Choice cuts: Dungeness farm putting grass-fed beef on local market

DUNGENESS — One of the oldest farms in the Pacific Northwest is adding a brand-new product to the local market.

The 148-year-old Clark family farm has 100 percent grass-fed beef — sirloin steak, hamburger, flank steak and other cuts — on sale at local outlets including the Port Angeles Farmers Market and the online Sequim Locally Grown Mercantile (www.Sequim.Locallygrown.net).

This is a big deal, Tom and Holly Clark say.

Until now, if you lived in Clallam County and wanted local beef, you had to buy a whole cow or at least a large portion, like a side or a quarter. No local producers offered smaller cuts.

The Clarks, who run 36 head of cattle on their 115-acre farm, have been selling wholes, halves and quarters for some time.

But knowing that in these parts, most people don’t have big families or big freezers, they’ve long wanted to develop a market for smaller portions.

In December 2008, Tom and Holly went together to a sustainable agriculture conference in her home town of St. Louis, Mo. Before and after that event, they’ve been laying the groundwork for their grass-fed beef operation, building a herd of angus, Santa Gertrudis and Tarentaise cattle.

At last this winter, they began the process of obtaining the state and county permits for selling the packaged cuts.

They got those permits earlier this month, put Clark farm flank steaks on the Sequim Locally Grown site — and quickly sold out of them.

Lots of things — from tulips to turkeys — have been tried on the Clark farm in the years since Tom’s great-great grandparents homesteaded here in 1862. It was Tom, a fifth-generation farmer, who brought back beef cattle and the old-fashioned way of raising them: on grassy pastures.

But even the farmer’s wife took some winning over.

“Tom has always had a passion for raising cattle,” Holly said. “When we got married, I wasn’t much of a beefeater.”

As she learned more about grass-fed, that changed.

While Tom doesn’t talk much — he’s a farmer, after all — Holly touts her product with pride these days.

“Our beef is hormone free, antibiotic free, steroid free,” she noted, adding that it’s lean and loaded with healthful nutrients.

Sirloin and flank steaks run $7 per pound, and hamburger, chuck steak and stew meat are $5.75. Many other cuts are available, at prices a bit more manageable than the $2,336 for a whole cow or $1,188 for a half.

Eventually, the Clarks want to add pasture-raised poultry to their beef operation, while using rotational grazing practices to keep the land in shape. They believe in “green efforts,” as Holly puts it.

The Clark farm is not certified organic — the state certification process is onerous, she and Tom say — but they say that their practices are free of artificial chemicals. The herd’s diet is grass and hay, with none of the grain that large-scale farms use to fatten their animals.

“There’s a big want,” out there for grass-fed beef, said Holly, who talked with shoppers at the Sequim Open Aire Market last fall about her product.

Getting saleable cuts here isn’t simple, though. For U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection, the Clarks must transport their cattle to The Beef Shop in Centralia, which does the slaughtering and packaging.

There’s a mobile slaughterhouse in Pierce County, but Holly said it’s not practical for the amount of beef the Clarks want to market.

“We have 400 pounds to sell and more to come,” she said.

The Beef Shop’s freezer truck delivers the beef to Sequim, and the Clarks store it in their farm freezer.

Outlets for beef

Cynthia Warne, manager of the Port Angeles Farmers’ Market, said she’s pleased to offer another protein- and omega-3-rich food to the array set up every Saturday. The market has had local seafood and fresh eggs for years, but no local cuts of beef.

“I think that once it’s available, it will create its own demand,” Warne said.

In addition to the Port Angeles Farmers’ Market, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at The Gateway pavilion at First and Lincoln streets, Clark beef is available at the Speedi Mart Grocery, 320 Old Olympic Highway, and at the Dungeness Country Store, 4970 Sequim-Dungeness Way.

Its central-Sequim debut will come at the Sequim Open Aire Market’s Winter Warmup, an indoor market from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club, 400 W. Fir St.

The Clarks also plan to sell their beef at the Red Rooster Grocery, a local-food store to open this spring in downtown Sequim.

Then there are restaurants whose interest they hope to pique.

Tom, turning to gaze at the herd, added one last perk of locally raised beef.

“The beauty of local,” he said, “is that you can come look, and see where your food comes from.”

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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