Pot Roast Bourguignon: Reward for an Early Spring Workout

First thing every morning I grab a cup of coffee that Dave brews early each morning and I take out our Corgi, Kitty, to, as my mother would have said, "stretch her legs." While she busies herself sniffing out the latest news from every tree and shrub, I look up at our ash trees to see if they're starting to build their furry leaf casings—a sure harbinger on our little lot—and I take a moment to note which canes of forsythia need clipping and whether the bleeding heart has emerged from under the leaf litter.

From this…

Early spring around here means yard work, with its requisite raking, trimming and moving of plants to new spots before they're smothered in shade by larger neighbors or spread beyond their assigned places in what we loosely call our "landscape." Attempting to tame their natural inclinations is better achieved in the cooler temperatures we're having now, before it warms up and they explode with growth and we'd rather laze about and sip cool drinks than labor in the yard.

…to this in four hours. So worth it!

Cool days and still-chilly nights not only hamper this spring explosion, but also provide a last opportunity to get out the braising pot before warmer days beg for grilling outside. The heavenly pot roast recipe below is super simple and can be assembled and put in the oven to simmer for a few hours while you're outside doing yardwork. Plus it provides an excuse to schedule breaks every hour or so to check and make sure the liquid hasn't all cooked away (add water if it seems low).

The smell when you come in the house for those "breaks" will give you motivation to get the outside work done quicker, too, the better to come inside and enjoy a cocktail while you make a salad and boil potatoes to serve alongside. And sitting down to a hearty and flavor-filled dinner that basically cooks itself? I can't think of a better reward for all that hard work!

Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less than stellar, though still delicious, result.

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 3-5 lb. chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 lg. onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
4 lg. cloves garlic, chopped roughly
4 med. carrots, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. thyme
3 large bay leaves
2 6" sprigs rosemary
1 qt. (32 oz.) roasted tomatoes
3-4 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered and it starts to brown. Add onions and garlic and sauté 2-3 min., then add carrots and sauté 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté till tender. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs, then add wine. Sprinkle roast generously with salt and pepper and add to pot. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and place the pot in the oven. (If the lid doesn't fit tightly, put a sheet of parchment paper over the pot, then place the lid on.) Roast for 2 hrs. Remove meat from pot and slice in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, submerging slices in the sauce and vegetables. Replace cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Modern Cattle Rustling Scheme May Affect Easterday Mega-Dairy Permit

It has the drama and intrigue of a Hollywood blockbuster—part western, part heist movie—centered on a middle-aged businessman up to his eyeballs in debt desperately trying to dig his way out scheming to rip off a giant national meat conglomerate, contracting to deliver thousands of cattle that only exist on paper.

Thing is? This is no movie, it's real.

Cody Easterday

Even weirder, it involves the catastrophic Boardman-area mega-dairy known as Lost Valley Farm—infamous for its drug-addled, prostitute-frequenting former owner, Greg te Velde, who racked up more than 200 violations of its operating permit in two years—and the scion of a multi-generational Northwest ranching family who swooped in and bought the failed dairy, proposing to infuse millions of dollars to bring it back to profitability.

The panicky businessman is Cody Easterday, president and CEO of Easterday Ranches, one of the largest agricultural operations in Washington State, who is also the main player in the Lost Valley Farm purchase. A tragic side note: His father, wealthy cattleman Gale Easterday, died in December when the car he was driving ran head-on into an 18-wheeler hauling Easterday potatoes.

Reporter Anna King of the NW News Network broke the story that Cody had lost more than $200 million in the commodities market and had concocted the  scheme in a bid to cover his losses. “As his commodities trading losses escalated, Mr. [Cody] Easterday explained that he began submitting fake feeding invoices as well as the fake cattle invoices,” Jason Wenglarski, vice president of internal governance for Tyson Foods, is quoted as saying.

Easterday feedlot in Eastern Washington.

The story describes Easterday's scheme to contract with Tyson "to buy fake young cattle, then charge Tyson for them. Then Easterday Ranches would fictitiously feed the cattle and bill Tyson for that feed. Next, the cattle operator would deliver some actual cattle—but not all—to Tyson when the on-paper cattle would be market ready."

Interestingly, Tyson didn't discover the discrepancy for several years, according to the Tri-City Herald, which said Easterday had previously worked with Tyson for many years when, in 2017, Easterday signed an agreement to buy young cattle and feed them until they were ready for market, submitting invoices and being reimbursed for his costs.

According to Tyson's lawsuit against Easterday, the scheme came to Tyson's attention in late November of 2020 when it discovered "errors" in its inventory records and met with Easterday. “Its investigation, including the admissions of Defendant’s President Cody Easterday, showed there were over 200,000 head of cattle that Defendant reported to be in inventory, but which did not exist.”

Cows were left standing in excrement at Lost Valley Farm.

As for Easterday's pending permit application with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to operate a 30,000-cow mega-dairy on the former site of Lost Valley Farm? At this point it's unaffected by the recent revelations.

According to ODA communications director Andrea Cantu-Schomus, "the State is continuing the process of reviewing the Easterday Farms Dairy LLC application and drafting a permit." She added that when the draft permit is ready, the ODA and Department of Environmental Quality will release it and any supporting materials to the public prior to holding public hearings. Based on that, the agencies "will review and make possible changes" before making a final decision on the permit.

Stand Up To Factory Farms, the coalition of community, farm, environmental and social justice organizations behind the mega-dairy moratorium before this year's legislature, issued a press release on the Easterday scandal, saying "these serious allegations underscore that Lost Valley Farm’s owner, Greg te Velde, is not the only 'bad actor' among mega-dairies, as the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the dairy lobby would have us believe. It is vital that the Oregon Department of Agriculture immediately deny the Easterday permit application for a new mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon."

Until then—or until the movie comes out—I'll keep you posted on developments and/or shenanigans.

Top photo: File photo of cattle feedlot.

Getting To The Meat: Survival and Supply

If you've heard panicky reports about a shortage of ground beef (or any meat) because of plant closures due to COVID-19, just remember that those reports refer to places where factory-farmed animals are slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers on industrial-scale production lines. The alternative can be found right here in our own back yard, from ranchers dedicated to improving their soil, raising animals on pasture and treating them humanely, not to mention sequestering carbon in the soil, building rural communities and a vibrant, resilient local food system. Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Wallowa, Oregon, wrote the following in a recent newsletter.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing throughout the country. At least 48 plants have reported cases of COVID-19, and 2,200 workers are infected. Beef production alone is down 20 percent since this time last year, and commodity prices continue to increase. At the same time, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in large-scale meatpacking plants, USA Today, the New York Times and Civil Eats have great coverage. But rather than speculate about whether we'll see a meat shortage on retail shelves, or if plants will choose to stay open and continue to put workers at risk, I want to highlight what we do know: our own plant.

To build a supply chain of like-minded folks who share our values and vision for the future has always been key to Carman Ranch's mission. That supply chain begins with our producer group and ends with our customers. In between, there are a handful of key players, one of which is Kalapooia Grassfed Processing, a family-owned processing plant in Brownsville, Oregon.

Kalapooia has nearly perfect marks on its annual food safety audits, and on a comprehensive animal welfare audit. Built by Reed Anderson (right, center) to process his own Anderson Ranch lambs, Reed also processes cattle for a few companies, including Carman Ranch. Reed’s son Travis oversees day-to-day operations, and I’ve worked with Pete, Kalapooia's plant manager, for over a decade. The Andersons think of their processing plant as a family business, an ethos that extends to include their staff and customers. Anderson Ranch employs fewer than 50 people, and they took the safety of their workers seriously early on in the COVID outbreak, in part because Pete and Travis work side-by side on the line with their employees. They already required protective clothing, and their small size allowed them to create distancing more easily and effectively than larger plants.  

We’ve harvested our animals at Kalapooia 50 weeks a year for the last three years. At a time when many meat companies have had to shut down, or are nervous about supply, we continue to be confident and proud of our partnership with the Andersons.

As we move through this crisis, we’re learning more about the vulnerabilities in our incumbent systems. Affordability in food is important, but saving a few dimes can come at a cost none of us should have to shoulder, including our own health and safety. Across the country, those costs are now coming to light.  

I won’t pretend our beef is cheap. But when you factor in the positive effects on the climate, community and supply chain that your purchase supports, it becomes an important investment. And, when you subscribe to our philosophy of smaller portion sizes with tons of flavor and nutrition, the dividends on that investment become immeasurable.

The final benefit? We can give our customers the same peace of mind we find in knowing that we'll keep working with partners like Reed Anderson and Kalapooia to provide nourishing food, regardless of how the headlines around large-scale meatpacking plants play out.

Get a guide to buying meat, eggs and dairy from certified pasture-based Oregon farmers and ranchers.

Read my interview with Cory Carman about why she chose to raise her animals on pasture, and how she sees it as a vital tool in reversing climate change and building a more resilient and vibrant local food system.

Read about Revel Meat Company, a processing facility that serves small to mid-sized Oregon farmers and ranchers and provides markets for their products.

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin': Meatloaf with Greens & Cheese

Do you ever get an idea in your head and it just sits there, occasionally tweaking your brain with that "now what was that" niggling feeling? That was the case when I was thawing out some pasture-raised hamburger from Carman Ranch the other night, wondering whether to make burgers—we had leftover homemade buns in the freezer—or a marinara with pasta, or tacos or…meatloaf?

That's when it hit me. That idea I'd toyed with at some point in the misty past to make a meatloaf with the usual sofrito of onions and garlic, binding it with eggs and oats, but then flattening it out, filling it with with greens and rolling it up like a jelly roll.

How would I roll it up? Would it stay together or crumble into a mashy mess? There was only one way to find out.

Fortunately, my neighbor Bill had gifted me some radishes from his garden with their gorgeous greens still attached, and we had some leftover grated Parmesan from a risotto I'd made the night before. The rest, as they say, was history.

Rolled Meatloaf with Greens and Cheese

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. hamburger
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
2 eggs
1/2 c. rolled oats
1 Tbsp. dried herbs (I used a combination of basil, oregano and thyme)
2-3 c. greens, sliced into chiffonade (I used radish greens, but kale, spinach, chard or any other greens would do.)
1 c. finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat olive oil in medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add chopped onion and sauté until tender. Add garlic and sauté briefly until aromatic. Take off heat and allow to cool.

Combine hamburger, pork*, eggs, oats and onion mixture in a large bowl. (I mix it using just my fingers so the meat stays crumbly and doesn't get clumped together.) Form the meat into a loose ball in the bowl.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap about 15" long on a cutting board. Put the meat in the center of the sheet and start pressing it out until it's about 3/8" thick. Sprinkle it with the cheese and the greens in an even layer. Take the long edge of the sheet and start rolling it, repairing any cracks with your fingers, peeling away the sheet as you roll. Close up each end by patting the meat over the exposed edges.

When it's rolled up completely, transfer seam-side down to a sheet pan that's lined with parchment. Bake in a 375° oven for 40-50 minutes until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part reads between 140-150° (cookbooks all say 160°, but I find that results in drier meatloaf, so you decide for yourself). Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 min. Slice and serve.

* I like a combination of beef and pork, since it seems to me to make a moister loaf, but all-beef is perfectly fine, too.

How an Oregon Rancher is Building Soil Health and a Robust Regional Food System

This is my second contribution to Civil Eats' monthly series of profiles of farmers and ranchers who are changing our food system for the benefit of our communities, our health and the environment.

Fourth-generation rancher Cory Carman
holistically manages 5,000-acres
which serve as a model for sustainable meat operations
in the Pacific Northwest.

When Cory Carman returned in 2003 to her family’s ranch in remote Wallowa County in eastern Oregon with a Stanford degree in public policy in hand and a stint on Capitol Hill under her belt, her intention was to stay for the summer, helping her uncle and grandmother with ranch work while she looked for her next job working on public policy. By that fall, though, it was obvious that if she left, the ranch wouldn’t be there for her to come back to.

“They were the only ones left on the ranch,” she said, recalling the heartbreaking specter of how hard her uncle and her grandmother, who was then in her 80s, had to work to barely scrape by. “I think I felt the weight of what they were trying to hold together, and I thought how unfair it was for me to expect that they could just keep it together until I came back someday.”

So she decided to stay.

Carman Ranch began as a few hundred acres Carman’s great-great-grandfather Jacob Weinhard—nephew to the legendary Northwest beer brewer Henry Weinhard—bought for his son Fritz in the early 1900s. Under Carman’s watch, the operation now spans 5,000 acres of grasslands, timbered rangeland, and irrigated valley ground nestled against the dramatic peaks of the Wallowa Mountains. Hawks, eagles, and wildlife greatly outnumber people in this isolated northeastern corner of the state, originally home to the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of the Nez Perce tribe.

Distinct from most cattle operations in the U.S., Carman’s cattle are 100 percent grass-fed well as grass-finished. (The term “grass-fed” is not regulated, so it can mean that animals have only been briefly pastured before they’re sent to a factory feedlot to be finished.) The ranch primarily produces cattle and pigs, which it mostly markets to wholesale accounts, though it sells a lesser amount of meat as “cow shares”—or quarters of beef ranging from 120 to 180 pounds purchased directly by consumers.

Equally if not more important to Carman, however, is the focus on what she calls the “holistic management” of her land. This involves constantly moving the cattle and paying careful attention to the rate of growth of the animals and grasses. By this system, the steers select the forages they need to grow and gain weight, and the grasses get clipped, trampled down, and fertilized with manure, resulting in fields that are vibrant—they retain water, resist drought, contain abundant organic matter, which contributes nutrients and carbon, and are highly productive without the addition of fertilizer.

Amanda Oborne, vice president of food and farms at Ecotrust, a regional nonprofit organization working on social, economic, and environmental issues, said Carman inspired Ecotrust’s food system work by helping her understand the challenges of creating local beef and pork markets, the complexity of scaling an agricultural business with integrity, and the importance of grasslands and large grazing animals in fighting climate change through carbon drawdown.

Oborne remembers Carman walking her around the fields of the Zumwalt Prairie, a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy that is on the western boundary of the ranch, and picking at blades of bunch grass as she explained how the native species create pockets of nutrition for migrating birds through the winter, and how the long, perennial roots scaffold a whole cathedral of structure and life under the soil.

“It’s Cory’s ability to tell these stories, to explain the flaws of the dominant system without imbuing judgement or animosity, and to partner across every divide—be it age, gender, class, political philosophy, or hometown—that makes her such an effective and innovative thought leader,” Oborne said.

Introducing Holistic Management

Within a year of returning to the ranch, Carman met and married her husband, Dave Flynn (the couple have since divorced), and started a family, which includes three children, Roan and twins Ione and Emmett.

With a fifth generation of the family living on the ranch, the challenge became not just figuring out how to maintain her family’s business and regenerate the land, but how to leave a viable legacy to pass on to her children.

“You don’t have a ranch so that you can sell it and retire; you have a ranch so you can pass it on—that’s sort of in the DNA,” Carman said. “It’s what gets priority, and [you] grow up knowing that there’s something more important than all of you as individuals.”

While Carman respects her family’s history and that of her neighbors, she is pursuing the inverse of the methods used on most of the nation’s cattle ranches since the middle of the last century—methods also used by her father, who died in a ranching accident when Carman was 14, and by her uncle who took over.

“It was the fertilizer era,” Carman noted of her uncle’s initial resistance to the idea of leaving forage in the pastures. “It’s like in those first few decades when fertilizer worked really, really well. You could just take everything off of the land that you could possibly grow and sell it—and then pour more fertilizer back on. And it worked. Until it didn’t.”

With an eye toward her legacy, Carman went to her uncle with the idea of raising grass-fed beef. “I will never forget what he told me,” she said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you do something people like? What about jerky?’”

The thing that she knew—and that her uncle didn’t—was that there were people in more urban areas who were willing to pay a premium for healthy food. “He had no context,” Carman said. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

Read the rest of the article to find out how Carman has begun to build a robust regional food economy with beef as the elegant nexus of the issues.

Read more of my articles for Civil Eats, including a profile of dairy farmer Jon Bansen, and an examination of the damage that factory farm dairies have done to communities in Oregon and around the country. Photos of Cory Carman copyright Nolan Calisch; photos of cattle and sign by John Valls; used courtesy of Carman Ranch.