What are you eating and where did it come from? That’s Dale and Debbie Jones’ mantra.
On Windy Willow Farm in Sunderland, the Joneses raise pastured, grass-fed beef, lamb and goat. Theirs is a relatively new business venture: they’ve been selling meat for only two years. Spend just a while talking with them, and you know what they do is more than a business. It’s a mission.
“This was my grandparents’ farm, and it is where I was raised,” Dale says. “Pretty much everything I ate was also raised on this farm.”
Tobacco was the dominant crop on the Jones’ family farm for two generations. In 2000, Dale’s parents took money from the national tobacco settlement in return for getting out of the business of tobacco.
“After the buy-out, my dad kept five cows on the farm to keep it zoned agricultural,” Dale says. “One of those cows is the reason Debbie and I got into the business.”
They could taste the difference between the steaks his father butchered and the steaks bought at the store.
“The steaks were side by side on the grill,” Dale says. “They were the same cuts, T-bones. The fat on my father’s steaks sizzled and crisped, while the fat around the store-bought steaks stayed the same. And my father’s steaks tasted different. I knew where that steak had come from and what was done to it. But I didn’t know about the other.”
Not knowing bothered both Dale and Debbie.
In 2002, they moved back to the farm, bought two registered heifers and began to educate themselves. They didn’t like what they learned.
“Cattle raised by big producers are fed in feed lots,” Dale says. “They are force fed an unnatural diet, injected with artificial growth hormones and loaded up with antibiotics. They do not live a natural life. They do not get exercise. They don’t grow muscle. They just get fat.”
The Jones’ cattle — now an average of 20 head — spend their days grazing on grass. They get no growth hormones.
“For us it’s all about genetics and selective breeding,” Dale says.
Their herd is a cross of Limousin, a breed that originated in France, and red Angus, also with European roots.
Their cows have muscled flanks.
“You don’t want fat; you want muscle. It’s better for the cows and better for us,” Dale says.
The Joneses are also selective when it comes to cow character.
“I don’t keep aggressive animals,” Dale says. “It’s a bad trait, and that’s unacceptable to us.”
The Joneses’ farm — named Windy Willow for a tree next to the house — has grown to include lambs and goats, also naturally raised and grass fed.
Debbie, who came from New Mexico to Maryland for college, has added chickens to the mix for their meat and eggs.
Their buyers are locals who share their values.
“We sell from the farm and at Calvert’s farmers’ markets,” Debbie says. “I am always at the Friday night market in North Beach, and I plan to sell at the Tuesday market in Prince Frederick.”
As well as farming and selling, education is part of their work.
“I was at a Calvert County school last year as part of the Farm to School program,” Debbie says. “When I asked one of the kids where hamburger came from, he answered Giant. None of them could match an animal to the meat.”
So they repeat their mantra: “Know what you eat, where it came from, how it was raised. Why would you want it any other way?”
And they dream of a sustainable farm. But for now, Dale offers farm services like bush hogging, pasture maintenance and fencing, while Debbie commutes to a nine-to-five job as a systems analyst at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Windy Willow Farm, 421 Clyde Jones Rd., Sunderland; 301-928-0326; www.windywillow.com.
Find other locally raised meat and listings of seasonal produce by county at www.somarylandsogood.com.