|Producer of the Month: Hardwick Beef|
by Jon Megas-Russell
Our drive to visit Hardwick Beef took us along Route 22A in Vermont, a winding road with lush green hills, cattle, gardens, and here and there, houses.
It was quite the beautiful drive, a secret hiding in plain sight, like so many country roads in Vermont. If you drive far enough, it will take you straight to Canada.
Along the way Phil Jr. (Meat and Seafood Manager at BFC) raved about the quality of
Our destination was Maple Ridge Meats, a USDA processing plant for local beef, buffalo, and hogs.
Our travels to share the story of Hardwick Beef also took us to the Gerald Hathaway Farm, owned by Greg and Gerald Hathaway, and to the farms and land of David Mills and Josh Lucas. But first, let’s take you back to the beginning, when it all started.
In 2005 Michael Gourlay left the imported crab business and ventured into the grass-fed beef business.
He always knew the best beef was grown and processed locally in Vermont.
The market was maturing and demand increasing as more and more shoppers at co-ops everywhere were getting a taste of grass-fed beef and loving the quality and flavor.
Realizing the potential of grass-fed beef, he knew he wanted to start a fresh beef business that was 100% grass-fed and that supported local farms.
So he went out in search of farmers in Vermont that were already raising or could raise beef cattle that ate only grass.
As luck would have it, he met David Mills along his travels. David was steeped in Vermont history, hailing from a family that has owned about 800 acres of land in Vermont since the 1700s.
David had been in dairy for many years but, a few years prior to meeting Michael, had begun to raise grass-fed cows for beef.
With David as the first supplier, Hardwick Beef was born.
Because the beef is sourced from a handful of farms across Vermont and upstate NY, Michael decided not to label each farm but to brand the beef as “Hardwick Beef.”
However, Michael tells us exactly which farm the beef sold at the Brattleboro Food Co-op comes from each week.
Even better, when we receive a side of beef from Hardwick it is from one animal.
If you’re not familiar with the term "side," it is a dry-aged hanging piece of beef (on average 300 pounds) that is broken into major primal cuts, which then Phil Jr. and his team cut into steaks and use the trim for ground beef.
It was evident during our visit that Michael's relationships with all the farms and their farmers were strong and genuine.
Michael stated that he will front money to farmers when the need arises, and that he loves what he does. He even stated that he “loves co-ops because they are super loyal to Hardwick Beef and to the farms.”
Now flash forward to Maple Ridge Meats where we began our visit on a gray Tuesday in early May.
This farm is unique in having a processing facility located on its property.
It is run by locals, overseen by the USDA, and the farms that bring cattle to this facility are mostly local farms.
When I say local, I mean some are a mile away, others a few miles away or even just a few towns over.
This uber-local clientele drastically reduces the often-hidden carbon footprint associated with moving cattle from a farm or factory to a processing facility.
Maple Ridge Meats is one of only five processing facilities in Vermont; to find something this local and of such high quality is very rare. The meat cutters are artisans, cutting from cattle,
We are blessed to have this service right here in Vermont and to be able to directly support local jobs by purchasing Hardwick Beef at our Co-op.
Gerald and Greg Hathaway own Maple Ridge Meats and live and work their 500+ acres of land that includes this facility.
These two Vermonters are impassioned, full of life, and generally excited about their craft!
Gerald Hathaway’s parents bought the original 225 acres of their farm in 1957 for $9,000 and, up until about six weeks ago, it had been a dairy farm.
Very recently Gerald transitioned his farm from an organic dairy farm to a grass-fed beef farm.
Over the years Gerald and his family acquired more land including 80 acres across the street and in 2013 they purchased the 200+ acres where the Maple Ridge Meats processing plant stands.
Maple Ridge Meats is approximately a mile from the family farm, which is within view!
The proximity of the farm to the processing plant provides many important benefits such as less fossil fuel costs and pollution, it makes rural jobs available, and provides a non-corporate entity to process the animals—which is the reason why Michael continues to cultivate relationships with only local farmers who are close by.
Gerald now has 250 beef cows, mostly of the Black Angus variety.
He works the 500 acres+ with his son, Greg, and one other helper.
Since their cows only eat grass, they cultivate many grasses, such as sorghum and sudangrass.
They mentioned that the sugars in the grass allow the cows to be super healthy and help them put on weight effectively.
Every week Gerald, Greg, and just one or two more people can cut and rake all of the grass on their land.They put in 12 to 14 hour days and are satisfied by their work.
Both Gerald and Greg raved about the rib-eye steaks, their favorite cut of beef.
Just a few miles away Josh Lucas raises calves for farmers such as Gerald and David.
He also owns 400+ acres in Benson and Orwell, VT.
He has been in the business since he graduated college almost ten years ago.
Over this past winter Josh actually took David Mills’ Devon cattle onto his land and finished them with grass from the region.
It was evident that he loves his work and that his relationship with Michael allows his passion for raising calves and cows to blossom.
The stories of the interrelationships among David, Gerald, Greg, and Josh, and their connection with the Earth, their animals, as well as their pride in their work was inspiring.
It was a pleasure for Phil and me to see how our Co-op is supporting families right here in Vermont in a meaningful way.
So, why is grass-fed beef different?
Well, first of all, the cows eat only grass, not grain or protein.
Having such a natural diet, it is not necessary to treat the cows with antibiotics, which also means that you—the consumer—aren’t consuming unnecessary antibiotics.
Grass-fed cows take longer to mature, upwards of 30 months, because they need more time to graze to put on weight naturally.
This differs from grain-fed cows, which only take approximately 15 months and are fattened with foods that are
In addition, these cows are 'healthier as they graze the beautiful Vermont land.'
In terms of the health benefits, grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, lower in fat, and higher in vitamin E.
Overall, Hardwick Beef is a story of local farmers providing local stores such as the Brattleboro Food Co-op with fresh, antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef!
Come taste the difference!
Hardwick Beef is visiting the Brattleboro Food Co-op on June 22nd from 4 to 6 pm!