Victorine Meets Demand for Organic Beef

– by Claudia Nelson 04/28/07, The Humboldt Beacon

As more consumers are looking at organic products as a possibly healthier alternative, locally owned and operated Eel River Organic Beef is scrambling to fill orders, delivering beef products to area stores and via a Web site to markets both near and far. ”The demand for organic beef exceeds the supply,” said Clint Victorine  33, a Hydesville resident and Fortuna High graduate who in 1996 earned a degree in ag business from Cal Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo. Three years ago he started the business, which offers a variety of premium cuts, all “100 percent certified organic.” That means that the cattle must be certified organic by both the USDA and by the state before products carrying the federal label, which indicates the product has been inspected and approved, and that of the California Certified Organic Farmers, reach the market.

Cattle in the program are raised in a natural environment, grassfed, and not given steroids, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified foods and, contrary to what some may believe, “never fed animal proteins or byproducts,” according to Victorine. (Should it become necessary to administer antibiotics for the health of the animal, that animal is removed from the organic beef program.) Cattle are free of the dreaded BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly called Mad Cow Disease). Concern over this disease has, Victorine noted, prompted more demand for organic grassfed beef.

All feed is required to be certified organic, including pastures, hay and grain, if used. Victorine gets organic mash from Eel River Brewery. Pastures are free of pesticides and fertilizers. Product safety is further assured through a system that offers traceability of the animal from birth to marketing. Victorine said consumers have been willing to pay the extra cost of purchasing beef they can feel sure about. ”The healthconsciousness
of the consumer means they want to have confidence that what they (think) they are buying is what they’re getting. They’re finding that confidence in organic products, knowing they are getting a pure product certified” by both the state and federal programs, he said.

Eel River Organic Beef offers fast service: Once an order is received, the buyer can expect overnight delivery to home or business. The meat is processed at Redwood Meat Company in Eureka, and United Parcel takes care of shipments, which are delivered to locals and outside the area. EROB products have flown to customers in Florida, New York and New Jersey, Victorine said, and recently to a restaurant at Ojai. A resort in Ft. Lauderdale has placed orders with the company, while another client, a Palm Springs resort, hosts organic conventions. ”We sell from an 8 ounce steak to an individual, up to 150 pounds delivered to a place in Los Angeles,” Victorine said. And even larger orders. On a recent occasion, he filled a thousand pound order for a store dealing in organic products at Moss Landing, near Santa Cruz. At the time of this interview he was busy readying 600 pounds of organic beef for an initial shipment to Andy’s Produce, a market in Sebastopol, along with getting ready to send 400 pounds of the premium cuts to a charter school, also a new client, situated in the Bronx, New York. ”They have an executive chef there at the school and plan to make nutritious meals available to the kids,” he said.

In one roundabout business transaction, Victorine shipped live cattle to a company in Nebraska that had a contract for sale of beef to an organic chain, Whole Foods, who in turn shipped the meat to its Pacific Division. Victorine’s organic products then went to stores in the West and Southwest, from Petaluma to Arizona, he said. Those wanting to try some can choose from ribeye, New York steak, beef filet, top sirloin, cross rib roast, hamburger, beef ribs, Tbone, tritip and more. Victorine’s beef can be enjoyed locally as an item on the menus at Hot Brew and Eel River Brewery in Fortuna. It is available also at Folie Douce in Arcata, the Arcata Coop,
Murphy’s Market in Trinidad and Loleta Meat Market. Prices range from a pound of ground beef at $6.99, to $14.99 a pound for chuck steak, and $19.99 for an eight ounce filet. For more information on prices or to place an order, visit Victorine’s Web site and its various links at or telephone 707-768-9394.

The Web site is produced by JSC Marketing of Ferndale. Misty Struth manages Internet sales, and Clint’s father, Dave, helps him at times and Clint trades work on occasion with friends willing to round up a few cows. For the most part, though, his is a oneperson enterprise. That in itself may seem unusual, but even more so is an entrepreneurial enthusiasm that led to his career as a cattle rancher without his having grown up on a ranch. His participation in 4H brought him experience along those lines and fueled his interest in raising cattle as an occupation. With a current herd of some 200 cows plus another 200 yearlings that he pastures at a number of locations Hydesville, Carlotta, Loleta, Eureka and Petrolia on some 5,000 acres of leased land, all of it certified organic Victorine’s enterprise has grown and is still growing. He has been raising cattle for 10 years; a friend convinced him that he should try the organic route.

”We’re in a unique area,” Victorine said. “Our grass in this county is one of the prime ones in the United States. With the mild climate we are able to grow grass throughout the year.” Developed by Alan Savory, the Savory rotational method of grazing cattle alternates cattle from field to field, or as Savory referred to it, paddock to paddock. As a grazing program that systematically moves cattle to fresh pastures and “maximizes the feed,” the Savory method of holistic management accomplishes something else reduced incidence of parasites, Victorine observed. By transferring cattle to another pasture, “worms don’t become a problem,” he said.

“I checked at harvest in the lungs and liver and they aren’t there. It runs about 2 to 5 percent of the cattle (that) I have to worm, and then they’re out of the program.” The regulations do allow for vaccines to prevent the spread of disease. However, if the animal must be treated for disease, that animal can’t qualify for the organic label.

”There’s always ups and downs in a business,” Victorine said. “When I first started I figured I’d have about 50 percent staying in the program and the other 50 percent out. Last year it was about 80 percent staying in, this year about 95 percent stayed in. The cattle’s health has to be the priority. They always have to have plenty of room and no stress and they will stay healthy.” Quality has not escaped notice. Victorine said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that EROB was nominated for Best Life Magazine’s “Best List” in its April issue as the company offering the “Best Cut of Beef.” The honor refers to the rib eye steak,  priced at $13 per 8 ounce steak. Victorine said he thinks an anonymous fan of organic beef, also a reader of the magazine, sent in the nomination.

”It’s a good quality product that ties in with a trend in Humboldt County toward the natural and organic,” said Don Brown, a State Farm Insurance agent in Fortuna. “Clint goes to a lot of trouble to make sure it’s healthy.

Here’s what I think is special: It’s trimmed with no extra waste or fat on it. It’s great for barbecues, and people
lined up (in a hurry) when we served his organic beef brisket for the Cattlemen’s dinner! ”Clint’s ahead of the curve. People are going to want meat without all the hormones in it. He’s hit a homerun!” Brown said, with enthusiasm.

James McElvany, a resident of Palm Springs, read about Victorine’s company in the New York Times and decided he wanted to try it. ”It’s first rate. It’s delicious. Everybody who has tried it will want it,” he said. “What I
found amazing was the superb, fast service and attentiveness to the customer. I can’t say enough about the friendliness and willingness to serve. He (Clint) has a winning combination, and his business can go far.” Aside from those accolades, Victorine has been selected as one of two Californians who will join a group of 35 invited to attend the Young Cattlemen’s Conference in June, sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. ”It’s educational and political, he said, adding that he looks forward to hearing more about the beef industry “from the ground up” while touring various sites. The group will visit Denver, Colo. and Nebraska, a feed lot in Ulysses, Kan., stop in Sioux City, Iowa, tour Tyson Meats headquarters at Dakota Dunes, S.D., the Mercantile in Chicago, Ill., McDonald’s corporate offices in Oak Brook, Ill., with a final stop in Washington, D.C. for congressional visits and a USDA briefing at the National Cattlemen’s association office.

When they eat Victorine’s beef, healthconscious consumers with a hankering for a juicy beef steak can satisfy their taste buds and hearty appetites secure in the knowledge that what’s on their plates is more than palatepleasing: It’s the end product of a process geared towards meeting the high expectations of the most discriminating purchaser.

While only two cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, have been confirmed in the United States since late 2003, a national debate over how American cattle should be tested hasn’t yet subsided. The exact cause of BSE is not known, although scientists say the disease is likely caused by an infectious form of a type of protein found in the central nervous tissues of a bovine’s brain and spinal cord. The recent issue of the University of California’s California Agriculture Journal focuses on the policy implications of the U.S. cases of the fatal bovine disease, including which tests to use, how many cattle to test, which cows to test, whether to decentralize testing sites and, in particular, whether to allow testing on farms, according to a news release.

While the national debate over the disease continues, some local ranchers are taking advantage of the county’s prime agricultural grazing lands to market their beef, which they hope consumers will see as bettertasting, healthy and, most importantly, safe. “We have a very excellent and unique climate here for raising grassfed beef,” said Clint Victorine, who has been ranching cattle in the area for 10 years.
Victorine recently launched an online organic beef business,, to market his cattle to a national audience and the business has already seen meat shipped as far away as Florida.
Although Victorine does ranch conventional cattle, his 200 head of organically raised cattle are grazed in the Eel River Valley and Loleta areas. “We want to give the consumer a product they feel comfortable with and something they know is safe,” Victorine said.

To certify his cattle under the California Certified Organic Farmers’ program, Victorine has to document his entire operation plan in a 1 to 2 inch thick organic systems plan, which chronicles how his pasture and the cattle are managed. The first part of the organic certification process is making sure that the pasture land
is free of chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers or anything nonnatural, Victorine said. The entire certification process takes about one and a half years before any cattle are ready to go to market. In addition to the limitations on what can be put on the pastures, no hormones, wormers or outside feeds are given to the cattle. “If they are sick you have to doctor them,” Victorine said. “But then (the animals) would become conventional beef and would be out of the program.”

Cattle more than 30 months of age are the animals that become infected with the disease, which is transferred from cow to cow through animal feed byproducts, such as fat and blood and bone meal, he said.
That practice has been banned in the U.S. for more than 10 years. The two animals that were discovered to have BSE in the U.S. were fed on feed lots, not grazed on grass. Victorine said his beef has the highest level of security against the disease because he is getting double checked — once through the organic certification process and then at the meat processing plant by the USDA inspector.

In addition to being grassfed, Victorine’s cattle are slaughtered when they are 18-24 months of age, which lessens the risk of transmitting BSE. Gary Markegard, a University of California Cooperative Extension livestock advisor for Humboldt County, provides information and resources about the disease for area
ranchers. Much of the information Markegard receives about BSE comes from the state and the UC Cooperative Extension. Although many of the calls he fields regarding the disease come from ranchers, beef consumers have also called with questions too, which are usually triggered by events
covered in the media.

BSE, which has an incubation period of about two to eight years before the symptoms appear, primarily affects the cattle’s nervous system, Markegard said. Once animals are infected they become progressively uncoordinated and often stagger around and eventually die, which typically occurs within two weeks to six
months of the first noticeable symptoms, Markegard said. Prior to the discovery of BSE in Washington State in 2003, exports of U.S. beef products were earning $7.5 billion annually, according to a 2004 economic analysis by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Although export earnings fell by 64 percent following the discovery, the export decline as of November 2004 had been reduced to only 41 percent of prediscovery levels. Although it is unclear how the decline affected Humboldt County, beef production for 2003, the last crop and livestock report by the county, indicated that more than 29,000 head of cattle with a total value of $14 million was produced..