This post is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. I received monetary compensation, as well as free product, in exchange for sharing my experience visiting a local grass-fed beef farm. Thank you, Ray Family Farms, for hosting my visit and providing the inspiration for my shepherd’s pie recipe.
Last weekend, I jumped in the car, tuned to my favorite radio station, and set out to visit a local grass fed beef farm. As I watched the urban sprawl fade in the rear-view mirror I thought about the phrase “shop local”. It’s a simple idea and one filled with virtue. Support a local business and you support a whole community and reap the feel-good benefits. But for many it’s more of an aspirational idea. Sure, we’d like to support local businesses selling sustainable and responsibly produced products, but when it comes time to pull out our wallets it’s just easier to do it at our local grocery store. After all, isn’t it a pain to source locally raised ingredients? Who wants to drive that far?
About the time that question popped in my mind, I made the turn into Ray Family Farms and realized a local grower in North Carolina is closer than I thought.
It was here, not far off the beaten path, that I met Chad Ray who owns and operates Ray Family Farms along with his family. A farm with a big red barn, chickens that wander freely, and multiple pastures that support his herd of grass fed cattle. Nestled into 200 acres the farm is, according to the website, “…small to some, large to others, but just right for us.”
The Ray family raises Belted Galloway beef cattle, a heritage breed known for their calm temperament. They’re docile and lead a stress-free life, munching on grasses out in the pastures. It’s a life-style Chad says makes them a superior breed and they are, in fact, friendly. When Chad calls to them they lumbar over to the fence to greet us and he introduces some of them by name. “We support the local 4H program”, he explains, “and the kids help raise and train the herd.”
The farm is woven deep into the community. Chad and his wife, Jodi, are 9th generation residents of the county and the farm started as a way to provide food for the family and an income by selling the excess. In the last 15 years they started raising cattle, but it wasn’t until about six years ago that Chad, a home builder by trade, opened their shop to sell grass fed beef. As it’s been for generations, the farm is evolving and, as he shares on his site, “We still have so much to do, but we know it takes time to do things right.”
They sell direct to customers onsite at their farm and offer delivery services within a 30 mile radius. He worries that the label grass fed leads folks to think expensive. “It’s all about perspective”, he says. “Someone may think it’s too expensive, yet they’re taking their family out to a restaurant for a $50 meal. I can show them how $50 can get them enough product to create at least 20 meals.” It’s math worth considering.
I asked about his customers. “Most of our customers come to us for one of three reasons”, Chad explains. Some are looking specifically for grass fed beef from cattle raised for this purpose, which Belted Galloways are, a fact, Chad says, is important. “All breeds don’t finish on grass as well as others and you can tell the difference in the flavor.” Other customers want to support local growers and turn to Ray Family Farms not just for beef, but other products like eggs, whole chickens, and sausage. Finally, folks seeking a healthier lifestyle choose his beef for nutritional reasons because Belted Galloway beef is naturally lower in fat without sacrificing any flavor.
As we made our way around the property on bumpy dirt paths Chad explained that it’s his day job building energy efficient homes that allows him to pursue his passion for raising grass fed beef. It’s a love of the farm, a respect for the animals, and a commitment to produce a high quality and nutritious product for his community that motivates him. He doesn’t seek to judge and tries to help his potential customers understand the benefits of grass-fed beef and then let the product speak for itself.
There are many reasons to choose grass-fed beef, but meeting Chad and his family, seeing first hand how the animals are cared for, and witnessing the hard work and passion required to operate a family farm gave me a whole new appreciation for local growers and their products. It’s not often we get to meet the people who provide our food and it’s something I want to continue to support.
Grateful for his time and inspired by our tour I left with a bag of beef. I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.
I believe the best dishes start with love and this shepherd’s has got it in spades. It’s a dish you might serve on a cold winter’s night when you want something hearty and comforting.
Some Ingredients You’ll Need
More Information about North Carolina Grass-Fed Beef
If you live in the Raleigh area and would like to visit Ray Family Farms check out their website for store hours. Not in the Raleigh area? Visit the Got To Be NC website to learn how you can support local growers all across North Carolina. Many farms sell direct to customers or check out the list of farmer’s markets near you.
Looking for more delicious beef recipes? Check out posts from my fellow NC bloggers who also participated in this project:
Traditional shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, but this version uses ground beef. It’s classic comfort food and a favorite cold weather dinner.
15 minPrep Time
30 minCook Time
45 minTotal Time