Interview: Scott Stone of Yolo Land & Cattle Co.

As you know, we're big proponents of grass-fed beef. Beef is a big issue in the landscape of American food, and we can't reduce the complex issues down to a simplistic choice of grass-fed vs. grain-fed. But it is a good place to start the discussion, and to help people see the changes that have come to farming and ranching in the last 100 years.

As another point in that discussion, we wanted to talk with someone who actually raises cattle — grass-fed cattle. Meet Scott Stone of Yolo Land & Cattle in Woodland, California. We had a few questions for him, and here are his thoughts.

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The Stone family started Yolo Land & Cattle Co. in 1976, and today Henry Stone, his sons Casey and his wife Angie and Scott Stone and his wife, Karen are active partners in the business. Yolo Land & Cattle Co. has taken advantage of their location near the Bay Area, raising a cattle herd of 700 cows, farming hay and grain and producing Yolo Land & Cattle Co. branded products like bay leaves, beef jerky and starthistle honey. They also offer ranch tours to international guests, grade school children and culinary students.

Today, the Stone family is proud to be meeting consumer demand for beef in a number of ways, including raising grass-finished natural cattle.

TK: Why do you raise grass-fed beef?
SS: Producing grass-finished beef can be difficult in North America where few regions have the growing season to make it possible. We’re uniquely positioned in California to meet the changing lifestyles and desires of our consumers. Mostly, consumers just want to understand the complete picture of how their beef is raised.

We take special care of the resources that provide our way of life. The Sacramento Valley gets limited annual rainfall and having been faced with drought conditions for the past few years, we had to find a way to keep our grasses and business growing. We implemented an irrigated pasture system that reuses the rinse water from a nearby tomato cannery to support our grazing cattle herd. We’ve also partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to use solar power to pump water on different ranches in the mountains. So, now we’re able to turn grass into a healthy food for a living; and we’re doing it in more environmentally sustainable way.

TK: What are some of the taste differences between grass-fed and corn-fed?
SS: While both are packed with nutrients like protein, you’ll find some subtle differences in taste. Our grass-fed beef marbles a lot like corn or grain-fed beef, but tends to have a lighter flavor.

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TK: What are some advantages to eating grass-fed beef?
SS: It all comes down to personal preference. Grass-fed beef is a product for those who like the concept and distinctive taste of cattle raised entirely on a grass and forage diet. The main difference between grass-fed and corn, or grain-fed, beef comes during the last stage of production. While most cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass before moving to a feedlot for grain-finishing, our grass-fed beef cattle are finished on lush grass and clover pastures.

TK: Do you have a favorite way to cook grass-fed beef?
SS: One of our family favorites is a Wrangler Beef Stew. We use stew meat from a boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast, and add in bay leaves and honey from our ranch. It’s a great way to take advantage of all the good things that come from the earth, right in our backyard. And anyone can easily modify the recipe to use seasonal vegetables from your area. It’s a hearty meal that fills me up after a hard day on the ranch.

Another favorite is grilling some grass-fed Ribeye steaks on the barbeque with just a little garlic salt and pepper.

TK: What else can you tell us about your cattle operation?
SS: Since my dad started the ranch more than 30 years ago, our basic philosophy has been “take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.” This isn’t just a business, it’s our home. So it’s important that we run an environmentally and economically sustainable operation that benefits the families, wildlife and livestock that live off the land.

We established a conservation easement on the ranch through the California Rangleland Trust to ensure our land will remain a working cattle ranch. This easement protects the land from development to help ensure the future of our ranch for our sons and daughter, and hopefully our grandchildren.

We take great pride in what we do here at Yolo Land & Cattle – there is a great sense of accomplishment and responsibility in feeding ourselves and the world. I can only hope that American consumers feel that same sense of pride when they purchase a great steak for dinner or burger for lunch – they’re supporting one of the many hard-working, family-owned operations across the country.

Thank you, Scott!

• Visit Beef: From Pasture to Plate for other cattle producer profiles.

Related: Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef: What's the Difference, and Why Does It Matter?

(Images: Yolo Land & Cattle Co.)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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