food for thought

A Love of Land—and Food: Sustainable Settings Celebrates Circle of Life

By Brook LeVan / Photography By Carole Topalian | September 15, 2015
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Sheep Foraging on The Ranch
Sustainable Settings’ sheep forage on a natural diet as they roam across the ranch.

Our affection for place finds its way into our food. It is a whole other form of nutrition I have known about and even tasted, but have not had the wherewithal until now to put into words.

Yes, there are vegetables and cuts of meat and milk and cream and eggs and such in our “bottom line” conventional world. These are produced through largescale, chemically assisted and mechanized farming methods that render up facsimiles of real food. The food our parents and all previous generations knew is mighty hard to find these days.

A few years ago I sent my mom a few steaks and chops so she could “taste” the ranch and “know” more about what we were doing with the land. Astonished at the flavor profile of those cuts she said, “You know what? That is what meat used to taste like!”

So, where did all that flavor go?

We lost track of the depth of nutrition and flavor when we prioritized efficiency over effectiveness and abandoned our relationship to place. Respect for where our food comes from and acknowledging all the life forces we work with aids fertility—read flavor—and revitalizes the balance and the health in all systems.

We share a blessing before our on-ranch slaughters. It evolved out of our annual Harvest Festival gathering, where guest chefs harvest the bounty from our fields to prepare a dinner for 200 people. This is the culmination of our growing season, and a thanksgiving for all who helped us throughout the year. Merging the hard work and wisdom of our farmers and ranchers with brilliant and talented chefs we create the finest meal of the year.

I would now like to share last year’s blessing with you. It is titled “A Hog and Four Lambs” and is about the land and the animals we raised and slaughtered and ate. It is a continuous cycle, as last year’s blessing reminds us, as we ready for another harvest and festival.

“When asked what to do, how to be responsible and respectful, when we must participate in challenging situations such as the violent acts we perform in acquiring our food, Chief Orville Looking Horse said, ‘Everything is ceremony.’

“Today we will harvest a hog and four lambs. We will sacrifice these lives so that we may eat and live well a bit longer. Like the seed we sow and nurture into ripe vegetables in the soil and the chickens we raise for their eggs and meat, these animals were raised for this purpose. As Rose [LeVan] says, ‘All life is sacred.’

“These animals spent their lives roaming with their own kind across the ranch, eating their natural diet. They browsed the tender shoots and shrubs and devoured the fallen apples in our orchard. These animals are pure. They are healthy in a world where basic health is now greatly challenged. Their meat is clean, free of toxic agro-industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the best we know how to raise.

“This hog and these lambs have turned our raw milk, kitchen scraps and the grasses and forbs in these pastures into blood, bones, fat, flesh, organs and hide. They have also turned this forage and the fresh water from our mountain streams into their manure and urine, which in turn have fed the great diversity of insects and the microbes and fungi that rebuild our fertile soil.

“These five animals have fulfilled their roles, that of being a vital link in the complex and elegant nutrient cycle that Nature developed to regenerate health over the many millions of years. They have ranged free and felt the sun and the wind on their faces everyday. Their lives and this harvest, then, is a celebration of that cycle, a celebration of all of our life forces working together in the great cycle of life, death and regeneration. In taking these lives today and eating of this flesh we are taking an active role in this essential life process.

“These animals are like us. Today, they take another step closer to their eventual return to the soil. Their lives will nourish us, giving us yet more time here on this planet, to be together, and to feel the sun on our own faces for another day. One day it will be our turn to fulfill our role and return to the soil. One day we will pass on, giving up our life force, which will give the kiss of life to other life forms which will replenish the soil’s vital minerals and nutrients.”

I invite you to help us celebrate the circle of life and the coming harvest at Sustainable Settings annual Harvest Festival on Sunday, September 20. We will give thanks to all those who helped us throughout the year—from the microbes and fungi in the soil to the individuals and businesses that have made it possible for us to grow healthy food and teach the community about the importance of the land. Please take a minute to learn more at SustainableSettings.org.

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