“Where’s the beef?”
If you grew up in the 1980s, you’d probably remember this infamous slogan from Wendy’s restaurant TV commercials. Since then, beef has begun to see competition from other protein sources, prompting a local farm in Uxbridge to encourage meat lovers to ask, “Where’s the bison?”
The Thunder Ridge Bison Company is a family-run farm, owned and operated by Brian and Michelle Arnold. They raise bison for both meat production and breeding stock. Thunder Ridge also features an on-farm market and supplies several local butchers and restaurants with fresh meat. Interestingly, the Arnolds also provide the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club with Thunder Ridge’s nutrient-dense bison, and they have hosted workouts for Canadian NHL hockey stars Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid.
With such a successful enterprise, it might surprise you to learn that bison farming is a venture the Arnolds decided to pursue outside of their careers after discussing the idea almost two decades ago with participants at the Royal Winter Fair. In 2015, they bought land, a few animals, and were reading to watch bison roam on their 100-acre farm in the Oak Ridges Moraine.
For many bison farmers, including the Arnolds, the choice to raise plains bison as opposed to cattle is a matter of conservation. The plains bison was nearly rendered extinct in North America by the early 1900s. An increase in interest in the animals – thanks to organizations like the Canadian Bison Association – is spearheading the preservation and restoration of the plains bison. Moreover, an initiative by the National Bison Association in the U.S. called, “Bison One Million”, aims to help the plains bison population grow to number a million animals.
For those who reap the culinary rewards from these conservation efforts, bison has many advantages over beef in terms of meat quality. Across all cuts, studies show that bison is lower in both fat and calories than beef. It is higher in omega 3s and 6s, as well as B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients. The taste and texture of bison are similar to beef and may be one of the reasons why it is becoming more popular in restaurants across the Greater Toronto Area.
“We get a charge out of the people that come to the farm,” says Brian Arnold. “Generally, by the time they’ve found us, they’ve already researched what they want. These are the people who want accountability for where their food comes from and how it is produced. It results in us being given a more educated consumer. That has been neat. We learn a lot from them, we get to hear different stories, and they ask lots of good questions.”
Because the Arnolds both continue to pursue off-farm careers full-time, coming back to their herd and their visitors each evening offers much-needed respite from the workaday world.
“The people we interact with through the farm are such a great quality of people,” he says. “We enjoy that. It’s invigorating for us that people are starting to source their meat directly from the farm now.”
This year, Thunder Ridge is stepping up its schedule of educational workshops and classes. Called the Back to Basics Farm Life Workshops series, participants can choose to learn about creating a successful and nutrient-dense backyard garden, raising chickens, and making kombucha. Most classes include a bison tour and mini-education experience.
Thunder Ridge will also welcome Brent Herrington, owner of Herrington’s Quality Butchers in Port Perry and 2018 finalist in the Ontario’s Finest Butcher competition. Brent will host a sausage-making workshop, in which participants can take home the pork-and-bison sausages they make.
“We find that when people buy from us, they tend not to waste their food,” he adds. “When you buy five pounds of meat because it’s on sale, you don’t tend to treat it the same as when you go out and source meat directly. When people do that, they generally put some effort into how they’re preparing it and what they do with the leftovers instead of just scraping them into the bin.”
By Katherine Ryalen
The Thunder Ridge Bison Company is located at 664 Davis Drive in Uxbridge. For more information, visit www.thunderridgebison.ca, or call (905) 391-8655.– Ryalen is a Durham-based author and lifestyle blogger. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.