This September, Seattle Met’s three-day, food and drink extravaganza Cowabunga returns to South Lake Union, where guests will enjoy 40+ chefs, craft cocktails, craft brews, locally grown potatoes, and the best of Washington State Beef. It’s an opportunity to not only taste offerings from top-chefs, but also to appreciate all the hard work that goes into producing the incredible bounty that ends up on your plate.

For more than thirty years, Mike and Paulette Forman have owned and operated Trinity Farms in Kittitas, Washington. Their son Robb, and his daughter Chelse, now tend the pastures and vigilantly care for every animal born on the land; rising before dawn and spending long days out in the elements is in their blood. It’s exhausting labor, but it’s deeply rooted in love and dedication.

Though the Formans have an intimate bond between their livelihood and food, with most people, there is a strong disconnect from the sources of the foods they eat on a regular basis. The Washington State Beef Commission takes that divide head on through their annual Explore Beef Experience, offered to chefs, members of the food trade and media so they can better inform the public about how things are really done.

Apples may hold more sentimental value, but in Washington State, there are over 9,000 cattle farms and ranches - an economic impact of $5.7 billion - that produce and ship beef all over the country and world. For such a big industry, much of that contribution rests on the shoulders of the little guy; about ⅔ of America’s ranches have fewer than ten head of cattle. They are primarily family owned and operated businesses that have been passed down as a way of life and a way to make a living for generations. 

Week in and week out, these families are working closely with their herds, constantly adding to their considerable, first-hand knowledge. Science and innovation are an integral part of the raising beef cattle, and the Formans have fully embraced it, on the largest scale to the most minute details. From the moment one of their purebred Angus or Simmental calves are born, a tissue sample is taken and stored in a database. That DNA not only enables traceability of the bovine’s lineage, but records its health throughout its lifecycle. This allows the Formans to identify and propagate more disease resistant traits, while limiting undesirable genes.

This type of control and oversight leads to more efficient, robust, healthier animals. And when you factor in improved nutrition and well-being, the beef industry as a whole actually produces the same amount pound for pound as it did in 1977 - with 33% fewer cattle, and a reduced burden on the environment.

The Formans, and other beef-raising families, don’t take their responsibility as stewards of the land lightly; they look for ways to implement eco-friendly practices whenever possible. Washington produces diverse and substantial agricultural goods, everything from apples to potatoes, craft beer and even corn. That means there is also a lot of waste: fruit that is deemed too unattractive to sell, entire corn stalks that are discarded after the harvest, uncooked French fries and even the grains leftover after making beer. All of those unwanted byproducts would normally end up in a landfill, but on ranches like Trinity Farms, they become an invaluable supplement to the cows’ diets. 

Cow stomachs (all four of them) are phenomenal upcycling machines thanks to trillions of naturally occurring microbes in the rumen - the stomach’s largest chamber. A cow’s ability to intake and break down plant material that would otherwise be inedible to humans makes cattle formidable walking, mooing composters, which farms are utilizing to become more sustainable.

Enhancing processes and saving money go hand in hand. Advanced efforts like feeding crop byproducts and an animal-first mindset are among the top core values at Easterday Ranches, located outside the Tri-Cities. And Easterday Ranches is setting the standard for the everyone, especially when it comes to antibiotic use and treatment of livestock.

Cody Easterday, will quickly tell you, medicine is expensive. Any time he or his crew medicates a cow, it immediately negates any profit they would’ve made on that animal - so why would feedyards carelessly administer drugs, as they are often accused of doing? Simply put, they don’t. Over 100,000 cattle come through Easterday’s state-of-the-art facilities each year and are given attentive, hands on care. Health plans, including fine-tuned diets, ensure medication is used as a last resort only. Extensive information is electronically documented and strict withdrawal periods are enacted so that no residue is passed on, because if it did, the FDA would shut Easterday Ranches or any other operation down immediately. 

Things have drastically changed since Cody’s grandfather started the business in 1957. Developments in behavioral psychology and animal neurophysiology are leading to transformations unheard of as recent as ten years ago. Rethinking the cattle’s pen designs and updating handling techniques keeps cattle’s stress levels low; herding them in a clockwise pattern for example, plays into the less reactionary side of their brains. 

These methods are only a glimpse of how the beef industry is modernizing. Passionate individuals and families are driving this progress, answering the public’s call for accuracy, advancement and transparency. It all culminates in high quality beef products that feed millions of people. So this fall when you’re biting into a delicious steak, take a moment to reflect on the journey it made from farm to fork.

To learn more about how beef is raised in Washington by visiting www.wabeef.org

For a taste of top-chefs supporting locally raised Washington State Beef, grab tickets to Seattle Met’s Cowabunga  cowabunga.seattlemet.com.

Cowabunga Seattle

September 27-29, 2019

South Lake Union