Take Action- Your Food Dollars Build Just Communities

A typical pre-dinner conversation in our household might go something like this:

  Me: What do cows eat?

Four year old: Grass!

Me: Are you sure it’s not corn?  

Four year old: No!  Cows eat grass!

  Father: Where does this meat come from?

Four year old son: It was a cow

Father: Where did we get it?

Four year old son: The farmer grew it and then the butcher killed it


Too much information for a four year old? Many recoil in horror when my husband and I brag about a recent family outing in which we took our children to experience the cycle of life from feeding the cows in the pasture on to the processing plant to witness the death of what then became food on the dinner plate. No, this wasn’t some weird child development experiment, but rather participatory action to improve the wealth and health of our collective eco-community.

I have attended nearly one hundred community meetings and town hall discussions. I have participated in rallies and fought for issues to support fair wages, end discriminatory hiring practices, eliminate predatory lending, cease destruction of woods, blow the whistle on illegal red-lining activities and the list goes on. To this day, I avoid Nike or BP Oil products because of justice issues of exploitation of child laborers and mass deforestation I learned about in the 90’s era. Never before, had I imagined that I would be attending a town hall discussion and tour regarding the virtues of meat.

Meat, or rather food, as a social justice issue? Yes. The issue is known as “sustainable agriculture” and it’s one that has an impact on each and every one of us regardless of geographic location, age, race or socioeconomic status. Sustainable agriculture is a comprehensive system of plant and animal production which strives to enhance farm systems, benefit the environment, support local and national economies and provide wholesome food and nutrition for all living beings. Sustainable agriculture is a part of social equity platforms because of issues of malnutrition, exploitation of food production workers and animals, large-scale modifications to create synthetic food-like products and the gross misuse of natural resources to grow and transport food.

The fact that 45% of Americans’ food budget is now spent on foods not consumed in the homes is evidence that we are becoming increasingly detached from the handling and preparation of our own foods. Other astounding food factoids that speak to the need for sustainable agriculture are easy to find; food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches our plates; a vast majority of all food consumed is monopolized by a few inbred cousins. These are just a couple of indicators that should tell us that now, more than ever, we consumers need to understand the food issues hiding underneath the plate.

I want my children to know and understand issues that impact individual freedoms as well as quality of life issues which intersect with our physical, mental and spiritual health. My duty as a parent is to teach my children so they may learn from history and then grow up to make better choices in their lives. We talk about the historic significance of slavery, discrimination, unions and consumer protection acts. And yes, the history of the food production cycle is just as fundamental as lessons on the Great Depression, civil rights movements and the venerability of the US Constitution.  

One beautiful Saturday afternoon, my crew and I attended a town-hall like meeting sponsored by Thousand Hills Cattle Company, in which founder Todd Churchill was the main presenter. Thousand Hills is based out of Cannon Falls, MN and is a cooperative-style business made up of many small independent farmers who practice grass-fed grazing and growing techniques. One might imagine that the attendees showed up just for the free lunch which included samplings of grass-fed beef hot dogs and hamburgers. After three hours together of listening to a presentation, touring the farm and then touring partner Lorentz Meats’ processing plant, it became apparent that folks gave their time to learn about and support the sustainable agriculture movement. This movement values supporting small and local farms, giving animals an opportunity to eat their natural diet at their natural pace, treating food production staff with honor and respect and being in touch with the chain-of-life web which is the giver of our bodies’ necessitated sustenance, food.

Following the lunch and presentation about the ethical, environmental and health benefits of eating grass-fed beef, we toured of one of the Thousand Hills Cattle Company farms. Participants got up close and personal with the cows as they loudly bleated and pleaded for their turn at lunch. Todd demonstrated his complex pattern of fencing which is a carefully thought out rotation system designed to provide the space cows need to eat their food of choice: grass. Fencing is strategically moved around the field guiding the cows to mature grass fields. When that patch is sufficiently “mowed”, the section is fenced off and the cows are then moved to the adjoining grassy knoll.

Lorentz Meats, a niche meat processing plant, was the next base of the meat operation that we explored. Upon entering the plant, visitors are greeted with s sign which quotes the famous folk artist and farmer, Wendell Berry

We cannot live harmlessly at our own expense; we depend on other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.

This quote fittingly describes the Lorentz family's attitude and philosophy toward the service they provide. In speaking with CFO Mike Lorentz, I am immediately impressed with the company’s ability to balance both an entrepreneurial spirit and the sacredness of treating animals with the utmost respect. Their core service is the provision of specialty meat services which means supplying the demand of buyers and eaters seeking local, organic and fairly-traded meat. This part of the equation is often times left out of the sustainable agriculture dialogue, but is nevertheless a crucial part of the equation.

Founded in 1968, Lorentz started as a local hometown meat market that connected locals with animal products from area (Cannon River Valley) farmers. Forty years later, the business has grown into a thriving business including 65 staff and the addition of a new USDA inspected and certified organic facility. Even with this tremendous growth, Lorentz has stayed true to it’s mission to continue connecting local farms to the consumer.

Lorentz Meats slaughters 35-50 animals per day compared to 5,000, the average number slaughtered by most major meat processors. Take a moment to envision the process behind those slaughters and it’s easy to see how treatment of animals and the employees of the large processors may be compromised. Mike was quick to point out that his meat processors are part of the Lorentz family and are not pushed to produce mass quantities of meat, but rather are valued for their skills in the provision of quality meat. Curious? Go see for yourself. Lorentz Meats’ commitment to transparency was recognized by Michael Pollen in Omnivore’s Dilemma for having one of the country’s only public viewing areas in which anyone is welcome to come inside the plant and witness the slaughter and processing of the animals. Furthermore, the unique style of the Lorentz business allows farmers to cut out expensive middle men and to reduce over all transportation cost, thus truly providing a niche service.

Next time you hesitate on which meat to purchase based on the price tag, consider simply eating less meat. I was surprised to hear Mike Lorentz, who’s livelihood depends on people eating the meat his plant processes, say that people need not to complain about high cost associated with specialty meats, but to eat less meat. With the staggering numbers highlighting the fact that Americans now annually eat a an average of 195 pounds of meat per person, up from 57 pounds per person in the 1950’s, I think we could all use a little less meat in our diet. Mike said, "Ask what are you doing, not what are ‘they’ doing. How have you been a part of the change you want to see happen?"

Buying Thousand Hills ground beef is a vote for justice and sustainable agriculture. Your dollars support the human and ethical treatment of the cow and the land of which we we are all stewards. Your dollars support numerous local jobs which in turn fuel our local economies. Your dollars are a participatory act in favor of just causes and overall health, wealth and sustainability.


Much thanks goes out to Mike Lorentz, CFO for his work and the willingness to share what he does.


Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book- club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur.