Dec 042013

My friends Graham Lettner and Thulasy Lettner visited Josée, Felix and I early this spring. It was a great visit and with dynamic conversation. We spoke about why I raise beef. Our conversation sent Graham on a journey of ponder about vegetarianism and the relationship we as human beings have to other animals and our environment. The following article is an account of his journey…


Eating Purposefully – by Graham Lettner

Before becoming a vegetarian, I was eating more meat than ever before.

My wife, Thulasy, and I had just gotten substantial raises at work. Overnight our eating habits changed. Out with the rice and beans, in with the steak and potatoes. Not just steak, though, but roast chicken, pork roast, lamb chops, and second helpings of each.

I thought nothing of it; likely, I didn’t even notice. It was a return to normal for me, a return to my eating habits in the years before I moved to Africa. But for Thulasy, the changes to our eating habits were shockingly carnivorous. She didn’t notice this idly: she began reading vegetarian treatises on the problems of eating animals.

One dinner, sitting down to a spread of mashed potatoes, broccoli in cheese sauce, and a large, sumptuous roast chicken, she asked me, “Do you think we eat too much meat?”

“Um, hmmhn,” I mumbled. She may have caught me in the midst of chewing. Even so, it was quickly clear that I had not considered such a possibility to exist. But even less had I considered her next question:

“Why do we eat animals at all?”

Having been exposed to be a mindless meat-eater, I set out to discover my answer to her question.

Why did I eat animals? I knew all the downsides: factory farming, cattle crammed into massive feedlots, antibiotics and liquefied manure ponds, and killing at near unimaginable scale. I didn’t agree with how our food system commoditized animals or the way it harmed the environment.

Perhaps there were upsides to my eating meat, factors that would counter-balance this list of negatives. I tried to search them out, but with scant success.

Did I eat meat for dietary reasons? No. In fact I was sure I could be perfectly healthy eating nothing but vegetables. Did I eat meat for religious or cultural reasons? No again. Neither was meat cheaper, or any more local, or quicker to prepare than vegetables. In the end I found little reason for eating meat at all, apart from one: that animals taste good.

The truth was that I ate meat, despite all the downsides, simply out of allegiance to my taste buds.

It wasn’t a heartening revelation. It was offensive, actually. I had let the passing pleasure of excited taste buds trump a number of serious implications to animals and the environment, implications I knew and understood. Here I was, blithely eating animals, tacitly supporting a system with which I told myself I didn’t agree.

Embarrassed at my hypocrisy, I figured I had two choices: continue eating meat, by further suppressing what I knew to be true; or realign my actions with my beliefs by giving up meat.

Thulasy was making up her own mind around the same time. She decided to become vegetarian, an act that urged me to move past my own moral inertia. I joined her.

I should make it clear that from the outside my vegetarianism was contradictory and incoherent. For example, I never gave up eggs or dairy. With meticulous self-deception, I told myself that animals weren’t killed in the making of these products, a dubious and inaccurate claim. The truth was that I simply wasn’t willing to give them up.

It’s important to note that becoming a vegetarian was no small thing. It involved imposing the hard standard of logic onto my many habits of unconscious living. These habits rebelled, they squirmed, they stubbornly refused, and in doing so they revealed many inner inconsistencies.

Still, as inconsistent as it was, it was how I began vegetarianism: by brashly declaiming, “No meat!” and sticking to it.

Almost a year after becoming vegetarians, Thulasy and I were in Ottawa visiting family and friends, on our way home to Alberta after saying good-bye to Zambia.

We were invited to have dinner with our friend Paul Slomp, his wife, Josée, and their baby boy, Felix. Paul had been in Zambia for some years before us and was someone we both held in high esteem. He had also recently started raising cattle on a farm just south of Ottawa. I was keen to hear more about this, particularly as a vegetarian who had decided to give up eating meat.

During the meal—vegetarian stew and corn bread—I asked Paul about his cattle operation. Of all things to do, why this? Why was it important to him?

Paul answered my question by first detouring to explain to us the concept of holistic resource management. Though the concept constitutes a sophisticated set of ideas, one tangible way it guides Paul’s cattle operation is as follows:

Grasslands co-evolved with ruminants over thousands of years. Moving in large groups, these ruminants would trample down grass, defecate and urinate, and compact and chip the soil surface with their hooves. For a grassland to be healthy, for it to thrive, it must be subjected this type of ruminant activity. Essentially, ruminants and grasslands are made for each other.

Paul manages his grass and his cattle together by mimicking nature through planned grazing across his pasture. By doing so, he maximizes the quality and quantity of grass his cattle consume, and provides the kind of ruminant interaction needed by for a healthy grassland ecosystem.

This is why his farm is important to him. It’s a means to increase biodiversity, build up soils and provide year-round habitat for birds, insects, and other wild animals, while creating the profit Paul needs to take care of his family.

The dinner conversation moved on, but I was still considering what this meant to me as a vegetarian. For all the good benefits of Paul’s farm, there was still an unmistakable downside. Eating animals meant killing animals. There was no getting around it.

Sitting there at Paul’s dinner table, I tried to see it from a more holistic point of view. Killing is a part of nature. Birds eat crickets. Dragonflies swallow up mosquitoes. Foxes hunt prairie gophers. And—perhaps?—humans slaughter cattle.

Regardless of my own struggle to come to grips with killing animals, what Paul taught me that evening was this: human beings need cattle, and indeed all animals. We’re not separate from them, we’re dependent on them. It was a very different idea of how we might relate to nature and to animals.

In the weeks and months that followed, I realized that my relationship to animals and to nature was evolving.

Starting out, my relationship had simply been, “You taste good, so I’m going to eat you. Sorry.” It had been a relationship based on unabashed pleasure seeking.

Once I had stopped eating meat, the relationship had become a kind of separation, even estrangement. “Look, I won’t eat you anymore. So let’s just stay out of each other’s way, OK?”

But Paul had got me to consider the possibility of something more holistic. “Animals are essential to everything in nature, including humans. There is no separation. So, how can we exist connected and together?”

This holistic relationship leads to a different conclusion than vegetarianism. Instead of vegetarianism it prescribes eating meat, not willy-nilly, but eating meat from animals raised and husbanded to support a healthy ecosystem.

I had previously reasoned that I wouldn’t eat meat because I don’t have to eat meat – that it wasn’t critical for my survival. I had believed that eating any meat at all simply condoned the unnecessary killing of animals. But now, I felt that even if I could live without meat, we as human beings certainly couldn’t live without animals.

This spring, a good friend, Ben Campbell, started up a small grass-fed beef operation at his parents’ farm south of Calgary, similar to what Paul is doing outside of Ottawa. Though I say small, I should say very small: there’s only four head of cattle.

I’ve gone out to help him on the occasional weekend, moving cattle, trying out some electric fencing, even wrestling calves during the annual branding and vaccinating. Ben, living in nearby Black Diamond, has had to do all the serious work. Though I helped find him a few buyers for the beef, he’s done well to find customers for all of his beef in advance of the cattle’s slaughter date at the end of October.

When I told friends and family about this foray into cattle ranching they each asked me “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” I still was. Even though I had been considering eating meat again for some time, I hadn’t gone through with it. But in the same way that Thulasy’s question had started me on the path to giving up meat, this repeated question was prodding me to consider eating meat once again.

Having a holistic relationship to animals and even nature can be difficult living in the city. Helping Ben out with his grass-fed cattle ranch has been one means for me to do this. But most of time and for most people it comes down to eating responsibly, eating food from those farmers who do have such a relationship.

One such farmer, to whom Localize introduced me, is Darrel Winter. Visiting his turkey farm this summer and seeing his operation at work, I realized this was a farm, like Paul’s, that I could support. Perhaps should support.

Turkey 4

So this Thanksgiving, before driving out to Jasper to spend it with my parents, Thulasy and I bought a turkey from Darrel’s farm. Mom and Dad prepared it with all the fixings: stuffing, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, yams, corn bread, and pumpkin pie.

Did I eat the turkey? I tucked into it. Why?

Because I’m no longer a vegetarian. I understand now that eating is an agricultural act, and that, if done right, it can support and help create a relationship with animals and with nature that is based not on taste buds, or separation, but on dependence, restoration and respect.

 Posted by at 2:26 pm
Sep 262013

Just 2 days left to send your letter to the Ontario Environment Minister.


Late this spring, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has recently approved one variety of genetically engineered alfalfa: a herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa from Monsanto/Forage Genetics International. This means that one variety of GM alfalfa is now legal to sell in Canada – it is not yet on the market.

Since the Canadian approval process for genetically engineered plants and animals happens behind closed doors, farmers still have many unanswered concerns about the risk of GM alfalfa cross pollinating with non-GM alfalfa and contaminating our environment with rogue GM genes. As a result, two farmers have formally asked the Ontario government to carry out an environmental assessment of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa before the seed is sold in the province. They launched an application, on behalf of many farmers across the province, under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.

Please help support family farms like Grazing Days and send a letter to the Ontario Environment Minister by September 29th to call on him to assess the environmental risks of GM Alfalfa .

Send your letter here:

 Posted by at 10:34 pm
Sep 092013

organic_week_2013 As part of the 2013 Organic Week celebrations, Grazing Days is hosting a Farm Tour of the Grazing Days farm. Everyone is welcome*.

When: On Saturday, 21 September 2013 at 2:00pm until about 3:30pm.

Where: Grazing Days farm entrance is 400m West of Bowesville Road and Mitch Owens Road. (Click here for Directions)

What: Together, we will take a walking tour* of the Grazing Days pastures. You will get a chance to see how the cattle get moved to fresh grass every day and learn how this intensive rotational grazing system helps Grazing Days raise delicious grass-fed beef in a way that builds soil, sequesters carbon and rejuvenates aquifers. You will also get a chance to ask any questions you may have.

Please Bring: Rain gear, something warm to wear, Sun screen, Something to cover up against insect bites, a camera, and comfortable shoes or rubber boots that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet.

*Note: The farm tour will consist of a walk on uneven terrain and may not be suitable for people with mobility issues.

To find out more about Canadian Organic Week, please visit

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Jul 252013

On Sunday August 18th, Grazing Days will be the last stop of the Canadian Organic Growers – Ottawa Chapter Farm Tour.

The tour will be visiting three different farms in the Greely / Manotick Station Area – just south of the Ottawa airport:


1. Morning: Arc Acres Farm (organic vegetables, beef and pork) between Manotick and Greely at 1538 Manotick Station Road (
2. Afternoon: (to be confirmed) Roots and Shoots Farm (certified organic vegetables) at the corner of Mitch Owens Drive and Manotick Station Road (
3. Later afternoon: Grazing Days Farm (non-certified organic beef) just 400m from Roots and Shoots Farm (
Bring a picnic lunch and we’ll enjoy a picnic at a site along the way.

If you are interested in joining the farm tour, contact Dick at to register.


Also please visit for more details

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Jul 252013

On Monday, Robin Turner from Roots and Shoots Farm and Paul Slomp from Grazing Days were invited into the CBC All in a Day studio to share their thoughts about what Premier Wynne had to say about her vision for agriculture in Ontario. You can listen to the full interview here:

 Posted by at 9:01 pm
May 062013
Carbon Sequestration in land that is holistically managed

Carbon Sequestration in land that is holistically managed vs. land that is conventionally managed. Source: Holistic Resource Management by Allan Savory

I received an interesting E-mail over the weekend from someone in Sweden who had watched the Grazing Days video about intensive rotational grazing on Youtube and had the following question:

“Can intensive rotational grazing work as a carbon sink in cold and humid climates like Sweden and not “only” in dry climates like Allan Savory has proven without doubt?”

This was my response to the question:

Please note that I do not claim to be an expert on the subject matter. My understanding is based on things that I have read, heard, observed and reasoned, and I don’t know if any of it would stand up to scientific scrutiny. Having given you that disclaimer, my understanding of how carbon sequestration works using plants is that grasses play an important role – even in cold and humid climates.

There are three factors we need to consider in order to answer your question:
1) The part of the plant that will produce the carbon we are looking to sequester;
2) The role that humidity plays in the breaking down of carbon; and
3) The role that temperature plays in the breaking down of carbon.

I will walk through each of these factors below to come to my conclusion of why carbon sequestration in grasslands works even in cold and humid climates.

1) Which part of the plant will sequester carbon:
When grasses grow, they produce carbon-chains in two different places: in the foliage above the ground and in the roots below the soils surface. As far as I understand it, the carbon-chains in the foliage above the ground are quite unstable and break down (through digestion, or rotting) quite quickly, where the carbon-chains in the roots below the ground are very stable and take a long time to break down – and are a main source of energy to the microbiology in the soil that help with functions of water and nutrient transportation from the soil into the plants.

Many farmers I speak to believe that incorporating foliage organic matter into the soil helps build organic matter, but as far as I understand it this is a myth. Incorporating foliage into the soil, is like giving the soil a shot of white sugar, which releases a lot of energy very fast as it breaks down, as opposed to feeding the soil with root-based organic matter, which is acts like a complex carbohydrate like a piece of whole-grain bread and breaks down over longer periods of time.

What we learn from this is that the long-term build up of carbon in our soils is accomplished by continuous growth and re-growth of roots below the soil surface. Grasslands are an excellent environment for root growth and re-growth and thus are excellent at producing stable forms of carbon for our soil.

2) The role of humidity:
Carbon breaks down more readily in humid climates. Allan Savory has demonstrated this throughout his work and can be easily observed when we look at the decomposition of organic matter above the soil surface in humid climates (where it quickly rots- in a biological process) and compare it to the organic matter decomposition above the soil surface dry climates, (where it oxidizes slowly – in a chemical reaction). Organic matter breaks down much faster in humid climates in the presence of microbiology.

Healthy soils though, regardless of whether they are in dry or humid climates, break down organic matter biologically – in an environment where water present. Below the soil surface in a healthy pasture with very good soil cover, there is not a very large difference between a humid and a dry climate. Two factors that ensure that water is present in the soil for this biological decomposition are: good grass cover allows for rain water to infiltrate the soil slowly and good grass cover that protects the soil surface from direct sunlight. This ensures that the climate in the soil includes moisture to facilitate biological activity regardless of whether it is humid or dry above the soil.

What we learn from this is that the decomposition of carbon in our soils is not that different between humid and dry climates – as long as the soils being compared are protected by healthy grass-growth. Since carbon sequestration can happen in healthy soils in dry climates as Allan Savory has demonstrated, then we can reason it can also happen in humid climates.

3) The role of temperature:
Temperature would plays a role in determining the speed at which reactions take place. The same is true for the decomposition of carbon in the soil. The warmer the temperature, the faster the carbon will get broken down (either biologically or chemically). The colder the temperature, the slower the carbon will get broken down. From this we can reason that colder soils are more effective at storing carbon than soils in warmer climates.

Especially in places like Canada and Sweden where due to frost, all biological activity in our soils goes dormant for large parts of the year, we are able to build on and maintain soil carbon levels that are much higher than in soils that do not fall below 0 degrees Celsius at any point in the year. This is also demonstrated by the lower levels of carbon found in soils around the tropics when compared to the carbon levels in soils found in more temperate climates.

What we learn from this is that colder climates are in a better position to store carbon than warmer climates are.


To answer your question – it is definitely possible to use intensive rotational grazing as a technique to sequester carbon in soils in more humid and cooler climates.

 Posted by at 11:24 am

Looking for a Farm

 Farm Updates  Comments Off
Apr 232013

farmGrazing Days is looking for a farm to purchase. Please help us find the farm we are looking for. If you know of a farm that meets some of the criteria we have outlined below that is for sale please let us know. You can contact us by calling 613-898-9136 or by emailing us at

Since 2010, Grazing Days has been growing steadily and we are now at a point where we have reached the limits of what we can do on the 65 acres of pasture we are currently farming. In order to continue to serve people in Ottawa with delicious grass-fed meats, we are looking to move onto a slightly larger property and hope to set up an interesting project with some vegetable farmer friends.

Below is a list of criteria that we are looking for in this property, separated into non-negotiable criteria, that the property must have, and negotiable criteria that would be ideal, but not a necessity to have on the property.

Non-negotiable Criteria:

  • Size: Access to least 150 acres of tillable land (owned or available for lease on adjacent or nearby land)
  • School: Access to French education
  • Geology: Good soils
  • Land: Managed without toxic chemicals or contaminants

Negotiable Criteria:

  • Price: up to $600,000 (ideal) up to $900,000 (with lukewarm interest)
  • Access to Market: Within 90 minutes of Ottawa, ON
  • Housing: Two or more units for two or more families
  • Outbuildings: Barn, Machine Shed, Shop, Garage
  • Zoning: Agricultural, or Agricultural / commercial
  • Features: Woodlot / Bush
  • Water: Source available for agricultural use



 Posted by at 1:21 pm
Mar 202013

Grazing Days Grass-Fed Beef

As of today, Grazing Days grass-fed beef CSA shares for the 2013/2014 grazing and delivery season are on sale and we are accepting orders through our website. We encourage you to sign up early to secure your spot in the CSA – even if you are not yet ready to make a payment for the share – signing up holds your spot.


Additionally, we are offering Early Bird prices on orders placed prior to June 1, 2013. After June 1st, prices will increase by $0.25 per pound.


The demand for grass-fed beef in the 2012 / 2013 Grazing Days season was far greater than we could have wished for. As a result, Grazing Days sold out of beef before the end of November (7 months earlier than the year before) and we have managed to build up a waiting list of about 170 households who are looking for grass-fed beef (to put this in perspective, we delivered beef to about 250 households in 2012). This year, we will be raising the same number of animals as we raised last year and we expect to sell out of Grazing Days CSA shares even faster this year.


To place your order of Grazing Days beef, please visit our website:

How does the Grazing Days grass-fed beef CSA work?

Grazing Days is a farm just south of Ottawa in Manotick Station. We raise tasty grass-fed beef that is good for our health, our environment, our community, and our economy. Between May and November, Grazing Days grazes 40 cattle on our farm, following the Canadian Organic Standards. From October until June, Grazing Days delivers the frozen meat from these animals to households throughout Ottawa. (Unfortunately we are not able to deliver into Quebec due to provincial meat inspection regulations, but we do have a pick-up location in the Glebe).


The Grazing Days grass-fed beef CSA works similar to a magazine subscription. Grazing Days delivers beef in small portions of 10 or 20 lbs that easily fit into the freezer above your fridge once a month or once every other month, depending on what you order.


There are 5 different CSA Share options to choose from: (please click here for more details)

Full Share – 8 deliveries of 10 lbs between October and June. This works out to about 2lbs of beef per week during the delivery season.

Half Share (our most common order) – 4 deliveries of 10 lbs between October and June. This works out to about 1 lb of beef per week during the delivery season.

Bulk Share – 4 deliveries of 20 lbs between October and June. This works out to about 2lbs of beef per week during the delivery season.

Mixed Eighth Share – 1 delivery of 40 lbs of beef.

Mixed Quarter Share – 1 delivery of 80 lbs of beef.


Percentage-wise each box of Grazing Days beef contains proportionately exactly what is in a cow: roughly 25% steak, 25% roast, and 50% ground beef. Each 10 lbs box contains two different cuts of steak (2 steaks per package), one 2.5 lbs roast with about 5 lbs of ground beef divided into 1 to 1.5 lbs packages. Each 20 lbs box contains twice that of a 10 lbs box. The mixed eighth and mixed quarter shares contain respectively 4 and 8 times that of a 10 lbs box.


Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) is a way of producing and accessing food that focuses on the relationship between farmers and eaters. In this partnership, farmers commit producing delicious and healthy foods using agreed upon production practices. In return eaters agree to purchase food produced from the farm and agree to bear some of the risk involved in producing the food (related to weather, disease, and other factors beyond the farmer’s control).


If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Grazing Cattle

 Posted by at 4:45 pm