Whole Foods is providing Colorado with a whole lot of local beef these days. In Basalt, a newly opened franchise is teaming up with Crystal River Meats, a Carbondale-based sustainable food company, to provide youth in the RE-1 school district with natural ground beef for school lunches throughout the year. And along the Front Range, Whole Foods stores are now featuring grassfed beef products from Colorado-raised and -processed cattle.
Through November, all of the grass-fed beef sold in the eleven Whole Foods markets in metro Denver is coming from Colorado ranches. The seven multi-generational families that are providing Whole Foods with USDA-certified organic beef during this period all operate under Panorama Meats, the largest grass-fed and finished organic beef supplier in the nation.
But that status is somewhat misleading, according to former Panorama CEO Mack Graves, who now works with Panorama ranchers in Colorado. "About 650,000 cattle are killed weekly in the U.S.," Graves reveals. "But it's tough selling our product. We have numerous inspections we have to pass each year. We have to meet higher expectations. It's a niche market. We're just trying to decrease our ecological footprint. That's our goal."
Panorama farms are speckled across the state of Colorado, from Roggen -- roughly fifty miles northeast of Denver -- to Alamosa and west to the colorful canyons and mesas near Colorado National Monument.
The Crystal River Meats crusade comes in conjunction with a national push led by First Lady Michelle Obama to improve health standards of school lunches across the country. Though this movement has garnered some backlash due to decreases in portion size, Crystal River Meats co-founder Tai Jacober says the feedback has been nothing but positive from the RE-1 district. "People are pretty excited about it," Jacober says. "We get a lot of thanks from the parents. It's something we don't intend to stop anytime soon."
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Crystal River Meats is the largest provider of grass-finished cattle and lamb in the Roaring Fork Valley. Its cattle are 100 percent grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, USDA-certified natural, and only raised in open pastures. In addition to selling 17,000 pounds of beef at discounted prices to schools in the RE-1 district, Crystal River Meats also supplies its ground beef to Fatbelly Burgers in downtown Carbondale.