The Beef Farmer and the Vegetarian: Q&A with Joseph Fischer

Few things can make people as passionately opinionated as nutrition choices and environmental issues. While these topics are philosophical for many of us, they’re the cornerstone of Joseph Fischer’s livelihood at the sixth generation Fischer Farms located near Jasper, IN. 

Full disclosure: I haven’t eaten meat since 2015. Vegetarianism seems to work best for managing my health. I have loved ones who are the opposite. It’s clear to me that food choices are not one-size-fits-all, and environmental impacts of diet are far more nuanced than “beans are more sustainable than beef.” When considering the carbon footprint of one’s diet, the amount of processing and the distance traveled can be even more impactful than the products themselves. With supply chain issues and rising costs encouraging more people to source their meals closer to home, I wanted to learn more about local vs. factory farming; and Joseph Fischer was generous enough to share a wealth of information about his farm and its sustainable practices.

 

How did you get started in the business, and why is it important to you?

The farm has been in our family since the civil war. However, we didn’t make the transition to selling direct until 2004. At that time, we decided we were uncomfortable with some of the conventional beef production practices that had become standard. We were unable to find buyers of our cattle that were willing to prioritize natural, top quality beef. Our production guidance was essentially “quantity (size) over quality.” We felt like there had to be customers out there interested in cleaner, higher quality meat and so started selling directly to local restaurants, retail stores, and individuals.  We are passionate about producing top quality beef and doing it the right way. To us that means raising them naturally without the use of growth hormones and antibiotics but also minimally processing the meat without artificial additives (fillers, solutions, dyes, MSG, etc.). We also practice regenerative agriculture on our farm which is incorporating a combination of environmentally friendly sustainable practices that sequester carbon, clean water, and rebuild healthy soil. We are showing how responsible beef production is actually carbon negative and acting to reverse the climate impacts created by other industries.

Why should the average consumer care about where and how their food is sourced?

There are a few reasons but primarily, understanding what you are (and are not) putting in your body is incredibly important to your health and well-being. Unfortunately the conventional meat and food giants have become really good at hiding their tricks to lower prices at the expense of quality and health. The below are questions that most consumers didn’t even know were possible, let alone likely to be true: Does my meat have a bunch of artificial additives? Is my sausage more filler and grease (for flavor) than meat? Is my pork chop 20% solution? How was the animal raised? Was it given artificial growth hormones so that it would grow unhealthily fast or raised in feedlots that required antibiotics in its water every day to prevent sickness? Was the pork given Paylean to grow faster (drug allowed in US but banned in European Union, China, Russia, and other countries)?

Consumers vote with their purchasing decisions. If you want to see change in the way meat (and all food) is produced, consumers have to elect to purchase responsibly sourced food. We’ve started to see some of the impacts of consumer awareness in the farm-to-fork movement but we still have a long way to go. Responsibly produced products likely won’t be the cheapest products on the shelves, but there is a reason for that. If we use the example of a 10 oz pork chop that is 20% solution, it may be 20% cheaper than the responsibly raised pork chop next to it but you’re only getting 8 oz of pork vs. 10 oz. I completely understand that cost is important but it is important to compare apples to apples (pun intended) when we are looking at price tags. Most of the time, you get what you pay for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This doesn’t apply to just grocery stores, restaurants purchase a lot of food and make decisions based on diner feedback.

 

What is the difference between your products and what we typically see on the shelves?

 In addition to the above, we emphasize that we combine the benefits so you don’t have to make any sacrifices in your purchasing decision. We want to make sure that when you purchase our products you’re getting top quality products that are environmentally friendly and good clean meat. If sustainability is important to you, we check that box. If you want to serve the best steak in town at your restaurant or in your backyard, we check that box too. We are top quality that you can feel good about eating. Our principles at Fischer Farms are Premium, Natural, Local, and Sustainable:

  • Premium – We only use top quality genetics and a proven grazing, feed program to ensure that we consistently produce high quality, premium meat
  • Natural – No growth hormones or antibiotics are used during raising. The meat is minimally processed without the use of fillers, solutions, nitrates, MSG, etc.
  • Local – Produced near Jasper, IN with an efficient supply chain results in the freshest products with a reduced carbon footprint
  • Sustainable – Through water conservation, soil management, and carbon sequestering we are showing how regenerative agriculture can reverse global warming

 

Are there any common misconceptions about your practices or your products?

 I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that cows are bad for the environment. This narrative has been pushed by many news outlets for some time but it’s an incredibly one-sided story that needs to be rewritten. Cows can play an incredibly impactful role in actually REVERSING climate change (yes, reversing). The side that is portrayed in the media is that cattle release methane through burps and farts that is contributing to global warming. The critical element from this narrative is that all the carbon that cows release was captured via photosynthesis to begin with! Plants turn CO2 into above ground plants (e.g., grass) and below ground roots. When cows eat these plants, some of the carbon is released into the air through the aforementioned burps/farts but a lot of the carbon they consume returns to the ground as manure and is turned into meat. Additionally, the roots left behind in the ground stay in the ground as sequestered carbon. You can’t look at the outputs of a system without looking at the inputs of the system. At Fischer Farms, we purposely use some of the best forages at sequestering carbon (ryegrass) to maximize our climate impact.

 

How can people obtain your products?

Our products are served at some of the best restaurants and local grocery stores! We also offer all of our products on our website – we can ship them directly to your doorstep or to a convenient pickup location near you. www.ffnatural.com. In addition to the natural beef raised on our farm, we have partnered with a variety of other local producers to offer a wide range of local food products. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to purchase local and for other small farms to get their products in the hands of more consumers. All of our products follow the same strict criteria (Premium, Natural, Local, Sustainable). For example, we work with our neighbors who raise pork, an Amish community that produces eggs, maple syrup, Capriole Goat Cheese, Tell City Pretzels, local produce growers, etc. We are continuing to expand this partner network in our effort to increase the prevalence of local products in our local food system!

 

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