Beretta Farms: A City Girl’s Field Trip
King City, Ontario
My cousins are bonafide health nuts, not just the kind that simply watch what they eat, fill up on veggies and cut out sugar and alcohol from their diets. They literally spend time carefully reading ingredients on the sides of cereal boxes, they don’t eat sweets and they pay premium prices for organic meat: meat that does not contain any anti-biotics, chemicals or preservatives. Cousin’s Market, Whole Foods and Planet Organic are on their regular grocery shopping routes. They probably wouldn’t set foot in a Loblaws even if you paid them.
Most of their meat is bought from Beretta Farms, a local organic farm that raises livestock without growth enhancing drugs or artificial fertilizers. Despite the premium price of their products, I’m going to have to admit that their steaks are more flavourful. Before tasting their meat, I did have my reservations, but after the first few bites, I was amazed at the depth of flavour in my steak.
As a customer appreciation event, Beretta Farms hosted a family appreciation day that included a free bbq, hayrides for the kids and a chance for kids to milk cows, pet the horses and tour the barns. I was intrigued by the free bbq but visiting a farm? I’m a city girl. It was pretty obvious by my choice of footwear. I have no idea why I opted to wear flip flops. My toes were scratched and poked by straw all throughout the hayride, not to mention random piles of dung on the farm grounds. But surprisingly, when our hayride pulled up to the farm grounds where a long queue was forming in front of the burger and hot dog bbq, I forgot all about my flip flops. The atmosphere was festive and energetic. And the air was smoky and fragrant with barbecued meats and countryside breeze.
I haven’t been on a farm since my grade 1 field trip so this was pretty fun. And it was the perfect excuse to get away from the smog and humid heat of Toronto’s city center.
Beretta Farms’ mandate includes growing crops and raising animals by using sustainable methods. They don’t use chemicals and make the most use of the sunlight, abiding by standards certified by the Organic Crop Producers and Processors OCPP. Beretta Farms is a family business and their farm really did have an intimate, friendly and warm vibe about it. A house (not sure if this is residential) was only a few feet away from the main barn and soccer nets were set up under a big tree so parents could watch children run around and play right alongside grazing sheep. Fenced off to the side was a whole herd of sheep grazing beside a lake with a small fountain. The sheep scene looked like it was right out of an Edmund Spencer poem.
As we waited in line for our burgers and hot dogs, I was amazed at the turn-out for this event. It’s quite extraordinary to actually learn where our produce and meats come from, at the risk of sounding perfectly naive. Most city folk (or hipsters) visit a farmer’s market once a week and peg themselves as socially responsible and advocates of sustainability but really, have any of them set foot on a farm (in flip flops!?)?
Beretta Farms has been featured in Better Farming Magazine explaining the difference between grass-fed and organic livestock. They also keep their own blog, Twitter page and a very up-to-date website to inform customers about their products and events. For chefs and bakers who thought farmer’s markets were great places for food education and inspiration, you should probably go straight to the source – the actual barns and fields were the sheep and cattle are raised. Plus, with such a full-fledged operation, I’m surprised Beretta Farms even distributes their products to grocery chains. They should be selling their wares straight off the hayrides and backs of trucks. It wouldn’t get more fresh than that. Conveniently, Beretta does take online orders. So for those deep freeze, sub-zero temperature Toronto winter days, you can get meat delivered right to your frozen doorstep.
Our barbecued hamburgers were made from Beretta Farms’ own grass fed beef. Grass fed means the cattle was never fed grain during its entire life, the result being a leaner, smaller animal. The burgers were a lot leaner than the processed burgers I’m used to from fast food joints. The meat also tasted richer despite the lack of fat. There was also no salty aftertaste afterwards. And really, I was barely even thirsty afterwards. After a few McDonald’s burgers, I’m usually downing a couple cans of pop.
The hot dogs were also leaner and a lot denser than the cheap 12 packs that I usually buy from Safeway. To the chagrin of one of our friends, I actually hate condiments and don’t put any ketchup, mustard or relish on my hot dogs or burgers (even though there was some sweet and crunchy jars of organic relish available). I was able to taste the meat better this way though.
The hot dogs picked up the smoky flavours from the grill perfectly and were lean but still juicy inside. We watched a few children gobble up a number of hot dogs like there was no tomorrow. And if a hot dog is kid-approved, it’s good enough for me!
During our picnic, it actually did start to rain and we all rushed into the barn. It was a great excuse to pet the horses and visit the newborn kittens. The Beretta family was actually giving away free kittens! The cute little kittens were so tiny, they fit in the palms of our hands.
As we all wandered around the barn, Mike Beretta, one of the farmers offered to let the kids milk the cow. My cousin (a grown man) was the first one to rush forward. It was pretty amusing watching a 6 foot tall adult get as excited as the pint sized children about milking a cow. He described the cow nipples as slippery and narrow and it was difficult to squirt out even just a little bit of milk.
Some of the other children grabbed fistfuls of hay to feed the horses and goats, also in the barn.
The whole event was actually really fun and educational. And to think, I thought I would have more fun shopping on Queen Street West or dining in Yorkville.
Mike Beretta hung around to supervise the hayrides after the event and answered our questions. The goal of Beretta Farms is to raise awareness about organic farming and grass fed products and also to lobby for more government regulations and support for responsible and sustainable farming. It was also eye-opening for me and the other event guests to tour the barn and walk around the farmlands where the Beretta family produced such delicious and healthy products. It reminded me of community, the importance of hospitality and relationship building. And most of all the importance of knowing where your food comes from.
Beretta Farms’ next Farm Day is Saturday, August 18, 2012. Make your way down for hayrides and bbq! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info or to RSVP!