Mount Vernon Farm: Humane, Sustainable and an Affordable How-To

Remember this post, where I mentioned Mount Vernon Farms and their on-site bed and breakfast, the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm? As soon as Matt and I were back to the “real world” (post-honeymoon), I contacted them. I was so excited to have found another quality meat source and wanted to make arrangements to visit sometime.

And then Molly Peterson, wife to the Farm Manager and Paleo Magazine contributor Mike Peterson, posted videos of brand new baby calves and baby chick photos on the farm’s Facebook wall. That was all it took for me to immediately schedule an appointment for a tour with Mike and Molly. We were so grateful for fantastic weather when the scheduled day came. The drive was about 75 minutes through Virginia’s gorgeous Shenandoah Valley.

When we pulled up, the boys jumped out of the car and started chanting in shouts about visiting the baby chicks. Matt and I apologized for our tardiness (thanks, Rappahanock County Sheriff – good to know you’re doing your job) and despite being profoundly late with screaming children in tow, Mike & Molly (henceforth M&M) were enthusiastic, kind and eager to show us around. When they asked us what we wanted to do first, we didn’t really have a choice. *CHICKSBABYCHICKSWEWANNASEETINYCHICKS*

Cole was particularly enamored, but all the boys enjoyed visiting with the farm’s 4 different breeds of baby chicks.  M&M told us about the different birds, how they’re caring for them and what they hope for in the Spring. The boys all listened and learned, excited about the idea of these little ladies giving us delicious and nutritious eggs.  I can’t wait until those pastured soy-free eggs are ready to purchase in the Spring; they even have the breed of bird that lays “Easter eggs”, a family favorite!

After inducing enough fear in the poor baby birds to last a lifetime, we ventured out on the vast property to visit the cows. Full disclosure: I adore farm animals. After stumbling walking up a hill, we reached the edge of the cow field, which opened to lovely hills and wide open spaces for the cows to wander and roam. M&M explained to us that the cows were on a diet of fescue, a significant farming effort that takes years to build-up but worthwhile since the cows would get a more nutrient dense food source than hay in the winter.

The cows seemed healthy and happy. Some with rounded, calf-filled bellies, to be born in the Spring. Whatever they’re doing there is working because Mike said the cows put on 3-5lbs of weight per day (the goal for grassfed weight gain is at least 1.7/day)! As we sat chatting and learning about the cows, they began to close in and surround us.

I’ve never seen cows so comfortable with people before; clearly they’re being treated well. Even the new mamas were unaffected by our presence; we got to see a baby cow nurse! While I joked that it was “like when Wessie toddler nurses” (stands-up and performs acrobatics), we were able to use the opportunity as a teaching moment. What better way to explain the literalness of “cow’s milk” being for cows and how each mammal’s mom nurses her baby?

Have you ever been in a large, open field surrounded by cows who are all staring at you with interest? It felt like they expected some sort of performance! There were all sorts of interesting shapes and colors on these cows. Most were all black, but some had white faces and a few were brown. There was even one steer that was all white! M&M pointed out the “families” by recognizing head shape and other indicators of the father. All these cows must have thought we were equally exciting, since they never got bored of trying to figure us out!

We couldn’t believe how docile and intrigued the cows were. At one point, there were a few close enough for arm’s reach but the boys’ excitement (screams of delight) quickly had them scatter.  But, the cows really didn’t compare to the clever curiosity and interest of the young Tamworth piggies. Those red headed long bellied pigs (specifically bread for their excellent bacon) were so interested in us!

As we walked around where the pigs were living (wow, what brush clear-ers!), the boys and I found tons of peach seeds in one area of the hill. We talked about how happy the pigs must’ve been the day they got peaches from a neighbor’s orchard! As we got closer, the pigs heard us and half a dozen of them came down the hill to check us out. Curious but cautious, they watched as the boys checked out their living area as we climbed their.

Pigs are really fascinating. These ones were a really pretty copper color (not pink like what you often imagine). They’re about as smart as dogs, so we could watch them try to piece together what was going on. They immediately identified that Wes would be the problem, and fled from him every time he moved. It was a piggie stampede as Wes squealed loudly and lunged out of Matt’s arms for them. For the rest of our crowd, they were ready to shake hands.

I’ve never been this close to a herd of cows or pigs before, and for good reason – most ill-treated farm animals are afraid of or angry at humans (rightfully so). These animals showed how we can all coexist happily. With mutual respect for an animal’s innate personalities and requirements of a natural environment, they happily live their lives. Like Joel says, it’s about finding the essence of the animal.

As we descended the hill away from the pigs, Mike and Molly explained how they were experimenting with farming techniques to see if the pigs could help prepare fields for the other animals. I couldn’t help but be in awe of how such devotion to the craft of sustainable, pastured farming paid dividends in healthy, happy, and nutrient-dense animals.

Needless to say, back at the farm store I went a bit crazy. With a full freezer at home and a hunted deer on it’s way (thanks, Dad) I thought I would only pick up a couple things. WRONG. After seeing the quality of these animals, I knew there was no way I could leave without partaking in some of the specialties. While I shopped in the huge stock of the farm store freezers, the boys happily threw “purple rocks” down at the creek with Molly. We all left the farm happy, exercised and muddy – doesn’t get much better than that!

An Affordable How-To

And now, a note to our naysayers. You know who you are: right now you’re saying, “I wish I could afford all that pastured meat! There’s no way! It’s too expensive.” We hear this SO OFTEN. And we agree that humanely raised, pastured, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and happy animals favored cuts are often too expensive or cost prohibitive for most families. But you don’t have to buy steaks, tenderloins and bacon. We’ll show you that with some strategic shopping, that mentality is not true. If you cut out the middle man (a grocery store) and go straight to the source it gets a LOT cheaper. Here’s what we bought:

2.66lbs Lamb Denver Ribs – $10.62 (feeds 6)
1.7lbs Pork Shank – $7.70 (feeds 4)
2.01lbs Brisket – $15.08 (feeds 6)
1.84lbs Pork Jowl – $8.74 (feeds 6)
1.95lbs Pork Sausage – $13.10 (feeds 6 with eggs)
5.94lbs Beef Suet – $11.88 (we will have super nutrient rich tallow for months with this)

We also splurged on lamb sausage and rendered lard – but you wouldn’t need those for affordable shopping. Let’s look at the smart choices I made. We have enough meat for 28 servings, plus the tallow. That comes out to $2.40 per serving. For my family, that’s $12.00 a meal. I add in affordable veggies, like cabbage or carrots – and I’ve got an incredibly healthful, amazingly good tasting complete meal for 5 under $15.00.  I don’t even need to add oil to that equation, since the tallow’s included! I’ve spent more on a single steak in a restaurant, and I guarantee you it didn’t taste half as good as those pastured lamb ribs!

You Bought What?

You might not have heard of some of those cuts. But, guess what? They’re still delicious! Most of them are braising meats, which means they’ll cook great in a dutch oven or crock-pot all day long without much effort. That’s an added value! When I buy from farms like Mount Vernon or Polyface, I go straight to the per pound price and ask about the cheapest cuts I see. That’s how I found Pork Backbone, which is one of our FAVORITE foods ever.

Consider bones and organ meats, too. We didn’t purchase any because we have a few in the freezer already; but they’re SUPER cheap and the most nutritious food you can get when from a pastured, well-raised animal. We love to make jerky with beef heart and add liver and kidneys to ground meat meals.

Ground meat is another great affordable option, we have a TON of recipes for ground meat on the site.  We usually get our ground meat from my dad. We’re lucky to have a family member that hunts and gets us venison for the cost of butchering it. But, that’s only slightly less money than when I got it from the Springfield Butcher – a whole venison was only $95! That’s under $2.50/lb – you’ve just got to scope out deals in your area and then maximize them.

Other deals you can try to find include locating a local CSA, a meat share (we run a meat-up group) or simply finding a friend to share a half or quarter of a whole animal. When you buy a whole pig or cow you end up paying a near grocery store cost per pound – the catch is just upfront costs.

If you can’t afford $3/serving everyday, even making this change 2 or 3 times a week can help the environment and your health. Plus, there are even cheaper cuts of meat to reduce the serving cost even lower. Have you tried tongue? It’s honestly amazingly delicious. It doesn’t taste like an organ and is super cheap. I’m really looking forward to trying jowl, too.

Just do the best you can, keeping in mind sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Our post on How To Keep Your Paleo Family Out of the Paleo Poorhouse was one of our most popular ever, and for good reason. You’ve got to consider your priorities.

And Now, a Proclamation and Pledge

We look forward to henceforth focusing our savory recipes on unique and affordable cuts of meat. We hope, instead of ostracizing our readers with our “weird” meats, you’ll feel inspired to start cooking with some seldom known cuts, too. After all, there’s no better way to respect the animal than to eat all of it. If our kids reject it, we won’t post it. So you at least know the recipes are kid-friendly. It’ll help our family – and maybe yours – as we begin to officially buy only humane meat. In order to do that, we’re going to be making some unique stuff!

So inspired by the spectacularness of this farm, I’m thrilled M&M have let us sign up to be a Fairfax buyer’s club location. As the Spring arrives, our home will provide a spot where people come to pick up pre-ordered quality Mount Vernon Farm items. No better way to ensure we stick to our promises than to throw ourselves right in the mix!

If you’re ready to take the plunge and get started with us today, some of the recipes already on the site are:

These recipes use unusual cuts, organ meats or ground meat. They are some of our favorite recipes, and affordable, surprising as that may be. We find our kids actually LOVE the flavor of organ meats, if we prepare them properly. The body is naturally drawn to nutrient-dense foods, you just have to make it palatable for the littles.

Pastured meat isn’t just better for the animal & planet, it’s better for you too.

If you want more information on the importance of eating humanely and sustainably raised meat, refer to the BalancedBites Podcast with Paleo Approved. The next episode with Liz’s experience interning with Polyface Farm is pretty incredible too. You can get great info on how the long term cost of eating quality meat will be infinitely less from a ton of sources online.  It’s full of healthy Omega 3 fats, CLA and rich in vitamins and minerals. You know how people talk about salmon having healthy good-for-you fats? Grass-fed and pastured meat is good for you in exactly the same ways.

If you’re not within driving distance to Mount Vernon Farms in Sperryville, VA but wish your family could visit a farm, check out for a listing of grass-fed farms near you! And if you don’t see any near-by, we strongly encourage you to check out US Wellness Meats for a quality source of grass-fed meat you can trust. Their customer service is fantastic and not a single item we’ve ever had disappointed us. In fact, their 75/25 ground beef and beef snack sticks are the things dreams are made of.

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