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
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
Mar 202013
Allan Savory Ted Talk

Allan Savory in this hope-filled TEDtalk precisely articulates the thinking behind the grazing practices at Grazing Days. He is the genius responsible for developing the concepts of intensive rotational grazing that Grazing Days is putting into practice on our farm. This TEDtalk about Allan’s lifework greening world deserts, storing carbon in the soil and reversing climate change. Many thanks to Allan and his team for all of their work and for delivering this great talk for all of us to learn from and enjoy.

 Posted by at 12:24 pm
Feb 282013
Beef Cattle


Hello everyone;

Last week, I delivered a presentation about the way we graze cattle on our farm called intensive rotational grazing at Eco Farm Day in Cornwall. The video touches on many of the reasons why we do what we do at Grazing Days and I thought I would record the presentation and share it with you all.


Please enjoy!

 Posted by at 4:23 pm
Jun 152012

On Thursday 14 June 2012, Metro News (on page 8) published a very succinct article about Grazing Days and some of the overall benefits of eating local grass-fed beef. Thanks for the great article Graham Lanktree! Also, thanks to Avi Caplan for this great photo.


Please check out to read the whole article.

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Jun 152012

On Thursday 14 June 2012, the Ottawa West edition of the EMC featured this article about Grazing Days with a special focus on the health benefits of Grass-Fed Beef. Thanks Emma Jackson for a great article!

You can find an easier to read version of the article here:

 Posted by at 12:42 pm
Nov 042011

This video is about the Grazing Philosophies that are practiced on a farm called Maplewood Farm in Highgate, Vermont. The types of things that Eric Noel, the farmer, is talking about in this video are very similar to the philosophies behind Grazing Days as well. Enjoy the video.


Thanks so much Jacqueline Jolliffe from Stone Soup Foodworks for sending me this video!

 Posted by at 10:46 am
Jun 152011

Every year on the last Saturday of May, the entire Glebe neighbourhood turns into a garage sale. This year Grazing Days was there and managed to speak to about 200 people about Grazing Days and how people can sign up to start receiving deliveries of delicious Ottawa grass-fed Beef!

Making these videos was pretty fun – I hope you enjoy:

This video provides a brief overview of Grazing Days, how we deliver beef and some of the reasons behind why we do what we do:

This second video is an average day in the life of a Grazing Days farmer:

 Posted by at 12:54 pm
May 042011


Why Canada needs a national food strategy

Jessica Leeder – Global Food Reporter

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Apr. 29, 2011 12:33PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, May. 01, 2011 9:54AM EDT


Contrary to what it says on the stock ticker, food is not just any old commodity. As its more holistic advocates say, it’s the subject of humankind’s most intimate relationship: Food can give life and, through absence or extreme overindulgence, it can take life away.

Those who can afford to fill their bodies with it three-plus times a day use it to sustain families and friendships. We turn to it in times of depletion (nutritional or emotional) and celebration. Many of us spend untold hours watching shows or reading about and cooking up its endless manifestations.

The paradox of this love affair is that Canadians have lost touch with the value of food. In 1931, more than 30 per cent of the people in this country lived on farms. That number has whittled to just over 2 per cent.

Few of us understand what really goes into our food or how our choices send ripples to the fields. Most of us live in cities and gobble down cheap food from big-box stores or wherever else low-cost grub can be had, without questioning why prices are so low.

We’re skeptical of the premiums on local, free-range and organic – why pay higher prices if there’s a cheaper option? – and lean on takeout, restaurants and convenience meals to get us through busy work weeks.

Without realizing it, we raise kids who can’t cook and won’t swallow a vegetable. We have become the fattest generation in Canadian history, addicted to eating and riddled with cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

A national food policy is the only way to bring symbiosis back into the system. Cathleen Kneen, a long-time activist with the People’s Food Policy Project, argues that it’s even a matter of Canada’s security. “If you’re at all interested in sovereignty, start with food,” she says.

“Any jurisdiction that doesn’t feed its people is at the mercy of whoever does.”

For Monday’s federal vote, for the first time, all five parties included food-specific policies in their electoral platforms. However, the Liberals were the only ones to promise a national strategy.

England, Scotland, Norway and even Sudan have all implemented long-term food strategies, but Canada has for decades shied away from the idea as overly complex. Any good policy will require sacrifices from virtually everyone at the table, most of whom have conflicting interests.

While agribusiness and prairie grain farmers want better access to export markets, locavores, environmentalists and fruit-and-vegetable growers want Canadians to eat fewer imports and more of what can be grown at home.

Consumers generally want the best price regardless of where the food comes from. The retail sector wants to sell it any way it can, from bulk warehouses to drive-throughs. The health-care system needs people to make better food choices.

The process of hashing out the elusive balance in all of this is so politically fraught that four separate organizations, representing farmers, foodies, agribusiness, academics and industry, have set out to draw up their own blueprints for policy-makers.

They’ve taken it on themselves to map out ways to foster healthier national diets and contribute to long-term global food security; to promote local, sustainable food systems while competing in international markets.

The People’s Food Policy Project, the largest civil-society effort, released its version of a national food strategy this month, based on more than 3,000 interviews. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is at work on the final draft of its plan, and the Conference Board of Canada is slated to release the first findings of a three-year project in May.

While no one is foolhardy enough to assume that any of the strategies will be snapped up verbatim by the next government, the widespread recognition of the need is a sign that a global movement is cresting in Canada.

“It might be argued that we don’t really need food sovereignty because there is so much food available. [But] we don’t know what will happen with climate change,” said Ralph Martin, the recently appointed Loblaw Chair of Sustainable Food Production at the University of Guelph.

“It’s during this time that food is readily available and relatively cheap that we’re going to have to design a system for more food sovereignty and more food security for Canadians.”

That doesn’t mean Canada should slam its borders to imports and prepare to grow all of its own food. But it does mean revamping our narrow view of the value of food and agriculture.

“There are some people who think that farming is about people with strong backs and weak minds. It’s the opposite now. They need to be extremely educated, adaptable and entrepreneurial people,” said Peter Phillips, an agriculture economist and trade expert with the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I don’t think that mindset has totally captured the imagination of our political leaders or even our bureaucratic leaders. We don’t have … a long-term vision of where we could be.”

Jessica Leeder is The Globe and Mail’s global food reporter.

 Posted by at 5:37 pm