Whole30 & Panorama Organic: A Healthy Partnership 

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A conversation with Stephanie Greunke, MS, RD, PMH-C, CPT, WHOLE30 Dietician and Education Manager. This article originally appeared in the 2021 Panorama Perspective, available at retailers who carry Panorama Organic products.

Q. Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats has been a longtime partner with Whole30. How has the brand aligned with your program? 

A: Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats’ commitment to providing high-quality organic, grass-finished beef  products, including their new bone broth, aligns with our program and partner standards that include GAP Certification. Having the Whole30 Approved trademark on Panorama’s product packaging is a great way to quickly show consumers that their product line and the company that stands behind it have been vetted by the Whole30 team. 

Q: You recommend grass-finished and organic on the labels. Why?

A: If it’s accessible, grass-finished beef that is also organic is a great choice. This is because “organic” is a USDA-regulated term that ensures farmers complete a certification process that complies with their regulatory standards. This includes the requirement that organic beef must come from cattle that are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, are fed 100 percent organic feed and forage, and are not administered antibiotics or hormones. They must also be raised on a farm that doesn’t use harmful pesticides, GMOs, or sewer sludge. Many persistent organic pollutants are lipid-soluble and are stored in the fat of animals, making leaner cuts like grass-finished beef important from an environmental contaminant perspective.

Q. Why is eating healthy with whole natural foods so important?

A. Whole, natural foods provide our bodies with the basic building blocks to support optimal health. The Whole30 promotes eating whole foods to reduce systemic inflammation, regulate blood sugar, ensure nutrient-density, and promote a healthy relationship with food.

Q. What’s your favorite Whole30 grass-fed beef recipe?

A. I love the slow cooker smoky sweet potato chili that uses ground beef. It takes just a few minutes of hands-on time to prepare and then the slow cooker does the rest of the work. It makes enough for dinner and leftovers the next day, which is always a plus!

Q. Why is it so important to understand labels? Why are they so confusing?

A. When you’re doing the Whole30 it’s important to check labels because there are lots of sneaky ways sugar shows up in foods you’d never guess have sugar, particularly condiments. You may also find corn, dairy, wheat, or soy in products you typically consume that you never realized were there. Because we understand that label reading can be confusing, we created the Whole30 Approved program. When you see the Whole30 Approved label, you know we’ve already done the work making sure the product is compatible. We still think label reading is an important skill and life lesson, so even when you’re not following the Whole30 program, it’s a good idea to see what you’re purchasing so you can be an informed consumer.

whole 30 approved

Interested in Ranching? Check Out Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program

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With the average age of farmers and ranchers in the US approaching 60, it’s becoming increasingly important for young people with aspirations of working the land to find places to enhance their skills and knowledge. The Quivira Coalition is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands and fosters ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration. The New Agrarian Program is an apprenticeship designed for first-career young people who are committed to learning from experts about regenerative agriculture. 

The program pairs apprentices with ranch owners who provide mentoring, housing, and a stipend for eight months while the apprentices work on the ranches located in several Western states. It’s an immersive, hands-on experience intended for young professionals who plan to pursue careers in farming and ranching on their own or in their family operations, or as ranch managers, professionals with government agencies delivering services to farms and ranches, or other production-related positions. 

Applications for next year’s program will be available on the Quivira website in November. 

The organization is also seeking ranchers who desire to mentor the next generation of regenerative agriculture practitioners. Information about qualifications and requirements for the mentorship program is also on the Quivira website.

How You Can Help Build Healthier Soil (And Save the Earth)

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Most of us, especially city dwellers, probably don’t give much thought to what’s beneath our feet. Unless you’re a gardener, the idea of soil may be more akin to dirt – the stuff you have to scrape off your shoes before you track it in the house, or wash off of your car periodically. But healthy soil is a key component in the cycle of life on earth. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. 

What we choose to eat has a direct impact on soil health. Commodity monocrop agriculture, with its heavy tilling and chemical use, actually destroys the soil’s ecosystem. But food produced in a regenerative way, with cover crops, organic practices, and well-managed grazing, can repair damaged soils and recreate the thriving cycle of soil, water, plants, and animals on which life depends. 

Dr. Patrick O’Neill of Soil Health Services, PBC in Alamosa, Colorado, says the most important aspect of soil is its ability to hold water, which allows plants to transfer energy from the sun into feed for ruminant animals, which then enrich the soil, and allows the whole cycle to start over again. “Soil is the medium for intercepting water, for having water for plants to grow, and then for allowing water to infiltrate into aquifers and eventually to come back out as transpiration through plants. So, at its most fundamental, that’s one of the biggest reasons why soil is important.”

Dr. Patrick O’Neill demonstrates what healthy soil looks like on the San Juan Ranch in Southern Colorado.

In order for soil to perform its role in the water cycle, a teeming network of bacteria and fungi—known as the soil microbiome—works in concert with nematodes, insects, and plant roots to create spaces in the soil so it can act like a sponge to soak up rain and snowfall. The microbes also feed on the exudate from plant roots, turning it into nutrients that then nourish the plant in return. 

There’s another important aspect to soil health, and that’s its ability to store carbon. The process of carbon sequestration removes carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and locks it into the soil. Excess tillage and leaving fields unplanted for part of the year allows the carbon to escape back into the air where it contributes to climate change, but healthy pastures with healthy soil can mitigate that damage.

What part do grazing animals play? Ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, bison, deer, and elk) eat plant matter that contains lignin, a complex carbon-containing molecule that gives plants their rigid shape. Unlike the microbes in the soil (and people), grazing animals can digest the lignin, and then deposit what’s left on the soil surface in the form of manure. The carbon and nutrients then are further digested by insects, fungi, and bacteria, locking the carbon into the soil and keeping the cycle running. Without grazing, the plant matter would eventually form a solid mat on the surface of the soil, which slows its decay, releases carbon into the atmosphere, and keeps water from penetrating the soil, thus interrupting the cycle. 

Grazing allows the carbon from the biomass “to cycle more rapidly into the microbial space in the soil and then form deeper depositions of carbon and longer stored carbon over time,” says O’Neill. “And beyond that, if the plants are managed thoughtfully and the movements of grazing animals are managed thoughtfully, you can get a positive feedback loop. If your grazing animal takes a portion of the plant’s above ground biomass and leaves behind ample leaves for regrowth and restoration of that same plant canopy and root system, you can get what’s effectively a system pumping carbon into the soil instead of a net outflow of carbon from the soil.”

Is it a complex system? Yes. But you don’t have to be a soil scientist or even a rancher or farmer to do your part to keep the system thriving. All you have to do is buy organic, grassfed meat produced on well-managed grasslands by ranchers who are stewards of the land—and the soil cycle.

In Conversation with Dr. Temple Grandin: Why Big Is Fragile and Cows Need Manners

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Dr. Temple Grandin is world-renowned expert in livestock handling and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She’s designed meat plants all over the world, and her published writings on the principles of grazing animal behavior in both scientific journals and magazines have helped many ranchers and farmers to improve their animal welfare practices. Two of her books, Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human, were on the New York Times best seller list. Her life story was made into a 2010 HBO movie titled Temple Grandin, which starred Claire Daines and won seven Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. In addition to her work with animals, Grandin is one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to document the insights she gained from her personal experience of autism and is an outspoken proponent of autism rights.

Recently, she spent some time talking with Panorama’s rancher network about animal care and the greater state of the world. Some highlights:

COVID has shown us that Big, as in Big Agriculture, Big Technology, Big Oil, and Big Food, creates a fragile system. When the full force of the pandemic became obvious last year, grocery store shelves emptied of everything from toilet paper to meat as supply chains were disrupted. Meat packing plants across the country saw their output drop as employees became infected by the hundreds. Millions of hogs had to be euthanized because there was nowhere for them to go, yet grocery store meat cases were almost empty as consumers began panic-buying. To this day, it takes longer to get everything from food to furniture delivered because the supply chains still haven’t recovered.

It’s not that big is necessarily bad (“badly managed is bad,” she says). Big packing plants are more efficient and less costly to run than small plants, but that system is easy to break. Instead, Grandin envisions a network of distributed local supply chains. They’re more expensive to run, but less prone to disruption and more resilient after the ill effects of natural disasters, pandemics, or cyberattacks. She’s seeing more small and mid-size plants coming online as people heed the wake-up call. She stressed that the two systems aren’t mutually exclusive. In her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, a huge Budweiser plant produces millions of cases of beer every year, yet Fort Collins has been called the Napa Valley of craft brewing because of its dozens of microbreweries. In the same way, Grandin says organic meat doesn’t compete with commodity meat. They’re two separate and distinct niches.

Family ranchers are maintaining the land with well-managed rotational grazing and cover-cropping, along with new ideas like grazing sheep beneath solar panels and using grazing as a tool for fire suppression. She encourages ranchers to tell their stories to the public and get to know their customers. “Farm tours are priceless,” she says.

Changes to improve an operation don’t have to be major undertakings. When she worked with McDonalds to create a more humane animal processing system in their supply chain, it was the small changes that made the difference: things like lighting, non-slip floors and teaching good animal handling techniques. The same is true at the ranch level. “It’s the simple things in regenerative ag, not all the BS,” she says.

People who work with animals are underpaid and overworked. “Stockmanship doesn’t get enough credit,” she says. One aspect of animal handling is learning to recognize and measure simple behaviors like vocalizations, the key to a stress-free relationship between rancher and animals. (“Measuring prevents the bad from becoming normal,” she adds.) 

Don’t reward bad behavior like rudeness and pushiness from individual animals in the herd. “Cows have to have manners,” she says. Teaching them to follow the truck is more effective than trying to herd them to a place from behind because “cattle always want to go back to where they came from.” This is especially important in a crisis where they need to be quickly moved out of danger without panicking. She offers more detail on animal handling in her Guide to Working with Farm Animals.

Recognize that people think differently. Grandin is a visual thinker, seeing thoughts in pictures rather than words. She struggled in school because the system is created for people who think in words, but she says visual thinking is common sense thinking. “We need more visual thinkers to fix things because they can see the problems. Our ADD people—we need them to be mechanics and machinists.”

Carolyn Carey’s Labeling Quest

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In the far northeastern corner of California, in the high desert just outside of Alturas, Carolyn Carey and her husband Pete raise cattle and organic hay on the banks of the Pit River. They’ve spent a lifetime on the land, and they’re part of Panorama Organic’s original group of founding ranchers. “That’s what we’ve done for many, many, many, many, many years,” she says. “My husband has done nothing else his entire life except for a stint in the Army. He was one of those people who, for many, many years didn’t know his social security number because he never had to use it. Can you imagine? I mean, he’s never worked for anybody [else].”

Their place is uniquely situated on one of the largest natural flood plains left in that part of the state, which allows them to feed around 1,000 steers annually on meadows irrigated with flood water from the river. They also run about 450 cow-calf pairs.

Migratory waterfowl are a common sight on Carolyn and Pete Carey’s Northern California Ranch.

Carey is active in the cattle industry, as well as running the ranch. She’s served in leadership positions with the California Rangeland Trust, the California Cattlemen’s Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among several others. 

One of her passions has been making sure consumers know which country their meat is coming from, and she developed the Born & Raised in the USATM label. Carey got the idea more than 20 years ago at an NCBA convention. “People were saying, ‘Hey, we have to pass legislation. We’ve got to be able to label our U.S. Beef.’ And I said to myself as I was walking along, knowing nothing about it, ‘why don’t we just do it?’ I popped down into the trade show, and lo and behold, there was the USDA booth. I stopped and I asked them what was involved.”

She called the appropriate people at the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the USDA department responsible for approving meat labels, and learned to not only negotiate the vagaries of the approval process, but to trademark her labels, as well. The Born & Raised in the USATM certification mark was the first USDA-approved label depicting the country of origin.

beef born & raised in the usa

The label, which is voluntary, is verified by affidavit and travels through the supply chain, staying with the animal until harvest, even if ownership changes, as long as it remains in the U.S. After slaughter, the meat can carry the label all the way to the end user. 

In the decades since Carey’s label appeared in the marketplace, the issue of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef has become mired in legislative and legal challenges. For a time, COOL was mandatory, but Congress eventually dropped it because Canada and Mexico sued in the court of the World Trade Organization, claiming it put beef from their countries at a competitive disadvantage in the minds of consumers. And a loophole in the Product of USA law means that meat packers can attach the label to any beef cut up and packaged in this country, no matter where the cattle were raised and the beef originated. A recent executive order from the Biden administration has resulted in the USDA opening a rulemaking process to tighten the law so that only beef products from cattle born and raised in this country can carry the Product of USA label. But in the meantime, consumers remain confused.

Carey wishes that the labeling issue could be simplified so that a package could simply read product of whichever country the meat came from, and then there would be no need for U.S. producers to label their beef. If it didn’t have a country listed, consumers would automatically know it’s from the U.S. But in the complicated global food supply chain, where many live animals and much of the meat we eat travel a circuitous international path, a simple solution is difficult to achieve. 

In the meantime, Carey encourages customers to look for Panorama Organic and  the Born & Raised in the USATM label to rest assured the beef they’re serving their families is really from the U.S.

Sunset over Rattlesnake Butte on the Carey Ranch.