Meat is both local and ‘beyond organic’
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Mike Stine may have never thought that he would be a cattleman, years ago when he was a research physicist for medical devices at St. Jude Medical in the Twin Cities. Or when he worked in research for SciMed Life Systems. Or during any of the other careers he has held during his life.
But a cattleman he has been since he and his wife, Sue, bought 146 acres northeast of Long Prairie in 2004.
Stine and his wife taught for two years in Kenya, under a contract organized by the Peace Corps. He spent 11 years doing research for Honeywell. He taught high school physics at Brooklyn Center High School for 10 years.
He and Sue, who is a teacher and research biologist, worked on an aquaculture project in Sheridan, Mont. where they raised, processed and sold rainbow trout in the wholesale market.
“We developed a warm water spring with a tremendous flow of water at a consistent 54 degrees,” Stine said. “We had 30 rearing ponds and built a processing facility.”
“This beef thing,” he said, “this is another adventure.”
It took a year to refurbish the farmhouse. Stine moved up permanently in 2005, his wife joining him in 2006.
“I completely changed the whole farm — fencing, paddock development, planting perennial grasses,” said Stine.
When it came time to stock the cattle, Stine went to Thompson Land and Cattle in Motley. Although he doesn’t believe the particular breed is a critical part of his business, Stine prefers Devonshire cattle for their fast growth rate, incredible flavor, great disposition and the fact they do well on grass, he said.
Stonebridge began with 20 head of cattle and now maintains a herd of about 225.
They started seriously selling the beef in 2006, to farmers markets, individual families and community supported agriculture (CSA).
“We doubled sales every year for four to five years,” he said. “In about 2009, we started selling to restaurants in the Twin Cities. That’s where things really exploded.”
Butcher and the Boar and Hell’s Kitchen are two of his metro mainstays. Stonebridge Beef is also served at DB Searle’s in St. Cloud, Prairie Bay in Baxter, The Grain Bin in Alexandria and the Knute Nelson Retirement Community in Alexandria.
Stonebridge Beef is not a certified organic operation, but Stine describes it as being “beyond organic.”
The cows’ diets are based on grasses, legumes and forbs (broadleaf plants). Kelp, flax, vitamins and minerals are used as supplements when appropriate, according to Stonebridge Beef’s Web site. The cows are fed using intensive rotational grazing.
“We are one of the few producers in Minnesota to be certified animal welfare approved,” Stine said.
Both the farm and the processor, St. Joseph Meat Market in St. Joseph, are certified.
A minimum order is a 20-pound variety pack of meats. The largest order currently open is one beef every week to Hell’s Kitchen. Stonebridge sells about 150 beef each year.
In 2012, Stine took a partner into the business, forming a joint venture with Lester Good of Browerville. Good was interested in beef cattle and back in about 2010, contacted Stine and then paid him a visit
“We later started working together, and it has been working quite well,” Good said. “It’s slowly kept going step by step; I do more each year.”
“He is very experienced for his 28 years,” Stine said. “He’s the full-time stockman who handles most of the cattle’s care.”
Good’s share of the operation is not yet certified animal welfare approved, but his farm is on the waiting list to be visited for an inspection.
“We now have a program to raise most of our own calves,” Stine said.
Stine takes care of the management, sales, processing, hauling and distribution, driving the freezer delivery truck most days.
He is not moving toward retirement anytime soon.
“We’ve moved into a situation where Lester owns all the cattle and pays me to do the direct marketing,” Stine said. “I don’t use the ‘R’ word — ever — but the bulk of effort got to be too much for one person.”
Sue also stays involved by teaching occasionally at the University of Minnesota and by volunteering 20 hours a week with the Senior Companion Program, visiting eight to 10 elderly people and helping them with errands.
The Stines have three grown children living in St. Cloud, the Twin Cities and New York.
For more information, call (320) 594-0031.