Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hill Creek Farms - Hartsville - 100% Grass-Fed Angus Beef

On an overcast, cloudy day we were off again on yet another farm outing, exploring what's fresh right outside our back door in South Carolina. This time we were headed to Hartsville to tour Hill Creek Farms - Hartsville, where John Rogers raises 100% grass-fed Angus Beef, a herd that consists of about 400 head on numerous pastures located near his home.

We met in a parking lot where we know the store owner, loaded coolers, shifted people around, and finally we were off, with 3 cars full of people excited for this next outing. Part way into the drive, the rain opened up on us, just pouring down making it difficult at times to see the road, but we could see the sky clearing ahead, and luckily it did clear up some just before we arrived at our destination.

John was ready and waiting outside just as we pulled up. Introductions were made all around and then I found out we would be driving into the pastures! He could take 4 in his truck but someone else would have to follow in their car with the remaining 4 ... oh boy! He looked at the cars, patted mine and said "this one'll work," and so I found myself driving my SUV in
cow pastures. It reminded me of another time driving my VW Bug in cow pastures, but that was many years ago when I was a teenager, and I like to think I've matured some since then ... well maybe not ... but we did not do donuts in the pasture, so I guess I have matured some after all.

Gripping the steering wheel and following along, we were led into lush green pastures, finding the cattle in groups under trees or wandering around grazing. John would tell the ladies in his truck different things about the cattle, then come back to our car to tell us the same things. 

"All of our Angus and Angus-Charolais Beef comes from pasture-raised and grass-fed animals. There are no added hormones and the meat is antibiotic free. The meat is processed at a USDA inspected packing plant where it is dry aged, cut to order, vacuum packed and flash frozen.

Growing grass fed beef takes more time, but it is the natural way to raise cattle. Our animals spend their entire lives on pasture, eating lush SC green grass. This results in meat with more flavor, more nutrition, and a more humane life for the cattle."

Did you know?  A mama cow is pregnant for 9 months and 1 week and the average weight of the calf is 80-100 lbs.? Wow, big baby! And, pregnancy tests are a blood test done in the tail? Ear tags identify the cattle by age and sex (yellow is female and blue is male), and it takes approximately 18 months - 2 years to grow the calf to full size. On this farm, the mother cows have their calves in the pasture, and soon afterward are showing off their baby to the rest of the herd.

There are also many health benefits to grass-fed beef:

- Lower in fat and calories
- Extra Omega-3s
- Higher in Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene
- Rich source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which may strengthen immune function

So what is Angus Beef? Black Angus cattle are a breed of naturally hornless beef cattle; they were originally imported from Scotland in the late 1800s. The coloration of Scottish Angus cattle is exclusively black. Although a recessive gene sometimes produces an animal which is reddish in color, only the black animals may be certified Black Angus. At first not recognized by American farmers as a desirable breed, they quickly began to discern the quality of the animals. Black Angus cattle were soon sought after, and purebred herds began to appear.
Today, Black Angus are the most popular breed of beef cattle in the United States, and purebred herds are widely raised throughout the country. Black Angus are adaptable, hardy, and easy to raise; they mature to market-readiness in about two years.

Black Angus beef is greatly esteemed for the quality of the meat, particularly its even marbling. Restaurants and markets throughout the country recognize the superiority of Black Angus beef, and it is highly prized by consumers for its flavor and fine marbled texture. In 1978, in response to its rising popularity, the American Angus Association set up a certification process to ensure that consumers were getting the quality they had come to expect. The process has been further refined, and the USDA has a stringent set of criteria that must be met in order for beef to be certified Black Angus. The Certified Black Angus seal assures consumers that they are getting the finest quality beef available.
The natural and preferred food for beef cattle is grass. Grain is hard for cattle to digest, and grain-fed cattle produce an inferior quality of beef. Black Angus cattle which are naturally raised and fed an exclusive diet of grasses produce a beef that is lower in calories, higher in cancer-fighting agents, and heart-healthy. Naturally raised, grass-fed, Certified Black Angus beef is regarded as the best beef product on the market. (source: American Angus Association).
After seeing the different cattle in three of six pastures, it was time to head back to the farm and pick up our beef. Located in a freezer locker, we loaded up our coolers, thanked John for his time and headed out, yet again driving in the pouring rain.

Our next stop was lunch at the Midnight Rooster Coffee Shop!  

What an awesome little place located right in downtown Hartsville on East Carolina Avenue. Saturdays they offer a Brunch menu, which includes both breakfast and lunch items and a Bloody Mary bar!

It's a fun, eclectic place, full of whimsical art pieces and so much more. We ate at a large table they had reserved for us, in the covered courtyard with brick walls, arches and more. 

I had one of the "specials of the day," a  delicious Quiche made with fresh tomatoes and feta cheese, served with a seasonal fruit cup, crostini, and the best garlic-dill pickle strips I've ever tasted. 

Others had the "Hot Mamma" which is roast beef, white cheddar, pepperoncini tapenade and sun-dried tomato mayo toasted on foccacia bread which comes as either a half or whole with a side of chips and pickles. 

While there we met owner, Suzanne Galloway, and had a lovely talk with her about the restaurant and service we received, which was outstanding.

Our third and final stop for the day was Gardener's General Store, which is everything you think an old-time general store is. 

Here you can buy local milk and cheeses, along with pet food, farm supplies, heirloom seeds, pure local honey, old-fashioned soaps, candy and more! This is where some of the group stocked up on raw milk and cheeses from Middle Sparrow Ranch, some bought local honey and still others got some protein bars and other goodies.  

Thankfully the rain had let up, but our "naviguessor," the name we give to anyone reading the map, got us goofed up again, so after missing our turn, going the wrong way, and turning around, we were finally on the right road, heading home laughing the whole way at our directional mistake.

Once home, some of us, myself included, had to off-load all the beef we bought ... luckily I had cleared off two shelves in my large freezer because it took up every bit of that space and then some!  Lots and lots of grass-fed beef, but that's a good thing and we will be enjoying it for months to come! 

I am thankful we have an abundance of local farms doing it "right" for you and me right here in South Carolina.  It's tireless hard work, but without our support, they wouldn't be able to continue to do what is their passion, producing a great product for you and me. Does it cost more? Maybe. Is it worth it. Yes! The way to really save money on grass-fed beef is to buy it in larger amounts, such as a side or 1/4 side of beef. While that does mean more initial outlay, and the prices do vary, it includes all cuts of beef from tenderloins to ground beef and everything in-between for a fraction of the cost if you were to buy an individual steak or roast. Don't have the freezer space yourself for that much beef? Consider what we did and going in on it together with other friends or family members, dividing it up between all participants. The BEST thing you can do for yourself and your family is just EAT REAL FOOD!  Buy it from your local farm, get to know your farmer, and support your local Farmer's market. I think you'll be happy you did.



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