In the distance, a pasture over, the cows share their grazing grounds with a resident herd of Roosevelt elk that occasionally emerge from the redwoods along the western border ￼of the farm. The hum of what sounds like a nearby highway is actually the our grass—that sound of the Pacific Ocean just a mile away. Below your feet, a lush carpet of cool season grasses are thriving. It’s heaven for a cow.
In the air, hundreds of species of birds are darting in and out including the formerly endangered Alutian goose (the Alexandres’ conservation efforts played a large roll in liberating that species from the endangered list). Bird songs accompany the sounds of cows tearing the pasture grass as they eat, rip, rip, rip–it’s the heartbeat of the Alexandre family’s most central farming practice: year round grazing on green grass that fed by well cared for soil.
“I really love the soils and growing healthy, healthy crops, which is in our world, grass. It looks simple and easy, but it takes a lot to keep the pastures healthy and productive and growing, especially organically,” Blake said, explaining that as the farming world tipped toward agribusiness over the last few decades, the culture in agriculture went missing. He continued, “We’re here to put the culture back in agricul- ture. And the culture for us, as organic farmers, is the soi, and paying attention to the soil.”
Though Blake’s family has been grass- based in their farming practices for four generations, the emphasis on investing in the soil came as a result of the farm’s transition to organic production in the nineties. The research they did in order to learn organic farming’s best practices also lead Blake and Stephanie to take hold of a deeper purpose in their farming.
“We would go to these farming conferences and they would have doctors who were making a difference in people’s lives through nutrition as the keynote speakers. And that’s when it really hit our hearts— not only how much we love what we do—but we really found the purpose in our farming,” Stephanie said.
“We recognized that we have something special, that we can produce some of the greatest food in the world right here at home with our cool season grasses and the gifts that God gave us.”
Place, passion, and family are included in that list of gifts, and all served to propel the Alexandres to put more energy into making their organic grass beef and pastured pork available on a wider scale.
While milk is the Alexandres’ main business nd has been for four genera- tions (they are members of the Organic Valley co-op), as Blake and Stephanie’s oldest kids are beginning to graduate college and come back to the farm, they’re bringing with them the energy and momentum to expand the fledgling beef and pork busi- nesses. And there’s plenty of grass to go around.
“Our animals truly are eating more grass than anyone else’s animals in the country and it’s because of our setting here in this environment,” Blake said, “I do believe that we have better grazing than anybody in the country.”
In the wider world of agriculture, grass-based organic production remains the road less traveled. It’s not easy. The efficiencies conven- tional agriculture hinges upon are lost to the careful management and interactive attention that being a successful grass farmer requires.
Additionally, grass fed and finished and pastured meats are more expensive to produce and the markets for sale aren’t as consis- tent or accessible as they are for conventionally produced products. But, the relational demand of the pastures and animals on an organic grass-based farm is well-suited for family farmers.
“We’re passionate about what we do, and we recognize how important it is, producing nutrient dense food, and we’re hoping that we can make a difference with the food that we produce,” Stephanie said. “It’s nice that the family farm can still have this niche.” The long term vision is to hold the door to a life in agriculture open for their kids. “We hope our kids can have the joy that we had of raising a family on a farm,” Stephanie said, “I think all of our kids like that concept.”
The five Alexandre kids have been involved in the work of the farm since they were young, starting a pastured egg business when they were still in junior high and elementary school a decade ago. It has continued to grow and be successful, you might have even seen their eggs in Cosco or Whole Foods.
The kids have also been involved in the development of both the beef and pork operations. Joseph Alexandre, now 23, created a business plan for selling grass-fed steers as his senior thesis at Cal Poly, and Vanessa Alexandre, now 21, began the pastured heritage hog operation as her 8th grade FFA project.
Though production of beef and pork at the Alexandre EcoDiary has been realtively small since those humble beginnings, the new partnership with Abundant Harvest Organics makes 2014 the first year that the Alexandres are making their meats available outside of a few North Coast co-ops and their own farm store. It’s an offering from California’s best grazing land to the nutritionally-minded among us.
“The nutrition that comes out of our grass— that goodness that comes out—you can see it in the dark deep, rich color of our butter and eggs, so it’s literally nutrition that you can see and taste,” Blake concluded.