Acabonac Farms owner Stephen Skrenta recently had the opportunity to speak with local middle school students about how he runs a farm that provides both nutritional beef and supports a sustainable environment.
Just getting the chance to speak with the kids meant a lot to Stephen. He’s passionate about what he does, and the kids proved a receptive audience.
“It’s interesting how kids seem to understand faster even then some adults when it comes to the importance of sustainable farming,” said Stephen. “They also had a lot to say about eating healthy foods. They’re certainly a lot more aware of both of those issues than my generation was at that age.”
What happened after they spoke to the students offered a pleasant surprise. The class teacher sent Stephen messages from the students after his presentation. It showed not only that they understood the benefits of eating grass-fed beef and sustainable farming, but also what it meant to them.
You Are What You Eat Eats
Knowing the class has been reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Stephen spoke about Acabonac Farm’s approach to agriculture.
The students’ comments demonstrated that they absorbed what Stephen had to say about the farm’s operations. For the record, Acabonac Farms has three locations on the East End of Long Island and outsources their beef to four locations for slaughtering. The farm offers many different cuts of beef, all shipped directly to customers or sold at farm stands and markets on Long Island.
He also discussed the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef and how Acabonac Farms’ approach differs from that of large, industrial farms. For example, cattle at Acabonac Farms only eat local grasses and foliage. They also are never given subtherapeutic antibiotics or steroids.
One student had a memorable way of summing up why you should keep in mind that whatever cattle eat, you eat it, too.
The student wrote: “It is really important what a cow eats because by the time the meat gets to us the cows will have the food that they had been eating in their stomach still. So, if they are eating bad things, technically we are, also. No one wants to eat anything bad that a cow had in its stomach.”
The students also learned about how large, industrial farms fatten up cows quickly to slaughter them sooner. That wasn’t lost on the students, either.
“Something I found very interesting was how he compared us to cows on eating sugar and that corn, when force-fed to the cows, has a lot of sugar for them and would make them gain a lot of weight quickly, like humans if we eat too much sugar,” one student wrote. “The thing is I didn't know that cows when fattened that quickly aren't as healthy and nutritious.”
Letting Cows Roam the Pastures of Long Island
Acabonac Farms’ cattle freely roam the pastures on the East End. Students liked that aspect of Acabonac Farms a lot.
“I think it's really good that they always leave the cows outside because it's not good for any animal to be locked up at all times,” one student wrote. “They are always outside in the pasture. When there gets to be too many cows there are many different pastures so they would take them to a different one. I think it's really important that he keeps them outside. Like he mentioned. the quality of the food/meat we eat is probably the best it will get.”
Another student wrote, “I was very happy to hear that the cows get to roam freely and that they're not being cooped up a few inches from each other in a factory. Another thing I'm very happy about is that they get to eat grass, which is what they're supposed to eat!”
Another voiced pride about Acabonac Farms being on Long Island.
“I was proud to live in a town where we have safe and healthy farming and not these factories that pump chemicals into our food,” the student wrote. “Something I took away from Stephen is that a well-treated cow will produce good beef.”
Raising Cattle Humanely
One of the things Stephen talked about involved his commitment to staying with cattle right up until they are slaughtered. He also does not allow workers to use shock sticks on the cattle. He oversees this operation personally.
That seemed to have a big impact on the kids. One student wrote: “Something that I thought was really interesting from today was the fact that Stephen stays with the cows the whole time they are being slaughtered. He has developed a relationship with the cows, so his voice is a source of comfort to them. He tries to be very gentle with them and his reasoning is that it makes it a little more humane.
“It really struck a chord with me because in this big industry where no one really cares about the actual animals, there are some people like Stephen who do care and show it.”
They also seemed to like that Stephen worked on Wall Street before deciding to become a farmer.
“I think that Mr. Skrenta’s farm sounded very earth-friendly and he was doing farming right,” one student wrote. “I also think it is pretty cool how he was in finance but didn’t know he wanted to be a cattle farmer until a couple years ago.”
Another wrote: “It surprised me that he chose to go into farming. Those two jobs couldn’t be more different from each other. I was also surprised that he chose to farm in a healthier way, even though he could probably make more money owning a big-time farm that sells all over the country. It’s not only noble, but it’s also inspiring.”
As always, we learn some things ourselves when we spend time with young people. Our thanks to all the students for their patience listening to the presentation, and their wonderful comments afterward.