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Thinking Globally, Farming Locally

Cattail Creek Lamb Returns to Our Meat Section

The Kiva’s meat selection focuses on local, naturally-raised products.  Our knowledgeable buyers Emma and Will deal directly with the farmers and ranchers who raise the animals rather than a central distributor, so their relationship with the food we sell is up-close and personal.

Local lamb producer Cattail Creek was one of the first suppliers the Kiva added when we first started carrying meat.  The mild flavor and tender texture made it an immediate hit with both families and restaurants in the area.  

After a hiatus of one and a half years, Cattail Creek Lamb is back on our shelves this month, and maybe better than ever.

John Neumeister, Cattail Creek’s founder, has been a familiar face at the Kiva for a long time.  He was glad to answer all my questions when I called him last week, and had a lot of interesting things to say about food and how it’s produced.  John’s agricultural resumé is impressive: he grew up on a mixed sheep and cattle farm in Ohio; he has been raising lamb for thirty years since moving to Oregon; and has been involved in organic farming since the 1970’s.  He has degrees in animal and crop sciences from Oregon State University.  He co-authored the Certified Organic Standards for livestock which were adopted by Oregon Tilth and the National Organic Standards.  

Now in partnership with Farmland LP, a U.S. private equity fund whose mission is to acquire farmland and convert it to organic production, John is primarily in charge of marketing, while partners Craig Wichner and Jason Bradford oversee most of the operations, and the farms are managed by shepherd Mac Stewart–an all-star team whose qualifications are as formidable as Mr. Neumeister’s.

I was impressed to find that Cattail Creek is more than a business enterprise–it’s a vision of community-supported, sustainable agriculture.  “We’re not looking for loopholes just to sell a more expensive product,” John told me.

It’s very literally a grassroots effort.  In John’s opinion, Cattail Creek has the strongest raising claim of any of the larger lamb-producing farms in the valley (most of which pasture their lambs on seed-producing or after-harvest fields that have been treated with chemicals), with 800 of its 900 acres–comprised of three properties between Corvallis and Philomath–certified organic, and the remainder transitional.

Sheep are designed by nature to be grazers, and better pasture produces better meat, so the conversion of commercial farmland to high-quality organic pasture is an important step.  Cattail Creek’s system encourages a wide variety of plant species in their pastures, such as cold-tolerant and drought-resistant grasses, legumes (which fix nitrogen in the soil), plantains, and chicory.  The land is never treated with chemicals, and rock powders are used as fertilizers.  The sheep make their contribution too, in the form of manure which cycles nutrients back into the soil.

Starting from the ground up, Cattail Creek is dedicated to humane care and handling of its animals.  They use no synthetic crop treatment and no GMO crops; lambs are 100% grass fed and free of antibiotics or hormones.

Although it’s a new enterprise, their breeding program assures that not only the lambs but their mothers as well eat a chemical- and GMO-free, 100% vegetarian diet, and are also free of hormones and antibiotics (animals which become sick and require treatment with antibiotics are removed from the program).  It’s their intention to find breeds of sheep which thrive best under local conditions and raise them through generations rather than buying lambs from brokers.

The advantage to consumers is obvious–the 100% grass-fed meat tastes better than the “muttony” lamb from a feedlot operation, but the benefits go beyond flavor.  Cattail Creek is diversifying their operations toward a goal of integrated holistic farming.  In addition to developing markets to utilize the byproducts of lamb production, they’ve incorporated a new poultry-raising project and added vegetable crops.  Some land is also leased to a hog farmer.  John hopes that Farmland LP may be a vision of the future of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where instead of having a farm subscription, the participants would be involved in a cooperative effort to acquire the land on which their food is grown. 

The Kiva is currently carrying Cattail Creek’s ground lamb, stew and kabob meat, lamb chops, and shoulder steak.  Sausage is expected to be available in November.

Cattail Creek’s meat is processed and packed by Century Oak Packing Co., a local company owned by Lonely Lane Farms. http://centuryoakpacking.com/html/contact_us.html

We’re lucky to live in an area with an abundance of sustainable agriculture, offering readily-available organic produce, meat, eggs, and dairy products.  It’s a luxury to be able to buy fresh, healthy food just one or two stops from the farm.  Welcome back, Cattail Creek!

For more information on Cattail Creek and Farmland LP, visit http://www.farmlandlp.com/


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