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Where to buy grass fed beef in bay area?

  • j

I'm thinking about buying a side of grass fed beef. It's something I've done for the last few years, but I've recently moved to the Bay Area so aren't really sure about where/who to buy from here. I'd appreciate any recommendations of suppliers.

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  1. Highland Hills Farm - They sell at the Berkeley FM. www.highlandhillsfarm.com

    Prather Ranch - available in the Ferry Building. They are grass fed, and fed some grain for finishing. However, they grow the grain themselves and the grain does not include corn.

    Marin Sun Farms - available at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market ... not sure which others.

    I bought some at Whole Foods the other day, but I'm not sure where it was from. Probably far away.

    Whatever anyone else says on this thread, trust me when I say that Niman Ranch is not grass-fed. Or organic. (This always comes up so I am trying to stop that "yes they are" "no they're not" conversation before it starts.)

    13 Replies
    1. re: fig newton

      fig newton-

      Perhaps you can help me out. As a guy that likes to smoke briskets, I have always been told that grass-fed cattle lead to tougher cuts of meat, and that corn-fed is the way to go, even if they are just finished off that way (ala Meyer Natural Angus Beef). Supposedly, the way to tell is by the fat-cap: the whiter the fat, the more corn used.

      Is this correct as far as you know, or do you have conflicting information?



      1. re: Civil Bear
        Morton the Mousse

        Feeding cows corn leads to marbling of fat, and a whiter fat cap which has become a desirable attribute for modern American eaters. Beef that is grass fed and corn finished has some marbling to it, though not as much as beef that is 100% corn fed. There are studies that suggest that this marbling is the source of the increased rate of heart disease we assoicate with eating beef.

        For more information on corn fed v grass fed beef check out Michael Pollan's excellent new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

        1. re: Civil Bear

          Something else to keep in mind when opting for grassfed meat over a traditional diet is that the meat ... well, tastes a lot like grass. I love this for goat & lamb, but have missgivings about having it for a beef related meal.
          Throwing a grass fed beef cut in to a smoker, when the brisket is coated in your favorite rub, can come out lacking what you may have been expecting, flavor. A rich, beefy flavor. It isn't there.

          Biggles no like the grassfed beefs.


          1. re: Dr. Biggles

            Monty doesn't either. And, I just don't lay awake at night wondering what they steak I had for supper is doing to my heart. Everything in moderation and you'll be just fine. Beef should taste like BEEF, certainly not grass.

            1. re: Monty

              Thanks mang, I thought I was the only one.

              Bring it on!

              1. re: Dr. Biggles

                Just remember that prior to WWII cattle were raised pretty much on an all grass diet. Post war there developed a surplus of corn and grains and so they began feeding it to animals- cattle. Like the change from a whole grain flour to a refined white flour in the 19th century many jumped on it as a fad. But it stuck. True, original, smoke cooked, artisanal BBQ and smoked beef brisket was made with grass fed beef. To get the real deal, go the source. Discover what is was and why its so good.

                1. re: runningman
                  Robert Lauriston

                  Maybe the average beef was grass-fed prior to WWII, but I think prime beef was always finished in a feedlot.

                  "Originally, Alfred's steaks came from beef fattened on sugar beet pulp from Manteca and grain-fed beef from Idaho. In the 50s, Alfred's changed to golden corn-fed beef."

                  Link: http://www.bestofsanfrancisco.net/alf...

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Prior to WWII grains and corn were a bit too dear to squaunder on animals. Humans consumed what was produced. Especially considering the amount of labor that was required to produce just to meet demand. Hogs could eat anything of course as do goats. Ruminants (cows) were allowed to forage on native grasses. When there was no green grass available they were fed silage (dry) grasses (hay) which has a far lower level of nutrients and caloric value. Hence the cycle of calving and harvest of cattle depended greatly on when green forage was available. It is certainly possible that some beef was fed a diet other than grasses but since ruminants are built to eat just grass they tend to get sick when the diet strays from what is natural. Currently the standard is to limit that period to 180 days or so. If it goes much longer they may require to be given antibiotics. Which most of our "boutique" beef producers claim not to indulge in.

                    1. re: runningman
                      Robert Lauriston

                      As noted in my previous post, Alfred's served grain-fed beef from Idaho prior to WWII.

                        1. re: runningman
                          Robert Lauriston

                          My elderly relatives who were eating there from the 30s on didn't notice any change.

        2. re: fig newton

          Hi Fig Newton,

          I have checked out marin Sun Farms and they do have good quality meat, about the best I have found in the Bay Area. Now I am looking for eggs.

          About being "grass fed': Niman Ranch, while no organic, also feeds in a pasteur and finishes with grain just like Prather Ranch. This is the only way to get fat marbling in your meat, which makes the best quality meat. According to the USDA, many things include "grass" like hay, rice bran and amond hulls. Trust me, my uncle is a rancher and I grew up in the Central valley doing 4H raising our own fair steer. You should make sure you don't buy just "grass fed" but ask if they are fed on pasture, better yet, ask about the entire process. Meat that is not fed any grain at the end is very lean, and sometimes tough and chewy. If I had the money and a giant freezer I would go to the fair and buy a cow at auction that has been raised by FFA or 4H children!!

          1. re: kristinar27

            Marin Sun also sells eggs, as do several other places. Do a search.

        3. Baron's Meats in the Market Place in Alameda carries grass fed beef.

          1. In Oakland/Berkeley, Enzo's at Market Hall, Berkeley Bowl, and Whole Foods all carry grass fed.

            1. Here is a list of local sources:

              1. But the OP said she wanted to buy a *side* of beef -- presumably from the producer.

                You might want to try Highland Hills and Marin Sun directly. I may be in the minority, but I've never had a good piece of meat -- beef or pork -- from Prather: it's all been tough, poorly cut, and not very tasty.

                There was also a discussion a while back about a farm that sold grass fed beef direct -- I think this was it:

                Link: http://www.morrisgrassfed.com/index.htm

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  We're still working our way through our share of beef from Morris Ranch. I don't know if they deliver to the Bay Area; we split it with some friends who live in Santa Cruz and they brought it up for us. The beef is very good, so long as you don't overcook it (other than pieces that need a lot of moist heat). I believe we paid about $3.30-$3.50 a pound, total, although a lot of it was ground beef.

                2. Niman Ranch! Check out the website and read all about their free range, kindness to animals policy. They will work through whatever local retailers they deal with that are close to you to get you the specific cuts you want. Also, if you buy $250 or more mail-order, they give a very substantial discount. The meat is delicious. Different retailers in SF sell different cuts. Like Bi-Rite sells some steaks, hamburger, and beef stew. Cal Mart at Laurel Village sells steaks and the most dee-licious beef hot dogs (they told me they are no-preservatives and for some reason they are much more delicious than the Niman Ranch hot dogs TJ's sells), TJ's sells london broil and beef stew. NR also raises pork (no preservative bacon!)and lamb. The website will tell you about retailers near you. Also, you can call the 800 number. The customer service people are very helpful.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: Niki Rothman

                    As a previous responder pointed out, Niman Ranch beef is NOT grass fed. Nor is it organic. It's feelgood beef. In fact, Niman Ranch isn't really a ranch per se anymore, just a franchised concept.

                    1. re: Gary Soup

                      So, Niman Ranch lied to me? Those cows happily wandering around on the hillsides they show in the pictures are not eating grass? I didn't say it was organic, nor do they. Did the OP ask for organic? I missed that. "Feelgood beef" Heh. Is that the new NR slogan? I think I like that better than some other, perhaps less "feelgood", slogans for meat that one could imagine.

                      1. re: Niki Rothman

                        Niman Ranch fully admits that its cattle graze on grass, then are fed feed toward the end of their lives. Therefore, they're not "100% grass-fed." Yes, they are fed grass, but the use of feed toward the end is pretty traditional practice and not in keeping with the newer "100% grass-fed=better" philosophy. It's still "feel-good," it just might not be good enough for some.

                        Link: http://www.nimanranch.com/is-bin/INTE...

                        1. re: nooodles
                          Constant Velocity

                          The Niman site says their cows graze until 14 months and then start "finishing" with grain before slaughter--not sure how long. Industrial beef feedlot cattle graze for 6 months, after which they go to the feedlot for finishing with corn, and then are slaughtered at 14 months.

                          1. re: nooodles

                            That link is a life lesson ... someone should tell the cows to look stressed at the slaughterhouse.

                            "Our ranchers accompany our cattle to the slaughterhouse so they have a familiar and friendly person with them. If an animal is stressed at the time of slaughter, we pull it from the line to calm it down."

                            Holy cow. Sometimes you just should trust your instincts.

                            Here's a link to an interview with Bill Niman who says of the feed ...

                            " Our cows are grass fed and organic until they are finished on grain ... In order to make the meat organic, we would need to feed our animals certified organic whole grains, and we don't feel as if there is enough organic whole grain in the world for human consumption, which should be a higher priority than feeding it to the animals. It would also make the meat a lot more expensive and consumers are already paying a premium for Niman Ranch meat."

                            Here's a Niman Ranch mantra ...

                            Grass-fed, grain-finished, not certified organic

                            Link: http://www.sustainlane.com/article/61...

                          2. re: Niki Rothman
                            Morton the Mousse

                            "Those cows happily wandering around on the hillsides they show in the pictures are not eating grass?"

                            I have to chuckle at this comment. The new trend in "industrial organic" is image branding - convincing the consumer that the animals live some sort of idyllic life through photos, illustrations, pamphlets etc. Niman Ranch is positively brilliant at image branding, as are Rosie Chickens, Horizon milk and Whole Foods Market to name a few. Niman Ranch never lied to you, but they did deceive you into believing that the cows are in better conditions than they actually are (notice the lack of web site photos of the feedlots and slaughterhouses).

                            Niman Ranch is better (better meaning more humane, ethical and sustainable) than most meat producers. They are not as good as local ranches such as Prather Ranch, Highland Hills and Marin Sun, but they are significantly more affordable. Niman has instituted many of the techniques of modern factory farmers while still maintaining some of the organic philosophy. They are an affordable compromise, but by no means an ideal.

                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                              You neglected to add that there are around 300 "Niman Ranches" scattered around the US which have little in common with each other except that they have pledged to follow certain protocols in feeding and raising animals, and are then allowd to label their products "Niman Ranch" for a royalty fee. That's why I characterized NR as a franchised concept.

                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                You're always harping on this and I don't really understand why. Niman Ranch does not lead anyone to believe that all its meat comes from a single source (although there is a Niman Ranch) -- in fact it says quite clearly in its marketing materials and labelling that the animals are raised on many different farms.

                                As long at the standards and protocols established by Niman are upheld, I really don't care who owns the farm(s) where the animals are raised. In fact, isn't it better to be supporting smaller/family farms than giant agribusiness operations (which Niman would have to be to supply all its meat from one "ranch")?

                                Niman does more than franchise the concept -- they not only set the protocols for raising the animals, but they do the butchering and distribution of the meat, so they are actively involved in the whole process from farm to consumer.

                                Link: http://www.nimanranch.com/is-bin/INTE...

                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                  Actually Niman Ranch's beef production is limited almost entirely to the eastern Washington area and only a handful of ranchers. Its pork production is the part of the operation that is quite wide spread with farmers contributing hogs from several states.

                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                    Actually Niman Ranch's beef production is limited almost entirely to the eastern Washington area and only a handful of ranchers. Its pork production is the part of the operation that is quite wide spread with farmers contributing hogs from several states.

                                  2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                    Grass Fed Beef is beef that has lived its entire life eating nothing but grass (some might even say 100% green grass). Beef that is finished on a grain diet (for boutique producers like Niman Ranch this is often limited to about the last 180 days) is then not 'Grass Fed Beef". Some cattle people will tell you that yes their beef is grass fed, and they are in way right, and in a way misleading you. There is a difference in flavor, texture and depending on how you feel about the politics of corn, oil and chemicals used in agriculture a difference in how you may feel about it.

                                  3. re: Niki Rothman

                                    Had lunch with some friends at the Dolores St. Cafe today. Sign by the cashier said, "We proudly serve Niman Ranch beef: humanely raised, only naturally fed, no hormones, no antibiotics." That makes me "feelgood". Tasted really good too.
                                    Dolores St. Cafe: Thumbs up - everybody enjoyed their food.

                                  4. re: Gary Soup
                                    Robert Lauriston

                                    Feelgood schmeelgood. The Niman Ranch dry-aged prime rib and steaks I buy from Cafe Rouge *taste* good. Better than any other beef I've found.

                                    It's not a franchise. Niman has specific protocols its ranchers have to follow to ensure quality, and the meat's all butchered at Niman's Oakland plant.

                                    Link: http://www.nimanranch.com/is-bin/inte...

                                2. Check out eatwild.com for sources.

                                  I've gotten a quarter from Chileno Valley Farms in the past and was pleased. I think they're more affordable tha some other options. Downsides, butcher paper rather than vac packed, no choice on how its butchered (I would have preferred more ground & fewer roasts). I don't believe they deliver either if thats important to you. Overall the experience was a good one and I'd do it again.

                                  Morris Farms has had favorable comments on this board (as mentioned below).

                                  Whatever you decide please give us a report.

                                  1. r
                                    Robert Lauriston

                                    You might talk with some halal butchers about how their animals are raised. I'm not sure about beef but typically they get whole lambs and goats from Central Valley family farmss.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I've noticed Harris Ranch beef at several halal butchers.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Harris Ranch beef is not grass fed.

                                    2. If no one said so, Berkeley Bowl.