or via email. I won't post the contact info here but if you google "Jay Porter eating" or something like that you'll find it easily. Thanks!

              1 Reply
              1. re: jayporter

                Jay, just out of curiosity, what was the reason you decided to use Brandt beef which is cornfed (and you even bring up the issue with "Number Two corn" in your blog) instead of beef from for example Old Creek Ranch which, I think, is more in-line with where we should aim with farms in the future. This question is not about critizing any of your decisions but just interest in learning more about this whole issue.