Partnering directly with small local farmers is something we get excited about here at the Co-op, so when I got a call from a local grass-fed beef farmer name Dennis Dochnel last year, I was intrigued. Dennis was looking for a new business partner to be an outlet for his beef, and he wanted to know if the Co-op was interested.
Not too long after that first conversation, the meat managers from Willy East and West and I went to visit Dennis at his family farm (Scenic Heights Farm), close to Dodgeville. We were enchanted by the beautiful farm, the obvious care Dennis has for his animals, and his dedication to organic sustainable practices. We agreed then and there to form a partnership. When we asked what Dennis wanted us to put on the label, he modestly suggested Willy Beef since we would be the only place people could purchase his beef. We agreed, and Willy Beef was born.
Though Scenic Heights beef has been certified organic in the past, and Dennis continued to raise his cows using strict USDA organic standards, he had not sold organic beef for some time and had no reason to keep his organic certification current. Organic grass-fed beef is a product we have historically had trouble sourcing (we can get grass-fed that is not organic and organic that isn’t grass-fed, but the double whammy has been elusive), so we asked Dennis how hard it would be to re-certify. He told us it would take about a year, but would be a relatively easy process.
Fast-forward a year. We’ve had Willy Grass-Fed Beef in our stores since last summer, and it’s become a product well known to Co-op Owners who are looking for the absolute best quality local grass-fed beef. True to his word, Dennis recently informed us that he had completed the work needed to certify his beef as organic. This month we’re proud to announce that not only is Willy Beef grass-fed, but it is now raised on a USDA certified organic farm, with the paperwork to prove it.
You may notice that the packaging says “Organically Raised” instead of “Certified Organic.” Unfortunately there are no certified organic beef processors in our area, so though the animals are raised organically, we can’t market the beef as certified organic since the animals are processed at a facility that doesn’t have the organic certification. The processor in question is one that we know and trust to be humane, but so far they have not had enough demand for organic processing to get the certification. We’re hoping that changes in the not too distant future.