It's almost St. Patrick's Day, and Jim Fiedler, the man behind Fiedler Farms, has stopped by Daniel Orr's restaurant with a few briskets to be prepared for corned beef.
In addition to his cows, Fiedler raises pigs, chickens, and sheep on his farm on the Ohio River in Rome, Indiana. He spent some twenty years in New York City before coming back to his childhood home and farm. I asked him what it was like taking over the farm from his father.
Healthy Cows in Southern Indiana
Jim Fiedler: Well, when I came down here, my dad was quite old, and I came back to the farm for various reasons. It was quite quaint because the barn was going to fall down, the cows were going to die, the tractor was going to quit. That, and my dad would die and it would all quit at the same time.
The good thing was, he hadn't done anything wrong, so I had nothing to tear down and start over. The bad thing was, it was a lot of work.
What he had was a herd of old English-based cattle, the smaller cattle – a mix between herefords and angus, and some were red and some were black. A fella from Purdue, who was more traditional, came down and said, "If you want to get rid of this herd, I know someone who would buy it because they would make great grass-fed beef."
So I said, "Let's do it ourselves," and that was how we started our herd, on that basis that my dad's cows were considered too small. "You gotta get bigger cows, these big black angus and semitals and all these big cows," but we just decided to stay small, and we've kept the cows small, which is one of the secrets. And then we decided to do it healthy.
Annie Corrigan: Healthy meaning they're grass-fed, no antibiotics…
JF: They're grass-fed. We don't give them corn anytime in their life. Everybody says their beef is grass-fed, because when they're born they're usually on grass or they eat grass sometime in their life. But on our farm they get no corn – no corn-finishing. We never give them any grain, so that gives them no starch and that keeps all the omega-3 and vitamin E and all the CLA – those are fats that are in the animal that come from grass.
Of course we don't give them any antibiotics, no hormones. Our ground doesn't get any pesticides of herbicides. We're doing everything as healthy and sustainable as we can.
What About Vegetarians?
AC: Vegetarians or vegans don't want to eat animals and they sometimes say they're afraid to or don't want to see animals die. Talk to those people.
JF: First of all, I identify with them. We're certified humane. We always identify our pigs as happy pigs. They have one bad day, and I wish that's all I had in my life. *laughs*
But the cattle are the same way. They're out on the pasture, as they're meant to be. They're not stuck in a barn. We never mistreat them, we always try to treat them gently and right and everything.
It's interesting you mention that, because when I came back to the farm, I was running a lot and I was semi-vegetarian – I wasn't eating red meat. It was mainly because when I was running I felt lighter. And I was eating the bad things, which turned out to be chicken and fish, because most of them came from big factory farms that were loaded with chemicals. The fish, you had two choices… You got the ones from farms that were stuffed with soy beans, or the ones from the ocean that you might get mercury in.
So, I identify because I was semi-vegetarian. I always said, if I had a cook full-time I'd probably still be, because I love vegetables so much. But I really now believe that you have to have some meat on your plate.
I believe that probably the healthiest thing you can eat is grass-fed beef that doesn't have chemicals. It has tremendous amount of health benefits that we won't go into, but that's what we're doing. We're doing everything as healthy and sustainable and as certified-humane as we can.
So what I tell people is they have to make a choice. I never try to talk somebody into doing it, but if you're going to eat meat, then we're trying to provide the best meat possible for you to eat.
What Else Do You Raise?
AC: What else do you raise/grow on the farm?
JF: Oh my! Probably our pork is one of the more well-known things because it's a fat heritage pig, the large black pig, which not too many people raise. It's known for having a lot of fat – a lot of inter-muscular fat. Chefs love it. And people always say, "I haven't tasted anything like this since my grandmother died" or something like that, "I remember when I was a kid having it."
They're pastured, they're done on pasture. They do get some grain. We just haven't found it feasible to feed them all acorns or all walnuts or anything. But, they are never indoors. They don't get any shots, no clipped tails. They're not confined like the big operations – and what's amazing is 90-some% of the pigs in the big operations come from 8 hogs. So much of it is concentrated into the pig that they work well in the factory, but they couldn't even live outside.
Then we have some sheep. And I have to say sheep are probably the prettiest and nicest things, but I probably wouldn't have them if I didn't promise people I would keep them and they weren't on my logo, because they are very unprofitable.
They take dogs, they take fences, they take all sorts of extra things. And you think you're doing everything right, and you walk outside, and the one that was healthy yesterday is laying there dead. They die just by thinking about it! But they are sweet pastoral animals, and we keep a few sheep – enough that we can supply them to our customers.
From Bright Lights to Green Acres
AC: Give me a little bit of what it was like to get into the farm. You said you lived in New York City and then you came back for various reasons. What was that like?
JF: I'm not sure I was ever a city boy! We had a contractor who did a lot of work because the houses were falling down, and he used to call me Green Acres. You know, "Green acres is the place to be!" And I'd say, "Give me New York City or give me the green acres."
There's just something about going outside on the farm and being out there with all the animals and the woods and the rolling hills of southern Indiana along the Ohio River, that is just inspiring and makes you feel better about being alive.
I have to say, I love New York City. I was there for twenty years in the Wall Street area. It was a big change, but I didn't want something in between. Give me green acres or give me the bright lights.
AC: One more question, what's in your fridge right now?
JF: Oh my goodness! In the fridge, I have some leftover rump steak that was made into Italian beef and it was just absolutely delicious. I have some pork. I had some ribs the other night. I got some really easy recipes for liver. Nobody eats liver, but I found out the benefits of eating liver, so (Chef Daniel Orr) came up with a great recipe. And I said, "The only thing is has to be is simple so somebody like me can cook it."
AC: Liver in the fridge – I haven't heard that yet! Thanks so much for speaking with me today.
JF: Well thank you. And there has to be something that we can use for liver besides making dog treats.
Jim Fiedler raises cattle, sheep, chickens, and pigs on his farm in Rome, Indiana. If you want to find out more about Fiedler Farms, visit their website: http://www.fiedlerfamilyfarms.com/.
And if you're wondering how the brisket turned out after we corned it, make sure to listen to our podcast this Friday. You can subscribe to the Earth Eats Podcast in iTunes and be sure not to miss it!