Grass-Fed Goodness with the Markegard Family
Doniga Markegard, of Markegard Family Grass-Fed, has a degree in permaculture and holistic management, has traveled all over the world to study wildlife tracking, and is a champion of local grass-fed beef and land stewardship. I first heard Doniga speak at the 2015 EcoFarm Conference. During her workshop session she shared her and husband Erik’s experiences as cattle ranchers on the California Coast. Doniga showcased how their sustainable management practices were simultaneously supporting a successful cattle enterprise, and restoring the health of coastal rangelands. You can imagine my excitement when almost two years later I was given the opportunity to visit the Markegard Ranch.
The day was already in full swing for the Markegard clan when I arrived at their home ranch in San Gregorio. Doniga and Erik’s three youngest children were out with their work boots on, while Sue (Markegard’s ranch hand) led the collective effort to set up temporary fencing for their pigs. I watched impressed as nine-year old Larry operated their Kawasaki Mule with a deft hand, while younger sisters Quill and Quince grinned shyly at me from Sue’s side. As Sue, Larry, Quince, and Quill continued to work, I found myself overjoyed by how involved the siblings were with their tasks. My joy turned into hysterical laughter (and admiration) as Quill and Quince then began to take turns wielding a blunt machete, hacking at some of the invasive weeds in the plot.
During a quick break between chores, I had the chance to speak further with Doniga about the history of Markegard Family Grass-Fed. Doniga cultivated a great passion for permaculture and wildlife protection in her earlier studies, but it wasn’t until she met Erik (whose family had been caretakers of ranchland in the La Honda area for generations) that the concept for Markegard Grass-Fed came into being.
Doniga and Erik work constantly to educate communities and customers about the benefits of supporting an entirely grass-fed meat operation like theirs. By following a strict grazing schedule and rotating animals from plot to plot, Markegard Family Grass-Fed successfully mimics a natural predator/prey relationship, and stimulates native grass growth. This in turn improves soil and watershed conditions. The cattle especially benefit from these techniques, as their bodies digest the only thing they were meant to eat (grass).
All of their hard work has not gone unnoticed, as Doniga and Erik are both now sought after advisors on watershed health, land management, and cattle operations. In addition to raising their four children and mentoring apprentice Sue, they manage 8,000 acres of rangeland, work closely with conservation programs, land trusts, and community organizations.
Markegard Family Grass-Fed is a regular vendor at PCFMA’s College of San Mateo Farmers’ Market, where they love sharing stories and information with customers. For more about Markegard Family Grass-Fed, the benefits of grass-fed beef, and other resources, check out the full Digital Dirt: A Virtual Farm Experience blog at pcfma.org/digitaldirt! Remember, dirt first (and eat grass-fed local meat)!