Burnout. A recent conversation with my supervisor in the social work field unearthed just what was going on underneath my surface. I was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually spent. My supervisor wisely suggested my wife and I take a vacation. Without any hesitation, I began daydreaming about touring local microbreweries, driving through alien countryside, great company, and an entirely new adventure. So: the Redwoods were calling, and we had to go.

After initial plans were put on paper, the next logical step came to mind. We had to bring Duba & Company heritage beef to adorn the excursion. How utterly romantic: an intimate barbeque of heritage beef, shared between the espoused, under the largest trees in the world, bordering the Pacific Ocean. Fantastic! In considering what we felt were all the necessary measures for such a vacation, a more abstract question came to mind: What is it that makes heritage beef, microbrewing, Buffalo Trading, and similar movements so captivating? This was the perfect question to take to the mythical Redwoods of California.

An answer to such a transcendent question is difficult to put clearly. When thinking this through, I had to begin with analogies and contradictions. Heritage beef and microbrewing are comparable to county road travel versus interstate thoroughfare. On one hand, you have meticulous craftsmanship involved, passed down over generations. Never exploited, never mass-produced. It is slower, certainly. It takes more effort and time to supply goods to eager patrons. And yet, the journey from farm to table, from grains to brew, from county road to destination is so much more gratifying. With the induction of the Interstate Road System, something at the level of the heart was lost in America.

You can see remnants of the heart in one popular clothing line and in Niagara Falls. One clothing line in particular has as its origin a farm and tool broker catering to all firearm, flannel and farming needs. One hundred years and many lucrative opportunities later, you are left with a soulless fashion selling-out at exorbitant prices. Similarly, with Niagara Falls, you have a World Wonder. It is a tremendous torrent of water cascading hundreds of feet down a huge fall, which could have been the world’s first National Park. Instead, hundreds of sharks and moguls seized a profitable opportunity and entirely defaced a scene of glory.

To conclude this inquiry into enterprise, I offer Duba & Company a word of caution, and a note of thanks. Carefully note the stories of Niagara Falls versus Yellowstone National Park. Heed the beginnings and ultimate downfall of certain clothing franchises. Observe the posture-shift in American culture at the spawning of the Interstate System. There are lessons to be learned at every level.

And finally, thank you. Thank you for keeping the heart at the center of your venture. Thank you, Jeff, for providing enthusiasts with meat that has taste unrivaled by any other. Thank you for purveying an experience that entices the senses and evokes the rustic magnificence of The Old World, The West, and the Shire. Well done.

Now back to the original question. What is it about these trends that are so enchanting? I suggest you cook some heritage beef, take a magical trip by way of county road, and sample some local micro-brewed libations along the way. Lose yourself in these experiences, and answer the question yourself. I think you will find the answer at the level of your heart.

"Burger of Highland Beef in the Redwood Forest". Photo, Ben Richardson

“Burger of Highland Beef in the Redwood National Park”. Photo, Ben Richardson

Ben Richardson writes from Colorado and is an avid outdoors-man, living with his wife on a mountain stream in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In his free time, he tackles the state’s “fourteeners” (14,000 ft. + mountains). Having hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2009 to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, he captives listeners with tales of his encounter with the “Hatchet Man”. Mr. Richardson‘s fundraiser, PennyBen (begun in memory of his father), to date has raised over $26,000 for the cause.

The Redwoods 5

Ben Richardson

Just last week my wife, daughter, and I visited Dundonald Highlands which, in addition to Highland beef, raises Cheviot lamb, a rare find in these United States. The sheep were alert, spry, and pleasing to the eye; it’s sobering to think that three of their company went to slaughter Tuesday and are being butchered today (available for sale from Duba & Company in early August). In their honor, this post pays tribute to a noble sheep breed and sings of the author’s growing love affair with perhaps the country’s most under-rated meat.

Like the world’s best beef breeds, the Cheviot lamb hails from Great Britain: from the hill country between Scotland and England. It is an ancient breed, mentioned in writings dating back to the 1300s. Its appearance is stately and aristocratic. The little Cheviot lambs are born with a zest for life and a keen will to survive. They, in fact, require little attention, hearty as they are. Again, like Scottish Highland cattle, they’ve developed over hundreds of years, forming a resilience to the harsh environment: the beating of the summer sun and the cold, wet winters. Excellent foragers, they consume all forms of vegetative life that springs from the earth. Our Cheviot lamb–like all the beef we sell–are primarily raised on pasture.

The particular flock from which Duba & Company’s inaugural lamb comes grazes in the shadow of Highland cattle on the flood plains near the southern boarder of Michigan. And, as those who dwell in this state well know, we’ve had a very wet Spring. For pasture-raised animals, like a good vintage of wine, quality is inextricably tied to the weather. With a chuckle, Eddie Mackay of Dundonald Highlands remarked that the ideal growing conditions this season are going to translate into some very good tasting Cheviot lamb, making him look like a “genius.” Whether the genius is that of Mackay, Mother Nature (or both), I can’t wait to try it–and for you to try what promises to be a very good “vintage” of lamb.

A now a word to those who’ve never tried lamb, who are uncertain about whether they like it or not, or have decided they don’t like it: try our lamb. Developing a taste for lamb could be compared to developing a taste for IPAs. Some IPAs are so good–Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA comes to mind here–that even those that don’t like IPAs love them. I’d like to think that our lamb is this good. Perhaps it will become one of your favorite things.

Favorite Portrayal of Mary Poppins: Julia Andrews

Favorite Portrayal of Mary Poppins: Julia Andrews

agritourism: “any agriculturally-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch” (wikipedia)

The family spent yesterday afternoon–a warm, breezy summer day–at Tillers International. The initial draw of Tillers International is that they raise a heritage breed of cattle: the Milking Shorthorn (see the picture, above). We left, as you might suspect, with a box-full of samples of Shorthorn beef: tenderloin, rib steaks, and a roast. As their name suggests, however, raising heritage beef is but a part of what this non-profit organization is about.

Just as eating heritage meats conserves rare breeds of livestock, supporting Tillers International conserves rare knowledge of agriculture and things artisanal: metal-working, woodworking, cheese-making, and–once upon a time–butchery. The mission of the organization is educational in nature: their knowledge-base allows rural communities in the developing world (and the industrial world, for that matter) to become self-sustaining using traditional techniques that are not capital-intensive. It’s become a cliche: “You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Tillers teaches men not to fish but to farm and the requisite skill base associated with agrarian life (wood-working and metal-working, for example).

I’ll step aside to allow Tillers International to tell its own story. And, if what you see peaks your interest,  take a day trip to the farm: go on a tour, browse their bookstore, or enroll in a wood-working or metal-working class. Become, in other words, an agritourist! We, as dutiful tourists, took pictures of our excursion. To view them, please click here.

With a voice as soft as silk and as smooth as velvet, Duba & Company founder Jeff Duba elucidates about heritage meats on a recent episode of Michigan Local Foodbeet on WYCE radio. If after listening you still find yourself wanting more, read the full account by visiting the Michigan Local Foodbeet blog.