Director Park Chat with Doc Hatfield

Burgerville buys all our beef from Country Natural Beef. Each of the 120+ family-owned member ranches is independently certified by Food Alliance to meet stringent standards for environmental stewardship, animal welfare, and working conditions.  Read about the certification criteria herehttp://foodalliance.org/certification .

The ranchers gather twice a year to discuss business. This month, while in Portland for such a meeting, ranchers visited with Burgerville guests and staff in each of our 39 restaurants, deepening relationships and sharing the story of their beef and their ranches.  The ranchers also hosted a special event in downtown Portland, open to the public, called a “Country Food Fair.”

At the Fair, after doing some square dancing, I bought myself a burger and shake from the Burgerville Nomad (all revenue from the evening was donated to theOregon Food Bank and went looking for a place to sit. I saw a friend sitting on a hay bale, so I went to say hello. As it turned out, my friend was talking to Country Natural Beef co-founder Doc Hatfield.

When I joined the conversation, they were discussing Doc’s efforts to restore sage grouse habitat on his ranch. My friend Joe Walicki – who was the very first full-time paid “environmentalist” in Oregon, when he was hired by the Wilderness society in the 70’s – has known the Hatfields for years, and has visited their ranch. They discussed Joe’s interest in setting up a formal environmental stewardship / ranch visit program, and Doc said that he’s eager to establish something like that as soon as possible.  Doc, unfortunately, has a cancer diagnosis. He isn’t sure how much longer he will be around, and he wants to make sure that lessons are passed on. He was anything but grim on the subject, though.  “I wouldn’t know my motorcycle could go 104 MPH without this diagnosis,” he reported with a grin, describing a recent trip involving long, flat, straight roads in the California desert.

When our conversation strayed from imitating the mating calls of sage grouse, and past the Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying,” we discussed Michael Pollan and slaughterhouses. Doc Hatfield spoke knowledgably and respectfully of the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which criticizes what he calls the “industrial food chain,” including the health and environmental impacts of most beef raised in America today. Doc agrees that most cows don’t have healthy or happy lives; that’s why he’s doing things differently.  And on the subject of the recent interest in “local slaughterhouses,” Doc argues that in some cases, economies of scale really make sense.  The large slaughterhouse that Country Natural Beef uses, AB Foods, LLC in Toppenish,Washington,  is able to operate more energy efficiently, and make use of the whole animal, in ways that smaller, local slaughterhouses could not match.  He said that he always strives to make the best sustainable choices, but also to make sure that those choices are grounded in reality, not just instinct.  That’s a goal I am proud to have in our supply chain.