The day starts long before the sun rises, and continues long after it sets. The list of tasks is never ending. Feeding. Planting. Fencing. Harvesting. Planning. And of course, paperwork. When the rhythm of your work is ruled by the ebbs and flows of the – often capricious – seasons, planning ahead rarely includes extended periods of rest. For Farmer Christian Rüfenacht this means that he’s only taken one official holiday in his entire life.
But in those early hours there, are quiet moments of joy. And late in the evening, there’s a weary satisfaction of work well done. Despite a life that many of us professional computer laborers would shun, opting instead for our vacations with pay and weekend brunches, Christian is profoundly content.
It was this stubborn joy in the face of hardship that first captured Jean Berney’s admiration. The EPFL-trained Physicist and Entrepreneur saw something familiar in the farmer’s resolve. His own father was a farmer in Switzerland, and he carried an immense respect for Christian’s commitment to the raising cattle as humanely and sustainably as possible. So humanely and sustainably, in fact, that his practices put him at odds with the meat industry in Switzerland, and as a result, his farm’s future was financially uncertain.
- Rather than submitting to the standards of production which required to slaughter cattle at 10 months after supercharging their growth on a special diet, he wanted to allow the animals to graze on grass and grow at a natural and normal pace.
- Rather than choosing to raise breeds that require imported corn in the diets to grow to their full potential, Christian opted instead for Angus cows which can be fully sustained on a diet of grass grown on his land.
- Rather than shipping his cattle across the country to large industrial slaughter houses, he wanted to look for partners as close as possible to his farm in order to reduce the environmental impact of his production.
After reviewing the books, Jean realized that if Christian wanted to continue raising cattle with such attention to the quality of the animal’s life and the quality of the meat he produced, the only viable path forward would be to cut out the middle man.
And that’s when the farmer and the entrepreneur combined their gifts to create Entre Ciel et Herbe, a platform where consumers in Vaud can purchase bundles of Christian’s grass-fed, Angus beef raised just to the north of Lausanne in the Jura Vaudois.
The Meat Industry in Switzerland
In Switzerland, the meat industry is governed by the demands of the country’s two largest supermarkets and regulations put in place that are meant to protect the interest of the nation’s farmers. Cows raised to 10-16 months and only to a certain size are preferred, as they’re easier to transport across the country to slaughterhouses. By limiting the amount of meat from smaller Swiss-raised cows, importers can favor larger animals raised in other countries without compromising regulation-driven quotas. In the mess of self-interest and good intentions, farmers who want to favor traditional methods with an eye on sustainable practices find their businesses on shaky ground.
What’s more, industrial practices dictate that meat is packaged and sold as soon as possible, without regard to letting it rest or age. Anyone who has tried to panfry a steak and ended up with soupy, soggy meat knows what this means. In contrast, Christian’s meat is dry aged for 21 days before being sold to clients. The result is a much more flavorful and tender meal.
A New Way to Consume Beef
The more we learn about the moral dimension of our consumption choices, the more we’re faced with difficult decisions. For those of us who aren’t ready to eschew meat entirely and embrace an alternative diet, the options for eating ethically are quite limited. Eating less, but better – great. Organic – great. Grass fed – great. But until now, finding meat that goes to this level of care would mean befriending the right farmer and purchasing your meat directly from the farm.
The beauty of this partnership is that Entre Ciel et Herbe makes consuming differently possible for those of us who are constrained by the particularities of a modern lifestyle. Though driving out to a farm on a Tuesday night after work isn’t going to happen, we all know how to order something online. In a time when we know that every consumption choice we make is a statement about the kind of world we want to live in, Entre Ciel et Herbe is offering a new path forward.
The photos in this article are still shots taken from a beautiful video produced by Fauve Productions, a Lausanne-based film company. For more information about Entre Ciel et Herbe, we highly recommend taking a moment to watch.
It’s worth noting that this service is only available for residents of Vaud. Because as Jean explained, delivering beef from Vaud to neighboring cantons defeats the purpose at the heart of this project. If all goes well, they hope to look for partners in other places and set up a similar model for additional local markets.