Beretta Organic Farms: Celebrating Two Decades of Conscientious Family Farming

Food itself isn’t an option. There are plenty of options, though, when choosing the kind of food to feed a family. Beretta Organic Farms provides a number of good choices.

The family-owned and -operated farm, which is located in King Township just north of Toronto, specializes in raising cattle to provide both certified organic and grass-fed beef to people who are concerned with how their food is grown and how the animals are treated. Through home-delivery service – as well as sales to major stores such as Whole Foods and Loblaws, to smaller health conscious stores and to restaurants – they also supply customers with pork, lamb, bison and chicken.

Without ever seeing the whole picture, Mike and Cynthia Beretta began farming on a small scale in the Wingham area in Huron County in the early 1990s. Mike had returned to Canada after playing professional soccer in Peru and soon met Cynthia, whose family lived on acreage north of Toronto. For one reason or the other, they ended up buying some pigs and housing them there. And the rest is history, as the old adage goes. When they married in 1993, Mike and Cynthia bought the small farm near Wingham. In a few years, their family grew to include Thomas and a set of twins, Marcus and Lieschen.

Food for Thought

As Mike and Cynthia tell their story, an “a-ha moment” for them was when one spring they saw how lush and green the vegetation was on their farm except where the old tractor had stood and had leaked oil and gas. There the vegetation was brown and dead. It was then they determined to replace fuel-powered energy with horsepower. From their Old Order Mennonite neighbors they bought two Percherons (Mabel and Ben to friends); those two horses have become the symbol/logo of the Berettas’ commitment to sustainable farming practices.

Much as rural life can seem attractive, and even romantic, farming, and making a living from farming, isn’t easy no matter how hard you work or how committed you are to raising good, healthy food. For Mike and Cynthia life became infinitely worse in October 1995, when their barn burned, killing much of their livestock, destroying the hay and grain that had been stored in it, and devastating a lot of their equipment. They managed through the winter. Then, on Mike’s 27th birthday in April of the following year, the Old Order Mennonite community came together and built a new barn for the family.

By 1999, though, Mike and Cynthia came to the realization that if they were going to make the provision of good, wholesome, organic meat to people a viable enterprise, they had to be closer to where the people were. Their farm was just too far from any large urban centre. Neighboring farms provided good food for themselves.

Through an extraordinary confluence of good fortune and circumstances, they were able to get a long-term lease on 850 acres of prime agricultural land in King Township. Since late 1999, they have been farming from this location.

Since 1999 the Organic Crop Producers and Processors (OCPP) has certified the beef produced by Beretta Organic Farms as organic.

By law, the animals raised on the farm must be slaughtered in a provincially licensed abattoir. They are both transported there directly from the farm and the carcasses are retrieved by the Berettas. The cattle are raised on open fields with lots of green forage, clean air and plenty of water. That is, they never see the inside of feedlots. Even how they are delivered to be killed attests to Mike’s determination to have animals treated as humanely as possible.

The meat is taken to a location in Etobicoke, where some is stored for appropriate aging, while other parts are cured and smoked or turned into a variety of sausages. And it is here that the orders for home or business deliveries are received and processed, all in state-of-the-art facilities that are regularly inspected to ensure the high standards that are demanded by people who are asserting their right to know where their food comes from, how it is raised, and how it is processed.

Healthy, Tasty Food is Everything

Since 2009 Beretta Organic Farms has added another option for consumers who insist on wholesome food: grass-fed beef. Although grass-fed beef is not technically certified organic, it is in fact raised by the same standards: no growth hormones, no antibiotics and no herbicides/insecticides, for example.

The major difference between certified organic and grass-fed beef is that certified organic cattle can receive certified organic feed in the last three months of their lives. The demand for grass-fed beef has arisen from a variety of sources. Some believe there are health advantages, such as higher ratios of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Some believe it is healthier for the environment, because it is locally grown. And still others say it simply tastes better.

In the past year, the off-farm operation in Etobicoke has added an impressive kitchen, overseen primarily by Cynthia Beretta. It turns out well-balanced, good-tasting food using exclusively Beretta Organic Farms meats and organic fruits and vegetables. Among the customers are a number of athletes. The kitchen has partnered with NHL All-Star Gary Roberts, among others, to cater meals specifically for high-performance athletes who are convinced of the benefits of good food on their athletic performance.

The farm in King Township continues to be the Berettas’ home and is not open to the public except on specially planned occasions, such as two “farm days” in July and August. Throughout the year, the Beretta kids are the farmhands who help to keep the operation running smoothly. Fueled by a family that respects and promotes conscientious farming, Beretta Organic Farms will continue to succeed by providing natural, nourishing food.