Pondering Where Does Beef Come From

I take cuts of our beef and lamb to the Great Falls Farmers Market almost every Saturday. I toss steaks, burger, lamb chops and other cuts into a freezer and plug it in to an inverter connected to the truck’s battery so everything stays frozen. When I get to Great Falls, I hang our big sign that proclaims Grassfed Beef & Lamb under an awning and hope people stop by to try our meat.

The farmers market attracts all kinds of people, and almost all of them support local farmers and ranchers. They believe in eating real food, like to know where it comes from and enjoy the carnival atmosphere of a relaxed Saturday morning.

People smile and stop to visit. Whether they buy meat or not, often we become friends. I genuinely like most of the people who stop by and, frankly, I think agriculture needs as many friends as it can get. After all, at just 3% of the country’s population and shrinking, it’s nice to have some support from town. I try to do my small part as an ambassador for agriculture and if I peddle some beef or lamb, too, that’s good.

Many people ask if they can visit the Graham Ranch sometime. “Of course,” I say. “Just let me know when you want to come.” I know that 99% of them will not find their way an hour and a half north, but they know they are welcome.

Last week, my husband, Steve, and I hosted a family from the other 1%.

A young couple with a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter had been buying ground beef, stew meat and top sirloins from my farmers market booth all summer and they wanted to come to the ranch. The husband and wife sincerely want to “live sustainably,” as they call it — grow as much of their own food as they can, buy locally, and pay as they go instead of on credit. Their dream, they told me, is to own a ranch someday.

More power to them.

I was inside, putting the last touches on lunch, when they pulled up so Steve greeted them.

“How many acres do you own?” the husband asked as he stepped from his Isuzu.

I would have taken the opportunity to explain a bit of ag-culture at that moment, but Steve gulped and and gave him the answer.

“Do you have good hunting here?” was the next question.

Steve swallowed another snide response, understanding the innocence of this snafu.

I rescued Steve with a lunch of beef stew and then we went out for a “ranch tour.”

Earlier that morning, Steve and I had corralled a few steers to take to the processor after our company left so I knew I had one-stop-shopping at the barn: steers, bum lambs, barn cats and even a newly -hatchedchick to show off.

The 4-year-old chased the chickens around and pet one of the orphan lambs while the steers peered over the fence, curious about all this activity. Finally, the husband turned around, jumped startled, and said “I didn’t know you have cattle, too!”

I was dumbfounded. Speechless.

Finally, I mustered “That’s where your beef comes from.”

“Oh.”

They left about an hour later.

As they pulled out the driveway, I still was not sure whether they made the cattle-to-beef connection.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

Lisa Schmidt