Our Standards


At a high level, our standard is simply never take a shortcut.

Every year we review our work and look for ways to raise healthier, tastier and more respectiful foods.


Transparency

Betsy and I started our farm because we couldn't find 'no shortcut' food in the grocery or farmer's markets.

Ten years later some, co-ops like Seward have moved the needle and are offering some great options - A farm like Pork And Plants is one of the very few available in a grocery I'd feel comfortable buying.

I think the key is transparency. Sadly in Minnesota, our natural food stores and farmers' markets generally do a pretty poor job of this. Heck, even the buyers at many natural food stores don't know the questions to be asking their suppliers.

Below I've put together some of what I've learned and compared to our standards. Further down, I list very specific details. I struggle with publishing the comparisons because I understand we all have to decide where to be on the food choice continuum. A 'shortcut' for you might be an upgrade for others -- we should celebrate the great work being done at nearly every level.

I know and respect many 'factory' farmers who work tirelessly for too little income. They often have good intentions of feeding people the most affordable food. I can disagree with their practices and avoid their food while still respecting their intentions.

There is a balance, but being honest about the choices empowers everyone to find the right food for their family.


USDA Sanctioned Shortcuts

A lot of the 'shortcuts' are actually by design. When consumers demand an end to toxic plastic additives like BPA, the industry responds in force... but look closer at their solution and you'll see that the 'BPA Free' plastics are the same, but now use a slightly different (but more toxic) chemical called BPS.

The same thing holds true for food. When consumers demand changes to the food supply, the USDA defines label claims to be basically meaningless so that consumers have no idea what they are actually buying. The result is that big-ag manages to sell a lower quality product for a premium price.


USDA Pasture Raised vs. TC Farm Pasture Raised

USDA Pasture Raised

USDA guidelines for items labeled as 'pasture raised' require that the animals have "free access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days per year"

Let's break this down:

  • 'Access' to the outside doesn't mean they ever GO outside
  • 120 day is less than one third of the year
  • No requirement for any forage for the animals

The USDA definition of pasture raised is setup so that massive factories can open a little door and give 'access' to land making any sort of claim they want about the amount of pasture. However, that food isn't being raised the way we as consumers expect it is raised -- and certainly NOT the way it is being depicted on the images on the labels.

If you're buying something in the store that says 'pasture raised', you should assume it meets the standards above, but not much more. They probably have minimal access to the outside and if they actually GO outside, it is probably a dirt feedlot without any forage to eat.

Example

Before we had our farm, we toured local farmer's market farms. The 'pasture raised' pork we had been buying was actually raised in a small mud filled pen. Feed was just thrown over into the mud for the pigs to dig through and find. It was NOT the pasture I had envisioned when shopping at the market.

TC Farm Pasture Raised

All TC Farm animals are raised on green growing pasture with at least 50% green growing forage during the entire growing season. For animals which live longer than one growing season, winter access to pasture is strongly encouraged and enjoyed. Hay is also be provided in the winter.

We don't raise chickens over the winter - that's why you need to buy frozen meats to get the highest quality.



USDA Grass Fed vs. TC Farm Grass Fed

USDA Grass Fed Beef

USDA guidelines for items labeled as 'grass fed' require that the animals basically don't eat grains.

Let's break this down:

  • Not eating grains doesn't mean eating grass like you expect
  • No requirement for pasture makes feedlots common
  • No restrictions on growth drugs or antibiotic use
  • No organic requirement

Of all the claims, grass fed is the one most abused. We as consumers believe that grass fed beef must be healthier and from some sort of Micheal Pollan utopia. However, that isn't a safe assumption.

Two sources (one with first hand knowledge) have told me of big national companies which don't even abide by these rules and feed distiller grains (waste from ethanol plants) to their 'grass fed' beef.

While many smaller farms do a great job with their beef, I have come to assume most are raised on a feedlot. In the grocery if I don't specifically know the farm, I feel safe assuming they are literally fed things like sawdust, fruit or candy industrial waste, cotton gin and other garbage (Read more here)

I believe well cared for grain fed cows are healthier than most 'grass fed' beef from the grocery.

Example

A farmer friend of ours toured a giant facility raising grass fed beef for a national high end grocery chain. Everything was being portrayed as a great way to raise cheaper grass fed beef.

The beef was all on feedlots and trucks would continually dump conventional industrial food waste from other food processing facilities - like fruit cores or rejected food intended for humans. Since these were not 'grains', it counted as 'grass fed' - despite the fact that none of the cows were eating grass. Sure they had some forage mixed in, but he said they all looked unhealthy and it was worse than a normal feedlot.

TC Farm Grass Fed

It really shouldn't be that complicated.

All TC Farm Grass Fed beef or lamb is 100% grass fed and rotationally grazed on pasture or provided hay in the winter. The only supplements allowed are minerals and in some cases a small amount of non-GMO molasses in the winter.






Organic - USDA vs. TC Farm's Approach

USDA Organic

I was asked once if I would choose a store's generic 'grass fed' beef or the feedlot 'organic' beef. Honestly, I struggled with this choice and didn't know how to respond.

USDA Organic guidelines require all feed or land accessed is organic, no medications or growth drugs, and "access" to the outdoors.

Let's break this down:

  • 'Access' to the outdoors is meaningless (see Pasture Raised)
  • Organic feed doesn't mean balanced diet for the animal
  • Even if needed, medications are not allowed

I am pretty opposed to antibiotic use and don't take them even if I have pneumonia. However, if my kids had pink eye and were at risk of losing an eye or another dangerous infection, I'd choose a treatment of antibiotics over the loss of a limb or worse.

The animals under our care rarely get sick or injured, but we'd help them with the same type of careful care we'd provide our kids. The problem with medication is its abuse and overuse, not the warranted use.

The all or nothing approach of USDA organic means farmers ship off sick animals for processing. I don't want animals to suffer and I don't want to eat meat from sick animals either.

Example

Just because something is organic doesn't mean it is GOOD for you to eat. What if you ate organic sugar all day long?

The same is true for animals. An organic corn/soy ration just isn't healthy for pigs. One of our farms has also raised sets of pigs fed the normal corn/soy ration, but who otherwise are identical to TC Farm's no-soy/low corn pigs. The corn/soy pigs digestive system was a mess, the manure was rank and the difference was so dramatic the farmer was shocked to learn that was 'normal'.

Corn/soy fed pigs save about $0.50 - $1 per pound, but the animals are clearly not as healthy. It doesn't matter if the corn/soy is organic, it still isn't healthy for the pigs.

TC Farm's Approach to Organic

A lot of small farms say they aren't organic because they don't want to spend the extra money on certification. I always bristle when I hear this because the cost of certifying organic is really quite small. What they are really saying is they don't want to follow the organic standards and aren't comfortable being transparent on why.

At TC Farm we don't certify our meat organic because we disagree with two of the organic requirements.

We follow almost all the organic standards, but also insist that animal welfare be a top priority. In the rare case a specific individual animal needs medical attention, we take care of them and never market a sick animal.

We also encourage the use of transition organic grains. This supports Minnesota farmers who are switching to organic production. They raise the crops 100% following the organic standards, but it takes three years of this to certify their grains as organic. We help support them by purchasing these transition crops at a premium. Most of our feed is certified or certifiable organic, but we still want to support those making our local environment better by switching to organic production.

These are the only two issues preventing us from certifying our meat organic. The cost would be about 1-2% of the retail sales, so for us the issue is more that the USDA organic system requires some things we simply don't agree with.



Eggs - Something you might not know about yolks

Dyed Egg Yolks

Consumers have started demanding darker yolks as they learned about the benefits of pasture raised eggs.

It is way cheaper for them to dye the hen's feed so the yolks are darker.

Some will also claim 'pasture raised' which as shown above is pretty meaningless, but they combine that with dyes in the feed so consumers think they are getting a healthier product.

I've been watching this trend and have seen the egg yolk colors change over time -- at this point I believe most premium eggs in the store now use these dyes. The dyes are organic in nature, so they probably aren't unhealthy, but I hate the deception.

Providing green pasture is hard and labor intensive. It is way cheaper for companies to just dye the eggs and since most everyone else is doing it, they feel they have to as well.

TC Farm = No Dyes

Look - we're just not going to dye our hens' feed. In the winter, our eggs get paler and every month someone cancels their egg orders because yolks in the store are darker.

I always feel bad that it costs us customers, but I don't want fake colorants in my kids food... so we're not going to dye our yolks no matter how many consumers think super dark yolks are a valid quality test.

A few years ago we took the photo below. One of our summer eggs is to the right of a local factory organic egg.

If you buy that exact same factory brand egg today, the color is much darker and in-between the two eggs shown below. Pretty sure they are now using the dyes, after all it only costs $8 per ton of feed to get a darker colored yolk.



Growth Drugs - Them vs. Us (hint: We don't use them)

Growth Drugs

When consumers pushed back against hormones in meat production, the industry responded and sold lots of hormone free meat -- they just started using steroids instead. When consumers wanted steroid free meats, the industry responded again selling lots of 'hormone and steroid free' meats.

But once again, they just switched to a new class of growth drugs: Beta-agonists. These drugs are illegal in nearly every other country, but in our country 70-80%+ of the beef, pork and turkey are raised on them. All of which can be marketed as 'hormone and steroid free'.

The reason these drugs are banned in other countries is that the health impact on humans eating the residual drugs is questionable, some studies suggest they cause heart abnormalities and worse. One thing we know for sure is that the animals on these drugs are really pushed to their limits. Many oppose their use purely due to animal welfare concerns - if you read some of the agricultural vet studies about the effect it has on the animals, you'll never want to eat conventionally raised pork, beef or turkey again.

Example

Most people don't know beta-agonists exist and this includes those working in butcher shops or natural food stores. I once tried to find out about some deli meat from a local Co-op. Nobody I spoke with knew what beta-agonists were, but they were sure the food they were selling didn't use growth drugs. When I called the manufacturer, they also weren't quite sure what I was asking, so I had to ask if they specifically sourced turkey from farms that specified they didn't use beta-agonists or other growth drugs.

The answer was of course 'no, we just buy whatever turkey we get'. Since I knew almost all turkey is produced with these drugs, it was pretty safe to assume that turkey at the Co-op was as well.

Unless it is certified organic or you've directly asked the farm or manufacture, assume they are using these drugs.

TC Farm = No Drugs

We don't allow any drugs or feed additives which are designed to boost growth. In fact, we explicitly do the opposite.

We choose feed rations and rates which are healthier for the animals, but also have the effect of slowing down their growth to a balanced, healthy rate. This does cost a bit more, but it really impacts the taste, health and animal welfare for the better.

Here is a bit I wrote about this as it relates to our chickens.



Our Standards

TC Farm began because Betsy and I were dedicated to raising the best food possible. Our animals and all of our animals on our partner farms are treated with care and respect.

Here are the full details of our standards.


Our Grass Fed Beef Standards

100% Grass Fed (beef or lamb)

  • Calves must remain on their mother’s milk for a minimum of 90 days (strongly prefer calves to stay on cows’ milk for 9 – 10 months.)
  • Calves drink raw cow’s milk
  • Acceptable beef or lamb diet:
    • Pasture forages, no synthetic chemical pesticides or herbicides applied during grazing
      • Grasses (perennial/annual ryegrasses, orchardgrass, fescues, native warm-seasons, etc.)
      • Legumes/forbs (alfalfa, clovers, chicory, trefoil, dandelion, )
    • Grazed summer and winter annuals (corn, rye, oats, barley, triticale, brassicas, etc.
      • Seeds must not be developed when grazed
      • Annuals must be grown without chemical pesticides/herbicides
    • Apple Cider Vinegar (either dry or wet)
    • Any combination of the above list can be fed as stored forage (hay, balage, silage, etc.)
  • Prohibited from the diet are:
    • Grains
    • Mature corn silage
    • Animal and fish by-products
    • GMO feed/crops/supplements of any sort (including GMO beet sugar molasses)

Growth Enhancing Drugs or hormones

  • No growth-enhancing drugs, hormones, ANY antibiotics or similar treatments are allowed.

Pasture-raised

  • During the growing season, continuous ranging and foraging area access is required for all animals from the age of 50 days.
  • In cases of inclement weather, animals may be housed on a dry lot with bedding and forage access if:
    • Their welfare is at risk being on pasture
    • The weather has caused the pasture to be unsuitable for animals, i.e. it would be unsustainable to have animals on it for a short period of time.
  • Outside of the growing season, animals must have deep, dry bedding and access to hay.
  • Winter pasture access is strongly encouraged.

Sustainable

  • If the pasture is unsustainably being grazed due to stocking density, some animals must be removed from the pasture within 48 hours and a plan put in place to reduce the number of animals on the premise.
  • Animals on pasture must have access to pasture which is no more than 50% denuded during the growing season in order to prevent erosion and runoff.
  • Animals must be rotated to new space and excluded from the denuded pasture in order to ensure regrowth and sustainable pasture management.
  • Animal waste and bedding must be composted and actively managed to ensure minimal run off and methane release.
  • Current USDA standards in relation to sustainable practices for organic production must be followed. When/if the USDA adopts standards for claims like ‘sustainably farmed’, these must be followed.

Stress

  • Animal stress must be minimized or eliminated by all possible means. This includes transport, sorting herd management, predator control etc.

Genetics

  • Must have heritage genetics suitable for being 100% grass fed: this means wider bodies for rumination, shorter legs, etc. than a conventional feedlot animal.

Veterinary treatments

  • All veterinary treatments, including, antibiotics, vaccines, and/or worming treatments must be recorded in a record keeping system, including ear tag numbers or other method of identification. This system must be available for inspection.
  • Although currently allowed, TC Farm strongly discourages the use of synthetic chemical wormers and fly control. We ask that all our partner farms use organic or holistic alternatives.
  • Sick animals must be treated properly to avoid suffering as possible. They may not be marketed as TC Farm if treatment violates these standards.
  • If any antibiotic treatment is required, the animal must be treated and tagged. Notes must include hog tag number, date(s) of treatment, why treatment was administered, how much/what was provided and the result of the intervention.

Onsite Audits

  • All our partner farms must be audited at least every 30 months
  • Audits must include review of feed receipts/labels and all other requirements of this standard
  • Farms are required to send photos of the then current operation periodically throughout the year.

Our Pork Standards

Pork feed

  • Soy may NOT be fed to hogs at any time.
  • Corn may be fed to hogs
  • Some barley must be fed at least 90 days prior to slaughter (if requested ahead of time)
  • Feed must be ground on site or purchased from an approved mill (Buckwheat, Luxemburg or Cashton)
  • Small grains must be the majority of the hog feed ration: wheat, oats, barley, peas, rye, etc.
  • Standard breed hogs may be fed free choice, unlimited feed. Lard breeds are restrictive fed as needed.
  • If any animal is fed disallowed feed, the animal must be tagged immediately so it will not be marketed as TC Farm.

Organic Feed

  • All feed must be certified organic or transition to organic.
  • Use of transition to organic feed must be disclosed.
  • Transition organic feed must meet all organic standards with the exception of the requirement for the land to have been farmed organic for three years.
  • Receipts / Feed Labels must be kept and available for the onsite audit.

Growth Enhancing Drugs or hormones

  • No growth-enhancing drugs, hormones, ANY antibiotics or similar treatments are allowed.

Pasture raised

  • During the growing season, continuous ranging and foraging area access is required for all animals from the age of 35 days.
  • In cases of inclement weather, animals may be housed on a dry lot with bedding and forage access if:
    • Their welfare is at risk being on pasture
    • The weather has caused the pasture to be unsuitable for animals, i.e. it would be unsustainable to have animals on it for a short period of time.
  • Winter pasture access is strongly encouraged.
  • Outside of the growing season, animals must have deep, dry bedding and access to hay.

Sustainable

  • If the pasture is unsustainably being grazed due to stocking density, some animals must be removed from the pasture within 48 hours and a plan put in place to reduce the number of animals on the premise.
  • Animals on pasture must have access to pasture which is no more than 50% denuded during the growing season in order to prevent erosion and runoff.
  • Animals must be rotated to new space and excluded from the denuded pasture in order to ensure regrowth and sustainable pasture management.
  • Animal waste and bedding not dispersed on pasture.
  • Animal waste and bedding must be composted and actively managed to ensure minimal run off and methane release.
  • Current USDA standards in relation to sustainable practices for organic production must be followed. When/if the USDA adopts standards for claims like ‘sustainably farmed’, these must be followed.

Stress

Animal stress must be minimized or eliminated by all possible means. This includes transport, sorting herd management, predator control etc.

Genetics

  • 100% heritage breeds such as Duroc, red-wattle, Berkshire, etc. Yorkshire or similar may only make up 15% maximum of the genetic pool.
  • Pork must 50% Berkshire unless otherwise approved.

Veterinary treatments

  • All veterinary treatments, including, antibiotics, vaccines, and/or worming treatments must be recorded in a record keeping system, including ear tag numbers or other method of identification. This system must be available for inspection.
  • Although currently allowed, TC Farm strongly discourages the use of synthetic chemical wormers and fly control. We ask that our farms use organic or holistic alternatives.
  • Sick animals must be treated properly to avoid suffering as possible. They may not be sold to TC Farm if treatment violates these standards.
  • If any antibiotic treatment is required, the animal must be treated and tagged such that it will never be marketed as TC Farm. Notes must include hog tag number, date(s) of treatment, why treatment was administered, how much/what was provided and the result of the intervention.

Onsite Audits

  • Farms must be audited onsite at least 30 months.
  • Audits must include review of feed receipts/labels and all other requirements of this standard
  • Farms are required to send photos of the then current operation periodically throughout the year.

Our Chicken Standards

Chicken Feed

  • No more than 28% field peas, 10% sesame meal, 2.5% flax or 3.5% fishmeal
  • Feed must be ground on site or purchased from an approved mill (Buckwheat, Luxemburg or Cashton)
  • Red rangers should be fed free choice or mostly unlimited feed. Cornish cross should have feed restricted to ensure balanced growth through to the 10 week minimum
  • If any animal is fed disallowed feed, the animal must be tagged immediately so it will not be marketed as TC Farm

Organic Feed

  • All feed must be certified organic or transition to organic.
  • Use of transition to organic feed must be disclosed.
  • Transition organic feed must meet all organic standards with the exception of the requirement for the land to have been farmed organic for three years.
  • Receipts / Feed Labels must be kept and available for the onsite audit.

Growth Enhancing Drugs or hormones

  • No growth-enhancing drugs, hormones, ANY antibiotics or similar treatments are allowed.

Pasture raised

  • Continuous ranging and foraging area access is required for all animals from the age of 28 days.
  • In cases of inclement weather, animals may be housed on a dry lot with bedding and forage access if:
    • Their welfare is at risk being on pasture
    • The weather has caused the pasture to be unsuitable for animals, i.e. it would be unsustainable to have animals on it for a short period of time.

Sustainable

  • If the pasture is unsustainably being grazed due to stocking density, some animals must be removed from the pasture within 48 hours and a plan put in place to reduce the number of animals on the premise.
  • Animals on pasture must have access to pasture which is no more than 50% denuded during the growing season in order to prevent erosion and runoff.
  • Animals must be rotated to new space and excluded from the denuded pasture in order to ensure regrowth and sustainable pasture management.
  • Animal waste and bedding not dispersed on pasture.
  • Animal waste and bedding must be composted and actively managed to ensure minimal run off and methane release.
  • Current USDA standards in relation to sustainable practices for organic production must be followed. When/if the USDA adopts standards for claims like ‘sustainably farmed’, these must be followed.

Stress

Animal stress must be minimized or eliminated by all possible means. This includes transport, sorting herd management, predator control etc.

Veterinary treatments

  • All veterinary treatments, including, antibiotics, vaccines, and/or worming treatments must be recorded in a record keeping system, including tag numbers or other method of identification. This system must be available for inspection.
  • Although currently allowed, TC Farm strongly discourages the use of synthetic chemical wormers and fly control. We ask that our farms use organic or holistic alternatives.
  • Sick animals must be treated properly or culled to avoid suffering as possible. They may not be marketed as TC Farm if treatment violates these standards.
  • If any antibiotic treatment is required, the animal must be treated and tagged such that it will never be marketed as TC Farm.

Onsite Audits

  • Farms must be audited onsite at least 33 months.
  • Audits must include review of feed receipts/labels and all other requirements of this standard.
  • Farms are required to send photos of the then current operation periodically throughout the year.