It’s 6:30 a.m., and the Texas sky is just starting to lighten from the black of night to the gray-blue of dawn. Dressed in a flannel shirt, work jeans, and lace-up boots, Schertz resident Zachary Platt is already loading up his Kawasaki Mule and heading out on the 374 acres of land he ranches and farms for a living.

Platt drives the off-road utility vehicle to the spot where his 85 cattle – all females with their calves, aside from one red bull – are resting under huisache trees, and bellows a quick cattle call several times. “Woo-ie!” he yells into the still morning air. He hops back into the Mule with the cattle following him at a quick trot.

Quickly parking the Mule at a fenced-off section of ungrazed land, Platt opens the cattle gate. The cattle quickly amass there and begin grazing on stalks of grass reaching Platt’s hips. Platt will let them graze the sectioned-off field for just one day before he moves them again, allowing the plot of land to rest undisturbed for 30 to 90 days.

Platt considers himself a regenerative rancher and farmer, an eco-friendly rancher who has forgone most “big agriculture” practices such as using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or synthetic products to fatten up animals. It’s from his ranch, Beyond the Oaks Farm, along with a few other regenerative farms near San Antonio, that new local meat wholesaler Wholesome Meats buys its processed grass-fed beef.

What is Wholesome Meats?

Wholesome Meats is a new subsidiary of San Antonio ag-tech scaling company Soilworks Natural Capital. Led by CEO Kent Wuthrich, Wholesome Meats works to connect environmentally conscious cattle ranchers with local restaurants and grocery stores. The company buys ground beef and cuts of beef that come only from local grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and cruelty-free cattle raised on regenerative ranches and sells them to local chefs and restaurants.

The term “regenerative” can be a confusing one, Wuthrich said, but it refers to farming practices that keep the land healthier and the environment around it healthier.

“Sometimes people equate it to what they think is fake meat … which is not what we’re talking about,” he said. “It is descriptive in that we’re … regenerating land instead of depleting resources. It’s … using nature – particularly these ruminant animals – to do what they’re meant to do.”

Regenerative farm practices aim to keep the soil healthier, which in turn saves water, requires less pesticides, and minimizes animal cruelty. Methods include rotating where animals graze so they don’t overgraze, using natural animal-waste-based fertilizers, and allowing land to have long periods of rest between grazings. 

“It’s all about the soil,” Platt said. “It starts with the soil.” 

Behind the Oaks Farm owner Zachary Platt sections off a pasture for the cattle to move into. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Wholesome Meats’ beginnings

The idea for Wholesome Meats came from Soilworks founders Lew Moorman and Ed Byrne. Moorman, a ranch owner who employs regenerative farming methods on his own land, said they saw a local need for an ethical wholesale meat company and wanted to encourage more ranchers to farm regeneratively.

Lew Moorman

“We think it’s just this vital set of policies that we need to adopt globally to get our health better, to build a more resilient food system, and to help with the environment,” Moorman said. “We’d really like to make this the next big movement in food.”

Already working with 18 restaurants and grocery stores across San Antonio, Austin, and Waco, Wholesome Meats has had a busy first year, Wuthrich said. Local restaurants using Wholesome Meats beef include The Cove, Mr. Juicy, Barbaro, Magnolia Pancake Haus, Pharm Table, and Hot Joy.

‘Healthiest’ option

The Cove owner Lisa Asvestas said Wholesome Meats reached out to her just before the coronavirus pandemic and felt it fit with The Cove’s vision to be sustainable, local, and organic.

“We’ve been buying meat from them since June, and even though it’s just a bit more expensive than what we’d been buying, we wanted to make sure the products we serve our customers are not only the healthiest for them, but also for the Earth.”

The Cove has always strived to use grass-fed beef in its burgers and nachos, Asvestas said. 

“If I’m going to serve you burgers, I want it not only to taste the best, but to be the healthiest for you,” Asvestas said.

Mitch Hagney, CEO at LocalSprout Food Hub and a local environmentalist, said many of the “grass-fed” labels used in the meat business refer to animals that were only “grass-finished” – meaning they ate mostly grain for the majority of their lives.

Hagney said he’s heard a great deal about Wholesome Meats and loves that they are supporting ranches that are feeding their cattle only grass.

“True grass-fed ranches, like the ones that Wholesome uses, have their animals in sync with the conditions of the landscape for their entire lives,” he said. “That brings a bunch of ecological services to bear that enhance the long term livability of that land.”

Cattle moves to another pasture at Behind the Oaks Farm. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

What’s next?

Over the last 20 years the organic movement has been very powerful and has made a difference in the environment, Moorman said, noting that fewer chemicals are used in our food today than were used in the 1990s. The goal in creating Wholesome Meats was to help make regenerative ranching and farming a mainstream movement, he said.

“We think it can make a heck of a big difference,” Moorman added. 

Having owned Beyond the Oaks Farm with his wife for only two years, Platt said the relationship between his ranch and Wholesome Meats has been beneficial for both companies and has allowed his cattle to reach more customers. Platt said it’s great to know his meat will be sold quickly through Wholesome Meats and cooked locally.

“They reached out to us about a year ago,” Platt said. “We were excited to hear people were already coming to learn about our regenerative approach.”

While Wholesome Meats only is working with local ranchers and restaurants at the moment, Moorman said he and Byrne are hoping to expand.

“We’d love to … take it national, once we’ve proven out the model here in Texas,” Moorman said.

Disclosure: Lew Moorman is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report and a member of its Board of Community Advisors. For a list of individual members, click here.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...