WOOSTER, Ohio — He started as a dairy farmer and tried organic farming for a short while. But now Jon Berger and his family have found their place, and it’s with beef — grass-fed beef.
Berger and his wife, Debbie, run Green Vista Farm just west of Wooster. Their farm was the Sept. 29 stop on the 2011 Eastern Ohio Grazing Council pasture walk tour.
A new venture. The Bergers started their all-grass program in 2006 and have nearly doubled their herd each year. This year, they plan to market nearly 90 head of grass-fed beef, all to local customers.
The Bergers and their three adult children, David, Daniel and Jessica, got out of dairy farming in 1996.
“It was so intensely commercial, we didn’t feel like it was sustainable for the land or our family,” Jon Berger said.
However, the family is reaping the benefits of when the farm was a dairy, because the nutrients from the dairy cows are still in the ground, he said.
Their focus now is on two things: good soil and good beef.
“If you have good soil you can do so much,” said Debbie Berger, who also is an assistant state conservationist in Medina County.
The family “recycles everything,” she said, and is always learning ways to improve their all-grass cattle.
Judging by the customers who keep coming back for more beef, the Bergers feel they’re doing something right.
“People buy our product and they try it and if they have freezer space, they usually want it,” she said.
The beef is processed in the local town of Creston, at Whitefeather Meats. The Bergers arrange and manage their own customers, and also sell retail at farmers markets.
It makes for a lot of record keeping, which is handled with an Excel spreadsheet and careful management. Debbie Berger said the family calls customers when a steer is sent to the processor, and the processor handles the customer from there. Once processed, the meat hangs for 13 days to become more tender.
Many of the people on the tour either raise beef or are considering the grass-fed model. One lesson to keep in mind is, you won’t get anywhere fast.
Grass-fed beef generally takes about two years to feed and finish at the Berger farm, and lots of grass and hay during the winter season.
“You can’t rush it or you’ll have a bad experience,” Debbie Berger said.
But, when a grass-fed beef is finished, it’s usually much leaner than grain-fed beef and according to some, it tastes as good or better.
The Bergers market their beef as all natural, meaning it’s free of grain, hormones and antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides. Their finished steers usually produce a hanging weight of about 650 pounds. It’s less than a steer finished on grain, but because there’s less fat, the carcass is nearly 100 percent usable, Jon Berger said.
Mike Volino made the trip from East Liverpool. He raises about eight head of grass-fed Piedmontese-cross beef a year, and also owns a car wash business. He’s been raising beef for only about five years, but said he enjoys learning new things and the quality product in the end.
He said people have been eating beef with fat in it their entire lives, and once they get used to the lower fat grass-fed beef, they generally accept the taste differences and the health benefits.
The next pasture walk will be held Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. at Steffen Dairy, 4305 Meter Road, Mechanicstown. Reservations should be made by Oct. 17. You can reach Carroll County SWCD at 330-627-9852.