Farmer Profile: Prairie Gold Pastured Meats, Alberta

Posted by Alex Fletcher on June 22, 2014

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photo credit: Tara Neufeld
Name:
Blake Hall
Location: Red Deer, AB
What do you produce? Grass finished beef and pastured pork and lamb.
Size of farm? Approx. 500 ac. rented.
Number of years farming? 6 years
 
Farming background?
My farming testimony begins in 2006 with the CRAFT program (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) in Southern Ontario on a vegetable CSA with a small “dung herd” of highland cattle.  Following that horticultural gateway, I began building a skill set around soil, pasture management, low-stress livestock handling, and grass-based protein production by attending workshops, conferences, seminars, taking a Holistic Management course, and by volunteering on dozens of innovative farming operations through New England and across Canada.  I completed the loop from soil to grass to fat livestock to the food by enrolling in the Meat Processing program at Olds College – one of two programs left in the world that continues to teach the art of slaughter in addition to meat cutting and curing. 
photo credit: Andrea Wiseman
How do you market your product?  
I run a small herd share.  Customers buy a share in a live herd of cattle and/or pig and contract me to tend to, and fatten the animals in addition to butchering the meat on their behalf.  
 
Did you have to find financing to start your farm? What kind of financing model did/ do you use?
I had to access financing to start the farm – primarily to purchase livestock.  I issued bonds to pony up the cash.  Beyond that, the Herd Share model provides the cash flow needed through the year.  I rent land and invest in portable infrastructure only.  Bear in mind that I was only able to quit my off-farm job this year which helped subsidize the up-front costs as well. 
 
How’d you come up with your farm name? 
People tend to associate Alberta with OIL but GRASS is Alberta’s first natural resource.  Word made its way east when cowboys first came west and set up vast spreads that there was something about the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains that made the cattle’s bones rattle with meat.  The mineralized soils and golden prairie grasses made Alberta beef famous long before the first gusher did. 
 
The ring of golden fat around a well finished grass-fed steak is an indication of a nutrient-rich super food that makes people healthy instead of sick.  The golden colour is the marker of high fat-soluble vitamin A content as well as the high omega 3 fatty-acid profile in pastured beef.
 
The name Prairie Gold is therefore layered.  The prairie is literally golden in colour for a good part of the year, the prairie grasses themselves are the source of the wealth and health of the farm and its customers as it converts sunlight into a harvestable form, and finally, the fat on the pasture-finished beef has a beautiful golden colour and the meat from tip to tail (including organs) is a nutritional gold mine that has sustained pastoralists since humankind’s beginning.   Prairie Gold Pastured Meats.
 
Who are your farming mentors?
Cory Eichman – Saugeen River CSA, Abe Collins – Collins Grazing LLC, Neil Dennis – Sunnybrae Farm, Peter Lundgard – Nature’s Way Farm, Richard Griebel and Kathleen Charpentier – Sun To Earth Farm, Tom Towers – Tamara Ranch Inc.
 
What book changed your world?
As a boy I read Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael” which was deeply impactful.
 
What song are you loving right now?
Wildrose Waltz by Tim Hus and Jericho by Rufus Wainwright
 
Favourite farm tool?
Batt-Latch – Solar-powered automatic gate opener which lets me do multiple paddock shifts in a day without always having to move fences. 
 
For this upcoming season, what are you most excited about?
Hosting a field day.
 
Why did you join the National Farmers Union? 
I joined the NFU because the intention with which I farm goes well beyond the fences that border the farm.  The NFU empowers me to take a stand on policy issues that matter and bolsters my morale knowing that there are farmers across the country that are invested in the future of agriculture in this country.
 
Dream dinner: what’s on your plate? Who’s sitting around the table with you?
Beef tartare and pork liver pate to start, then a rare grass-fed burger with runny brie in the middle, strong onions on top with field ripened tomatoes, butter lettuce and a bunch of fermented condiments between a nice doughy bun.  On the side are new potatoes with gobs of yellow grass-fed butter, delicata squash with gobs of yellow grass-fed butter, just-harvested sweet corn with gobs of yellow grass-fed butter, and loads of beer.
  
Joining me for this feast are my wife and friends (including many of the NFU membership), Sir Albert Howard, Newman Turner, Crowfoot, Jerry Brunetti, John Kempf, Gabe Brown, Neil Dennis, Allan Nation, Charles Walters, Gearld Fry, Corb Lund, Tim Hus, Dr. Dre.
 
What issue is most on your radar right now that will challenge your farming dreams?
The laws around on-farm kill and processing of meat.  UPOV ‘91.
 
Farm fashion: What’s hot on your farm? 
Filson Mackinaw wool vest and cruiser with organic raw denim below.  Smithbilt silver belly cowboy hat.
 
What advice do you have for aspiring farmers?
Take care of the soil and the rest will follow.  Stay portable.  Value your time.  Be honest about your costs.  Start by leasing land.  Share machinery with other producers.  Be transparent with your customers – they are your greatest asset if you are a direct marketer.
 
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Doughnuts.
photo credit: Andrea Wiseman
 
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