Jocelyn & Andre From TK Farms
A look into the behind the scenes of a meat farm with the highest possible ethical standards.
There's so many labels, certifications and terms to consider when purchasing meat with a sustainable and ethical effort that it can sometimes be overwhelming. We met up with Joceyln of TK Ranch to answer some questions and get an in-depth look at what 'ethical farming' actually looks like.
The following interview was done on Jocelyn and Andres farm after we made our rounds making introductions to and feeding her pigs. The married couple spend a majority of their time on the farm producing Heritage Pasture Raised Pork for their parents ranch, TK Ranch.
For more information on TK Ranch, including where to buy their product around Calgary, I encourage you to visit their website at https://tkranch.com
Okay, so let’s start from the beginning. Understanding that TK Ranch has always been a family farm, I’m wondering if the strong ethical or sustainable concerns have always been a strong focus of the farm or was more focus brought to it at a certain time?
It always has been a bit. When my grandfather moved here 60 years ago he never liked the idea of using any pesticides or herbicides or anything of the sort on his property. So, it was always essentially organic. They just didn't buy into it.
Then my mother came into the picture. She was raised in Edmonton her entire life, and she was a big environmentalist.
Earlier you mentioned that your mother has always been a city girl?
Big city girl. She studied environmental studies in university and realized a lot of things.
She fought for many places like Old River Down. It was a huge thing in the 80's. She was one of the founders that fought Old River Down coming into Southern Alberta, and of course they lost, and all the things they said were going to happen happened. That was about the time that she met my father and he was like 'Well, we don't do any of that kind of damage at our farm…”. He wanted to protect the habitat, the native grass, and the different native species on the farm.
So, when-abouts was this? When did they meet and seriously begin introducing the sustainability into the farm?
They met in 1989 and continued to move forward. In 1995 they decided they would become what would essentially be organic.
Oh! Early on then!
Yep! Then, I believe in 1997, they became organic and we were certified for 13 years, and at some point we decided that we didn't approve of the certification; we didn't think it quite met what we considered good enough, so took it a step further from that point.
So, essentially it was kind of always in the blood of the farm, but then it became more official with your mother and your father in 1997 and then they began implementing it further and further to the point it is at now.
Exactly. And I mean at that point nobody was thinking about where their food was coming from at all. Organic didn't mean anything. Grass-fed didn't mean anything. Antibiotic free didn't mean anything. And in 1995 Antibiotic free and hormone-free was what the consumer was concerned about. It was becoming a concern at that point and doctors were beginning to discuss that it was a problem.
So, that is where our first platform started: no antibiotics and hormone-free, and then it moved into grass-fed when grain-fed animals became more of an issue with the public. We were like “People don't want grain? Fine. They shouldn't have it anyway!”
And then from there, there was a switch in about the mid, maybe 2010, 2011. Suddenly people were really focused on animal welfare and that was the new thing that people were focused on. They didn’t really seem to care about the rest of it anymore; 'We want to know that that animal has been taken care of to the best of your ability through the rest of its life.' Period.
So, it seems like you were kind of ahead of all the trends before people even started worrying about it?
Yeah! Just when people started really paying attention we became interested in being third party audited to show our consumers the extent of how our farm reaches each of these standards.
So, we've been evolving with the marketplace as well, and as a niche market you kind of follow what trend is happening, right? Now we just officially encompass all of these different things.
Right! That makes sense! I could only imagine the importance of getting these certifications to have your customers truly trust your practices and to show to what extent the farm actually encompasses all of these concerns...
Exactly! We find that a lot of certifications are just not good enough though. The core value is good, but the actual certifications aren’t as good as third party certifications.
Okay, so let's talk about that. So, TK Ranch obviously has an impressive list of awards and certifications, and whatnot. Could you speak to the processes or potential difficulties and maybe talk about how, if a farm wanted to acquire these higher certifications, how they could acquire them?
Well, most farmers and ranchers today who are concerned about the environment’s stability are also going to be concerned about animal welfare, pesticide use, chemicals, etcetera, and, for them, it's going to be easy, relatively speaking, to transition into those certifications.
Basically you can find the ones that you want and if you agree with the certifications goals then you can try and sign off with them. Most of them don't cost very much, and will be happy to come to the farm and third-party audit you. The certifiers are typically happy to provide you with a list of different standards and you just make sure you meet them. They are usually happy to pinpoint areas of concerns and you can just work on them and move on from there.
Oh, doesn’t sound too difficult! Do you think a situation exists where some farms are say “too far gone”? Like, a farm may be too far into production and meeting certain quotas, or dollars, to step back and make these required changes?
Yeah, how can you possibly change when you’re a certain size? In most farms, at that point it's going to take them five or ten years to be able to get to a different point. That's just reality. With their land base, the pasture land that they have, if they are going from being big farm land to wanting to have something like their native grasses grow back, that's going to be a huge process, and that's not something they're going to be able to by suddenly saying “I care about this”. They're going to have to work it and just have to set goals that they need to hit.
So I’m gathering that if a farm is young or somebody is looking into getting into farming, they should start with these mentalities right away.
Exactly. Educate yourself about what these different things look like. Don't be afraid to read up: read literature, go on-line, find what works within your environment, what animals you might want to have, what things you might want to grow, and then take courses if you can. Right?
Learn about permaculture! It’s super interesting. You're going to learn so much about how things grow and what you need to have to have a healthy environment to grow things properly. It's really important.
Learn about bees! Learn about what bees do for you. Plant things that bees are going to be attracted to.
Look at your wildlife and how you can possibly bring more wildlife in to have a better ecosystem. Like, a more rallied ecosystem. Figure out what's missing! Etcetera, etcetera. I mean there's so many things you can do! Even just by removing pesticides of any type you’re going to make a huge difference. You just need to make a stand and stick to it. You have to.
Seems straightforward enough! Thanks for the advice!
I’m also curious about how the rising trend of conscious living has affected your business life in terms of possible sales or customer growth. Do you feel the rise in consumer’s awareness and concern for what they eat is affecting your growth?
There is a growth! I think a lot of the influence is from peoples increased online access and how easy it has become to do your research. Once we launched our website and began talking about animal welfare and humane practises our sales just sky-rocketed.
So, perhaps people have always been interested but it has now become easier for people to find the suppliers that their ethics coincide with?
It's becoming easier for people to access you. Social media, websites and various different platforms allow people to connect with you and send a quick email or ask questions if they’re concerned. It just makes it so much easier for us to provide all the information you’re looking for to be comfortable with buying our product.
From my perspective there seems to be a rise in the actual amount of people that are becoming concerned or interested in what they eat and the sources they get their meat from. Have you found this from your perspective?
Yeah, I think so! It’s interesting because people seem to be more conscious of their food for a few different reasons. For instance, people change their habits when they have kids and they suddenly go, 'Oh my goodness, I can't eat at McDonald's any more”, because it’s no longer about just what they’re feeding themselves, but also their children.
Oh interesting! I never thought of it from that perspective.
Yeah, there’s a few different reasons we’ve noticed. A big one is also all the documentaries coming out like Food Inc. They see these documentaries and realize that animals were being raised in this way and they don’t want to support that. Again, it's also coming from all the access to information, right?
The internet and a lot of different books and films have given people all this extra information and suddenly the awareness is there.
So, this must be exciting for you! Not only is it going to help your business being an ethical meat farmer, but, in the larger scheme, it’s also going to help the planet that you’ve come to grow so close to.
Exactly! It really is.
Ultimately, the reason people are becoming concerned doesn't matter as long as they are beginning to ask questions about what they buy as a consumer. Everything is connected that way - as soon as people begin asking questions about what they consume they start becoming aware of the bigger picture and how these things are connected - buying good food makes you healthier, the planet healthier, the animals healthier and the farmers happy!
That’s exciting to hear! Im happy to hear people are catching on.
One thing that I’ve been contemplating lately is the quantities of meat that people are eating. There’s the rise of vegetarianism and avoiding meat altogether, but meat still seems to be extremely prominent in the average person’s three daily meals. What is your perspective on the quantities of meat that people eat?
I think that we do need to reduce the amount of meat that we eat.
The amount that meat is being so over-produced is a huge problem and it affects the environment so critically that we need to reduce the amount that we eat so that we can grow it in a way that's much more ethical and sustainable than it's currently being grown.
People don't need to eat bacon for breakfast, sausage for lunch, and steak for dinner. It's not necessary. Figure out how much protein you actually need to have in your diet to keep you healthy, and just do that.
That’s interesting to hear from your perspective!
Well, I'm not going to have to tell you you have to eat meat every day because that's going to support my business. Agriculture is a huge factor in the degradation of the planet. From many different standpoints, it's better to reduce the amount of meat that you eat and eat traditionally nutrient dense healthy food that's good for the environment, good for the animal, and good for you.
So, would it be safe to say that it’s almost a quality over quantity situation? That you don't need three cheeseburgers from McDonald's; just eat one small portion of nutrient dense, good meat.
Exactly, it’s important to purchase the quality of meat that is actually going to support you the way you need it to.
Amazing, thank you. Now, say someone just watched Food Inc. and they're like 'Okay, I want to make a change in my meat eating habits.' What would your advice be to them in terms of changing their meat consumption and where to start?
I think the best place to start is figure out who is producing product close to you. Ideally you want to find a local producer, or a local product. You want to get as much information about that product as you possibly can. You want to pick a product that has a high animal welfare label attached to it; a certified grass label attached to it, and just as many third party audited labels as you can, because the more you support that, the more people are going to want to attach it to their own products, right?
So then you help push that forward. Go to your local supermarket, your local organic supermarket and just do your research into how local and how ethical the products you’re buying actually are.
What if someone were to take this approach and were intimidated by the higher costs?
If that's the case the best thing to do is find a label that speaks to what you're most concerned about, be in grain-free, or free-range, or grass-fed, and make sure it's nutritionally dense, if you can. If it’s nutritionally dense, then you can just buy it in smaller quantities. Also, if you go straight to the farmer, a lot of producers are going to offer you packages that you can buy in bulk at a reduced rate.
That makes sense! Like anything, meat can be cheaper if you buy it in bulk, too?
Yep, exactly. Ultimately, if you can buy it from a farmer it’s going to be cheaper. Any supermarket is going to mark that product up from 30 to 70 percent.
Great, anything else to add before we go?
Yeah. If you really want to know, educate yourself, and if you really want to support the people who are going to make a difference, you have to figure out who they are and buy from them directly or indirectly, but you still have to make sure you support them. And vote with your dollars, because if you don't vote with your dollars, things won't change.
Perfect. Thanks for your time, Jocelyn!
For more information on TK Ranch including where to buy their product please visit https://tkranch.com