A century ago, raising grassfed beef was one of the Central Coast’s biggest businesses, and the sight of cattle grazing on natural forage in the shade of oak trees was a common sight. It was simply the way things were done.
Then came the industrialization and centralization of meat production at so-called factory farms. Also known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) or feedlots, these operations have dominated meat production for the last 40 years, providing consumers with low-cost cuts and the companies that owned them with big profits—but all at great cost to public health, the environment and the well-being of the animals themselves. (See sidebar, p. 55.) But in recent years, local ranchers—notably in San Benito County—have joined a growing nationwide network that is promoting the return to a more holistic and healthy approach to raising cattle.
They’re committed to spreading the word that pasturing cattle on local ranches, rather than shipping them off to fatten up at a feedlot, is much healthier for humans, far more humane for the animals, better for the environment and also a real benefit to the local economy.
For Joe Morris, owner with his wife, Julie, of San Juan Bautistabased Morris Grassfed Beef/T.O. Cattle Co., making the choice to pasture his cattle for the last 20 years has been a matter of values and heritage. “I was born with my boots on, and nothing else has attracted me in the same way,” he says of the lifestyle he chose early on. Morris’ ranching background dates back to his great-greatgrandfather, Richard O’Neill, who owned a butcher shop in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. In 1881, O’Neill, together with partner James Flood, purchased Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton) and formed T.O. Cattle Company. In 1927, Joe’s grandfather, J.J. Baumgartner, moved to San Juan Bautista, where Morris first learned about cattle raising.