For farmer Luke Hasell, it’s all about the 100% organic grass-fed beef and lamb. Having taken over the family farm in 2004 and continuing a legacy of 100 years of farming in the area, Luke decided to take the bull by the horns and go organic in 2007. He believes feeding his native breed cows only on grass and forage crops for their entire life is key for the best quality meat that’s tastier and healthier to eat. Our roving reporter Nigel chewed the cud with Luke at his farm in the Chew Valley in North Somerset to get to grips with the benefits of 100% grass-fed meat and meet the stars of the show - Luke’s ‘gentle giant’ South Devon cattle.
Luke having a great time on his farm in Somerset.
What’s the history of the farm and the business as it is today?
I took over the farm when my mum and dad passed away, so 10 years ago – that’s when I became a farmer. I grew up on the farm so always had the natural instinct to know what to do. We’re a really small business – we’ve got 400 acres that we farm and 100 acres of conservation grazing with the National Trust in Bristol.
What, and how, do you farm?
We’ve got a small herd of 70 pedigree South Devon breed cows, (so it’s a relatively small enterprise really). We passionately believe in farming organically and using no pesticides or fertilisers. We believe in making the connection between the farmer and the end consumer. The field to fork principle is something we really believe in. Much of our production happens on the basis of rotating different crops, starting with red clover followed by white clover leys (a system where the fields are used for pasture and the soil is filled with grasses or other plants for the animals to graze on, increasing the fertility of the soil), and then peas and vetches – we forage that – so the cows get a good winter cereal. They are great for making their own nitrates and so are useful as soil-fertilising plants too.
Luke hanging out with his gentle natured South Devon cattle.
What do you like about farming?
I do it because it’s a great occupation. I love being outdoors in the countryside and I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Farming enables me to do both and it’s an amazing privilege.
Why did you setup Story Organic?
The Story was setup because I wanted to pay the farmer a fairer price for the produce that we are producing. We also have a butchery shop that also buys in a lot of other stock in from other local farmers. Where possible we do try to be as pasture fed as much as possible with our suppliers. We are proud to be certified by the Pasture for Life Association who champion the virtues of traditional livestock farming and provide a distinct identity for systems where animals eat only grass and forage crops their entire life. I’m in the process of getting all my other farmers to join the Pasture for Life Association. I know most of them already tick all the boxes but it’s about getting them to understand it and join up!
What do you love about Farmdrop?
We love the ethos. It something we’ve tried to do from the start - we want to align ourselves with similar businesses that have a similar ethos like Farmdrop. It’s all about linking producers with consumers. It’s an amazing concept and if it could be rolled out across the nation it could be amazing.
Dinner time for Luke’s cattle who are chowing down on grass.
Can you tell us about some of the health benefits of Pasture For Life 100% grass-fed meat?
There’s lots of benefits of organic 100% grass-fed meat. Studies have shown it’s far better for you and healthier for you: it’s got loads of Omega-3 fatty acids, is low in cholesterol, low in bad saturated fats, is high in good unsaturated fats and higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) known for its cancer-fighting properties. The nutritional value is much better too - for example meat from fully grass-fed animals also contains considerably more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, such as beta-carotene and vitamin E, than meat from grain-fed animals. It can be difficult for consumers to recognise when meat has been fed 100% only on pasture - labelling can be confusing as some meat in the UK is already sold as ‘Grass-Fed’ even if livestock have also eaten cereals, manufactured feeds or by-products from food manufacturing. Only meat and dairy displaying the Pasture Mark logo guarantees the animal has been fed a completely natural diet of 100% pasture for the whole of its life.
Luke’s Organic Dry Aged Brisket that’s 100% Grass-Fed.
What cuts are you most popular?
Different cuts are popular at different times of year but we do find that the burgers at the moment are popular and we get told a lot how great our handmade Organic Dry Aged Beef Burgers are! Mainly because they are made from well-hung meat by hand and they are 100% beef. Our Brisket and Stewing Steak are popular in the winter – and our Mince is popular all year around.
What makes your produce special?
That our beef is 100% grass-fed makes for high quality, excellent tasting meat. From a butchers point of view, we hang it for 30+ days which gives it an incredible depth of flavour. My favourite cut would be rib on the bone. Our Rump Steaks are amazing and that’s absolutely because they’re hung for 30+ days - it’s a totally different colour, a rich dark texture that is so deliciously soft to cut through. You can just tell it’s well hung.
Luke’s ‘gentle giant’ South Devon cattle can’t help but say hello.
Can you tell us about your South Devon cows?
Known as ‘the gentle giant’, I picked the breed because they are very gentle breed and is the largest of the native British cattle breeds. I love South Devons as a breed but they are quite hard to finish solely on grass (finishing cattle means to alter their diet a little for the final few weeks before slaughter, in order to ensure the meat develops the right qualities needed for dry-ageing and good eating), which means we are generally finishing them a little later at 33-34 months. This is good as this means our meat has a more developed flavour but it also means we have to leave it at the abattoir for 30 days and have them cut off the spine.
Do you have any other breeds?
We do have some North Devons cows - which are a smaller breed – for our conservation grazing project with the National Trust. It’s amazing the difference in temperament between the two breeds; they definitely have small man’s syndrome compared to the South Devons! We’ve also hired in a Hereford or an Angus bull and they produce a smaller carcass which is easier to finish off on grass.
A view from Luke’s farm over looking the Chew Valley reservoir.
Can you tell us about your conservation grazing project?
We have a 10 year Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with the National Trust in Lee Woods in the heart of Bristol. We have to take cows up there and they stay for around 9 months of the year. It overlooks the suspension bridge in Bristol. So we like to say that the cows visit the city every year and there are thousands of people every month ride their bike, walk up there. They do a great job of eating out the rough grass areas – the National Trust used to top it (cut away undesirable plants and tuffs) or it grew out of control, so they’ve gained a lot of ground back and are very happy as a result.
The North Devons up there have got a great life. There are only four up there at the moment – they take a maximum of six and they’ve got 100 of acres to roam. It can be quite challenging trying to find them – walking about for a few hours down the side of a cliff – but I’ve got a cow bell and they normally come for a bit of grub!
Luke enjoying a quick cuppa at home before getting out onto the farm again.
When you are not working what are you doing?
Working. The nature of the farm and having a lack of capital in the farm has meant we’ve have to diversify in other ways. We have a busy wedding venue as the valley is such a lovely backdrop and other businesses that that occupy my time. My aim is to try and work less and I’m trying to spend more time with the kids and have more family time!
Nigel is a third generation farmer, editor and photographer with a love of capturing small-scale independent farms and artisanal food producers. Our kinda guy.
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