Let me start by saying, our family doesn’t eat a ton of meat. Frankly, we feel like eating meat at every meal, or even everyday is a huge detriment to our environment. Being good stewards to the earth is one of our guiding principles at Field & Fire. With that in mind, when we do eat meat, we want to know the animals it came from were treated with respect, and the land used to raise the animals was also treated with respect. Enter Jakes Country Meats. Their slogan is “Pork you can trust”, and they mean it. We only use meat in one product we make, our crazy delicious Ham & Cheese Croissant. We’re confident the reason it’s SO good, is the thinly sliced Jake’s smoked ham that we use in it.
Our family, along with our General Manager, recently visited the beautiful piece of land in Cassopolis, MI that is Jakes Country Meats. We were greeted by a portly fella with a big smile and a strong handshake. Nate Robinson, the owner of Jakes, talked about his farm with a passion you don’t hear from many people when talking about their “work”. It was a beautiful thing. Hearing his enthusiasm made it clear he really cares about what he’s doing and he really cares about the animals he’s raising. I should also point out, this is truly a family business. Nate runs the farm with his wife Lou Ann, his son Jake is the Agronomist, and his daughter Renee heads up the PR and Marketing. It feels good that our small family business is able to help support another small family that is doing such a great job.
O.K. let’s get to some of the amazing stuff… First off, Jake’s actually grows the grains that are fed to his pigs. The grains are grown using organic principles, no GMO’s, no pesticide, no petro-chemicals. Though, Nate’s the first person to point out that even certified organically grown crops have been contaminated with 7-10% genetically modified plants on average. Jake’s also uses ground water for their crops and animals, which cannot be categorized as “organic”, though as a consumer, I personally don’t feel deterred by this.
During the warmer months, the pigs are left to forage in the woods. Wild raspberries, nuts, and mushrooms are just a few of the natural treats growing in the woods. There are 26 rotating paddocks for the pigs to graze. They have access to natural prairie grass, radishes and turnips, in the summer, while getting extra nourishment from grains in the winter. They even have geo-thermally heated water during the winter months.
Pigs are very social animals. Nate try’s hard to not disrupt the family balance. Families are kept together once piglets are born. Moms and babies are kept together for 8 weeks or longer, depending if the piglet is ready to take care of itself. Just like people, some take longer than others to grow up. After that, the siblings are all kept together. He also doesn’t believe in artificial insemination. They use natural mating selection, and birth practices. Mama pigs work for 3-4 years. Then they get to retire with other mama’s to their own special place on the farm.
Nate considers his farm to be “customer based”. This means that he invites customers to provide feedback and suggestions. Then guess what happens? He actually makes changes based on what his customers want. What a concept! Nate understands that his customers are educated consumers and they want answers from their farmer. He let us know that it’s important for him to meet all of their customers. Having a relationship with your food producer is important. Taking up raising chickens is a great example. Customers said, “Why don’t you raise some chicken’s Nate? We’d love to get some chickens we can trust.” So he did.
Nate’s chicken’s are raised outdoors and forage for bugs. They are currently experimenting with raising egg laying chickens as well. He’s even thinking about raising crickets to make sure all the chickens are well fed! Jakes also raises Turkeys for Thanksgiving. Each turkey is assigned to a customer and they take pictures of each turkey to show the customer their turkey throughout its life cycle.
We also learned that Jakes uses natural agrarian practices to maintain the health of the land. For instance, they actually use cattle to keep the prairie grasses low for the pigs to eat. Pigs don’t like tall grass. They actually don’t like mud either. They only use it to stay cool. The cattle, and the pigs, and chickens all play a part on the farm. They have a symbiotic relationship with the land, and each other. That’s one of the great things about a farm like this. When they reach their limit on how many animals the land can support, they say o.k. that’s good. Not, how many more animals can we cram in here to make a few extra bucks?
Nate’s butcher is located in Coopersville, MI. This means the pigs must travel 2 hours to the place they’ll be slaughtered. It’s important to keep the pigs as stress free as possible. Stress hormones are not good for flavor. The pigs are slowly confined into smaller places over a period of time to help them become accustomed to the ride in the truck. They are shipped in the dark to help them stay cool during the warm summer months. Nate has trusted movers to help move the pigs. They don’t use noise, absolutely no shocking, “just loving hands” to move the animals.
Jake’s Country Meats is “Animal Welfare Approved”. This means that the products that come from Jake’s, are from animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. Their farm is audited by a 3rd party every year. Nate must keep impeccable records and continuously test his soil and water to prove the validity of the claims they make about their farm. The farm also practices forest stewardship. They have a large conservation area for the natural wildlife, away from the farm animals. And, they rest one field every year. Jake’s Country Meats is one farm that’s doin’ it right, and we’re proud to serve their ham.
On a personal note, I don’t pretend that eating meat is some act of compassion, but it’s incredibly important to our family to know these animals that were sacrificed so we could have a nice meal, have been treated with some degree of compassion. We teeter on the edge of vegetarianism and even veganism everyday when making food choices. I know one family eating less meat isn’t going to save the world, but it’s a great place to start. If you’re wondering why places like Montello’s and E.A. Brady’s charge so much for a chicken or a pound of ground beef, I hope you’ll consider what you’ve just read. We all vote with our dollars folks. If you’re still buying Oscar Myer, Tyson chicken or eating at big chain restaurants, you’re basically saying, it’s o.k. to treat animals like shit… it’s o.k. to pollute our water, hey can I get a side of deforestation with that?… it’s o.k., because I can eat cheap ass meat everyday.
For us, it was all about changing the way we think about eating meat. Do we want to eat cheap chicken everyday or every week, OR do we want to spend $20 on a super healthy, well raised and cared-for animal once a month? We really consider eating meat a luxury and a privilege, and that means spending more and eating less. After watching so many documentaries on this topic… Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, or even Earthings… you can’t go back. You can’t unlearn about where your food comes from… but you can change where you get your food from.