Sometimes I don’t like people–when I’m driving, for example—but I have met some of the nicest people while working on my southern foodways class project. Doug and Sue of Walnut Hills Farm are some of those people. They raise natural grass-fed beef that has developed quite a following in Nashville. The Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville 2009 named it “Best Beef.” Sean Maloney, who is a loyal patron and wrote the blurb, said, “Their ground beef on the grill, over hickory hardwood, will make you forget every other hamburger you’ve ever had—and their steaks eclipse anything you’ll ever find at the grocery store.” I bought their ground beef patties last week, and I definitely have to agree.
I had the opportunity to talk to Doug and Sue at the Farmer’s Market and learn more about them and their business. Doug and Sue started their own farm, Walnut Hills, about seven years ago. They had never intended to become farmers, but after their mission work in Africa, they discovered that they loved being outside. They wanted to stay and work there, but their vocations weren’t in need. Back in Nashville, their children had grown up and left home, and their neighbors were encroaching closer and closer, so they decided to look for a farm. Three years later they found some acreage that seemed to have a lot of potential: great views and the land had not been chemically treated in years.
Although they had always been outdoorsy, they had to learn a lot of agriculture knowledge. Doug knew a little bit more than Sue because he was very involved in 4-H as a child in Indiana and worked on farms throughout his teenage years. The decision to raise grass-fed beef was not an intentional decision. They had bought the most efficient breed of cattle, meaning that they put on muscle very easily and didn’t have a lot of fat. Doug chose this breed because his family has a history of heart disease, and he wanted to eat and sell something healthier. The feed for the cows was expensive, so one winter he decided that he was just going to feed the cows grass. He stockpiled grass, not quite sure of what he was doing, and checked on the cattle periodically. “They looked as good on that grass as they did with me putting them in a barn and throwing high dollar food to them,” Doug said. There was a clear economic advantage to raising them, so he asked himself if there was a market for grass-fed beef. He discovered that there was a demand so Walnut Hills Farm took off from there.
The cattle are treated with respect and live in happiness. “We want to make sure they have a happy life when they’re on our farm. We want them to have the least amount of trauma,” Sue said. She described that many farms, for example, will castrate some bulls to create steers. Castrating decreases testosterone, which helps them grow, so castrated bulls are often given hormones to make up for lost testosterone. “It’s like cutting off the end of the blanket and sewing on the other end to make it longer…we just leave them intact and they get along just fine,” she said.
When I asked them where they get their groceries, I was happy to hear that they buy their vegetables and fruit at the farmer’s market and get some basic staples that aren’t easily available at Kroger or Publix, such as Doug’s “pop.” Understandably, they hardly ever buy protein. They’ve learned, Sue says, that the money used to purchase from local sources stays local and helps people stay employed, where only about 20% of purchases stay in the community. “It’s better quality produce,” Sue says, “And we want to support Tennessee.”
Doug and Sue are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and their products are of the highest quality. Knowing where the beef came from, how it was raised, and who raised it was a truly satisfying experience that I’d love to have with most of my food.
I’ve struggled back and forth for a long time about whether or not to become a vegetarian, but if I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that had a happy, healthy life on a farm.