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You always hear about organic food and how it’s healthier for you, but do you ever hear about restaurants that actually serve organic products? In addition to serving organic food, John J. Jeffries serves food from animals that are pasture-raised. This means that animals live a healthier and happier life.

  • You will learn what is Farm-to-Table.
  • We will get a good look at Chef Sean Cavanaugh and his ways of running his business as well of what he values in good food.
  • You will also read about a farm called Sweet Stem Farm and the ways they raise and care for their animals.
  • You will learn about The White Dog Café and how they have a “cruelty-free” menu.
  • Lastly you will learn more about what it exactly means to be organic
    • Prices of organic food compared to regular food
  •  Free-range raised animals vs. Organic raised

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The term “Farm-to-table” describes instances in which the food on the table came directly from a specific farm. In some instances, farmers, chefs, and cooks serve the food directly on the farm. Farm-to-table can also mean that a restaurant or store receives fresh ingredients from a farm. The term can also describe farmers market and other sites where people can buy food directly from growers. Farm-to-table must entail, however, the name of the specific farm providing the ingredients.

Local vs. Global

Here in Lancaster, Farm-to-Table is likely to describe a restaurant or café that purchases products from local markets and farmers. Even in Washington, there is a restaurant that grows its own produce in order to make a dish called the 2-hour salad.

Over seas Farm-to-Table efforts are similar to those in Washington, but different to those in Lancaster. The Farmhouse Kitchen is a Bed and Breakfast in England that only serves good, wholesome food. The cooks use local and homegrown produce to serve their guests a breakfast of true Farm-to-Table quality.

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Chef Sean Cavanaugh

Born in Pittsburg, Sean Cavanaugh is a straightforward man who cooks and runs a business his way. He decided to open his restaurant, John J. Jeffries, in the Lancaster Arts Hotel. He thought the location would provide a great opportunity because while it is not too far away from places such as New York or Baltimore, it is also not too close.

I asked Sean why he picked Lancaster County to open a restaurant and he had a few things to say. He replied, “ The best farmers in the country are in Lancaster County, so this is where the best restaurants in the country should be.” He also said that, “Lancaster County has quality soil and is one of the most, if not the most, fertile lands in the United States.

I asked Sean about the restaurant in Washington that features the dish called the two-hour salad. The restaurant grows its own vegetables and picks them fresh two-hours before they serve the salad.

Sean says that there is always plenty of work to do in the kitchen. There is simply no time to grow their own food at John J. Jeffries. The kitchen staff is constantly busy roasting bones, making stocks, soups, and sauces from scratch. They also focus on charcuterie work as well as butchering and using the entire animal from nose to tail.

Sean deals with many farmers. He deals with some directly, and some through places like Lancaster Farm and Expressly local. These companies are a combination of farmers who distribute their product to many places and businesses.  Sean reports having a good relationship with all of the 40-50 farmers he works with, especially with those from whom he buys beef and produce because they are vital to his menu.

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John J. Jeffries

John J Jeffries got its name during the renovation of the Lancaster Arts Hotel. During which a stamp was discovered on a floor beam, which was signed by Tobacco Inspector John J. Jeffries on November 5, 1890.

The restaurant contains a menu that changes quite often. In fact, it changes up to two times every week. Small items such as salads and soups change often depending on the ingredients available during a given season. An example could be asparagus and how it is in season from April until June. Chef Cavanaugh implements asparagus into the menu as much as possible before it is no longer in season.

While the menu changes weekly, the largest changes revolve around the four seasons in Lancaster County. Along with the season in mind, the food is prepared accordingly. A steak might be prepared differently in the spring than it is prepared in the fall due to the availability of different fruits or vegetables that may be in season.

John J. Jeffries is known for being Organic. While a lot of the restaurant is organic, not all of it is. All of the produce and vegetables are organic except for some fruit because fruit has Integrated Pest Management. Though it has Integrated Pest Management, it is slowly changing which is making more fruit organic because farmers are starting to only use PM when they feel they are about to lose everything. Small farmers, on the other hand, are less likely to rule out the use of chemicals because they happen to be just too expensive.

You must be thinking, how is the non-organic food at the restaurant grown or raised? Does that mean the meat there is from places that manufacture animals at a high rate and slaughter them in a factory line?

No. Their meats are not manufactured in an industrial manner. They use a pasture system to raise their animals. Accordingly, they feed their animals fresh grass and water. The animals are also conscious of where they are and they live on fields, not in cages. The Non-Organic animals they serve can be anything from beef, pork, and veal, to poultry like chicken and duck.

There is a reason that Sean does not serve manufactured meat at his restaurant, which are animals raised in an industrial environment that are highly susceptible to long-term sickness. The industrial farmers do not provide their animals with a natural diet and as a result, they need to inject the animals with a low-dose antibiotic. 

Sean put it best. If you are only willing to pay the bare minimum for meat, you need to be ok with consuming corporate factory-farmed sick animals (Animals raised in an industrial environment, pent up in cages or with no room to roam). Although purchasing higher quality healthy meat means paying a bit more, it also helps prevent environmental degradation and disturbance.

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USDA Grades for Meat and Poultry

When it comes to the grading of meat, it is broken down into 4 different categories:

  • Beef

  • Veal/Calf

  • Pork

  • Poultry

When grading beef, it is graded as whole carcasses in two ways:

  • Quality grades, which grades the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of the meat

    • Prime Gradeis from young well-fed cattle. It has high marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels, which are great for broiling, roasting and grilling.

    • Choice Gradeis high quality but less marbling. Roasts and steaks are still very tender, juicy, and flavorful like Prime, but are better suited for dry-heat cooking.

    • Select Gradeis normally leaner then other grades. It is usually tender meat, but due to to less marbling, it can lack the juiciness and flavor of higher grades. Tender cuts should be dry-heat cooked, while other cuts should be marinated or braised for maximum tenderness and flavor.

    • Standard and Commercial gradesare ungraded and store brand meat.

    • Utility, Cutter, and Canneraren’t very common. They are almost never sold as retail, but are used to make ground beef and processed products.

  • Yield Gradesis a scale that goes from 1-5 indicating the amount of meat useable from a carcass. Grade 1 is the highest grade a carcass can get that denotes the best ratio of lean to fat. Grade 5 is the lowest ratio. Yield grade meat is best used when purchasing meat for the freezer.

There are five grades:

  • Prime

  • Choice

  • Good

  • Standard

  • Utility

Like the Grades for Beef, Veal is the same. The only difference is that because the animals are younger, the meat will be a light grayish-pink to a light pink usually being pretty firm.

Like Beef and Veal, there are five grades. Only Prime and Choice are found at the retail level. Lower grades are the good, utility and cull but are almost never marked. Lamb is produced from animals less then a year old.

The USDA does not grade pork because the meat is produced from young animals that were bred and fed to produce more tender meat. The appearance of pork is important. You want to look for pork with a little fat around the edges with a grayish-pink color.

There are 3 grades for poultry:

  • Grade Ais the best meat you can find at a retail level. This means the meat pretty much has no defects such as bruising, discolorations and feathers. It also means no bones are broken and that there are no tears in the skin.

  • Grade Band Cis usually poultry that is in processed products such as chopped or ground chicken.

Sean is a man that clearly is passionate about what he does. He expects the best so that he can cook the best food possible. A passion such as that makes his restaurant one of the top restaurants around. He will continue to strive for only the best.

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Not All Farms Produce Products For Just Lancaster

When you think about whom our local produce products are sent to, do you really think about customers in Philadelphia? You might be surprised to find out that most farms, though they do have local restaurants and cafes buying their products, export their best products to Philadelphia. They appreciate the products and are willing to pay a little bit more money for them.

Sweet Stem Farms

Philip, the owner of Sweet Stem Farms, came from a family of farmers. His grandparents were farmers and his families before them were also farmers. His parents, however, were not farmers. After going to the University of Oregon, Philip developed many dreams and goals he wanted to try and make possible, but he was drawn into the family profession by his love for animals.

Philip’s love of animals became a small problem at first. After caring for the animals he raised, it was hard for him to part with them when it was time to sell them. When asked about the life of farming, Philip said, “Sometimes it feels like a burden to do morning/evening chores, but when we’re doing it we understand this is what we want to do.”

The Land

When Philip decided to go out and find some land to farm on, he didn’t realize there was such a high demand form farmland. Philip decided to place an ad in the newspaper stating that he was searching for land and the father of his wife, Dee, answered his need. Philip considers himself lucky because building a land base is an extremely lengthy process. According to Philip, farmers need to build relationships with their neighbors. This process limits what farmers are able to do on the land they already own and on the land they are trying to buy.

Philip shares the land that he owns with his brother, meaning that Philip and Dee will eventually be looking to relocate to a place with more land. The only problem is that land is $20,000 per acre, which is very expensive and the competition for land in Lancaster is high due to the fact that there really isn’t any land left to buy.

The Pigs

 Lancaster County is one of the most popular pig counties in the state. The pigs that Philip and Dee start with typically weigh around 160 lbs. Sweet Stem Farm can at most have around 800 pigs on the farm at one time. Many industrial farms, on the other hand, have enough land that allots space for 100,000 pigs at one time.

Sweet Stem Farm’s demand for pigs has grown. Starting in 2003, Philip sold 1 pig each week and 50 pigs each year. This selling rate allowed them to reinvest in their farm. Right now, Dee and Philip sell about 1,500 pigs per year. In order to be able to buy a new farm, however, they will have to sell about 4,000 pigs every year.

Philip and Dee sell the pigs that they raise through direct marketing. Before they can sell the pigs, however, they need to make sure the pigs put on more weight. Before a pig can be sold, it must weigh anywhere from 200 - 300 lbs.

The pigs are always eating, so increasing their weight to 200 - 300 lbs. is not difficult. A good diet is needed, however, to prevent them from getting sick. Pig feed is 70% production cost so in order to produce enough corn meal or soybeans would take a lot of land that Philip and Dee just don’t have at the moment.

Since Philip and Dee don’t have the land needed to produce feed for their pigs, they purchase it. The main thing that pigs eat is corn meal. Pigs cannot, however, survive solely on corn meal. Corn meal is not a good source of protein so in addition to the meal, the pigs are fed soybean milk from the Pennsylvania University Medical School in New Bolton. Over 90% of all soybeans in the country are GMO.

While Philip and Dee started their farm with pastured pork, they no longer raise their pigs through that practice because they couldn’t make a living on pastured pork. The main reason they couldn’t afford to have pastured pork is because when pigs feed on the land, they destroy it by using their noses to dig in the ground for food. The pigs would eventually destroy the field leaving it in a muddy mess. Since Philip and Dee do not currently have the amount of land to support pastured pork, they have to pen up their pigs.

Now don’t be confused because Philip and Dee do not pen their pigs up in tight cages with zero room to roam like industrial corporations. There is a difference between a corporation and how Philip raises and cares for his animals. The pigpens on Sweet Stem Farm have plenty of room for the pigs to roam. Philip and Dee also provide the pigs with wheat straw and grain in their pens, which the pigs dig through and eat both the grain and wheat.

It is very beneficial for the pigs to have straw in their pens because if they didn’t they would be living on concrete all the time much like if they were being raised at an industrial farm. A concrete living environment without straw leads to stress, especially when corporations raise their pigs in 7 sq. ft. of space. Because such poor living conditions can lead to unhappy pigs, Philip and Dee make sure that they double the pig’s confinement space. This allows for at least 20 pigs to comfortably live among one another in a happier living environment.

The Sheep & Cattle

Unlike the pigs, all of the lambs and cattle on Sweet Stem Farm are pasture raised. Because Philip and Dee pasture raise those animals, their farm is certified for having humanely raised animals. This makes Sweet Stem Farm superior to many of the corporate factory farms that do not follow such practices.

This year alone Philip and Dee had raised around 300 lambs before keeping 150 for themselves. They make sure to keep the lambs in excellent shape because the cool weather of fall creates a prime-breeding season. The sheep eat wet hay that’s infused with pickled fermented grass, which helps put some protein into their diet. Every year Philip and Dee retire 30 lambs to eat or to keep as pets because they are too special to give away. They said, “Some animals are just too sweet to eat.”

The cattle and Sheep are similar in two ways:

  • They both eat seaweed

  • PA law requires both to be provided with shelter since they are pasture-raised animals.

Sweet Steam Farms have beef cows, which is different considering most cows in Lancaster County are dairy cows. The farm only produces about 10-12 cows per year.

Sweet Stem Farm is a unique farm with caring people. Philip and Dee make sure to see their animals at least two times every day. They feel that if they are unable to see their animals at least twice per day, then they have too many animals. Philip and Dee always provide health care to their animals whether it is profitable or not because they are committed to raising the best animals possible.

Philip and Dee will continue to work hard and raise their animals with love and care. Before they know it, they will be moving into their new farm that they are working so hard to obtain. It’s because of farmers like them that we have a bright future and will continue to produce good quality food.

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White Dog Café

The White Dog Café is run by Judy Wicks. Judy and many others took the Snout-to-tail tour for the Fair Food 10th Anniversary. Fair Food is an organization created by Judy. Between the White Dog Café and other Whole foods in Philadelphia, they both buy whole animals from the farm so that they don’t waste any of the animals.

Judy has a buying club that sends the products directly to the customers. Once a month coolers go out to pick of best of the meat or produce and then they are delivered. It is the only way to buy directly.

She told a story of how one day she was in her Café when she had a thought. She thought to her self, “Why do I have pork items on my menu when they are from corporate places?” She was so horrified at how intelligent pigs were treated inhumanly that she pulled off all her pork items and went out to find a better source to buy her meat from.

Judy went on to say how “It was a violation of nature and it would be best if the customer buys and uses the whole animal. She found Sweet Stem Farm and since then has been purchasing pigs from them. According to Judie, her Café now has a “cruelty-free” menu.

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What Are Free-Ranged Animals?

Free-Ranged animals are able to roam freely on the farm where they can eat grasses and other available natural plants. Pasture-raised animals also have a better general welfare than animals that are raised on corporate factory farms.

Animal Health Benefits

Farmers who pasture raise their animals provide them with many health benefits. Animals raised on pasture farms enjoy a happier and more humane life than animals that are raised in a factory farm setting. Through a pasture system, farmers can prevent their animals from contracting harmful bacteria and disease that infests the living environments on industrial farms. They also ensure their animals with a happy life through a pasture system because they prevent their animals from experiencing cramped and stressful living quarters.

It is especially beneficial for farmers to pasture raise their cattle. Being able to naturally graze allows cattle to salivate and neutralize acids that exist in their digestive system. Without pasture, cattle are highly susceptible to health problems such as intestinal damage, dehydration, liver abscesses, and even death due to decreased salivation from a strictly grain diet.

Although aware of the potential health problems of grain diets, industrial farmers feed their cattle a grain diet because it is a fast and inexpensive way to force the animals to meet market weight.

Another health benefit of the pasture system is that farmers never feed their animals unnatural additives like those that farmers feed to animals on factory farms on a regular basis. Such additives increase food quantity and protein content and include chicken manure, restaurant leftovers, and animal blood. In addition to those ingredients, antibiotics and artificial hormones are also added to animal feed on factory farms in order to endorse rapid growth. Animals on pasture, however, receive their food and nutrients from grazing.

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What is Organic?

In order to produce organic products, farmers must maintain soil fertility without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Also, farmers need to refrain from administering antibiotics and synthetic hormones to animals. Practices such as genetic engineering or animal cloning and the use of materials such as sewage sludge and irradiation are also prohibited in order to produce organic products. Organic foods are also not processed and do not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives.

In order for a farm to become nationally recognized as organic, the growers and handlers must be certified by third-party state or other agencies and organizations that are accredited by the USDA. The farmers need to maintain the organic honor of the organic products they produce in order to receive such certification. Those who knowingly pose falsely as organically certified growers and handlers could face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Prices of Organic Food

Unfortunately, organic products typically cost a few cents to several dollars more than non-organic products. As a result of this fact, many U.S. citizens believe organic products are unaffordable. This stigma is preventing the U.S. organic industry from expanding. The USDA's Economic Research Service tracks wholesale and retail price differences between organic and non-organic food. The ERS reports that differences in prices between organic and non-organic items depend on the product and the location of the product. Different cities and areas around the country charge different prices for certain products.

There are reasons why organic is more expensive. Organic farmers pay more for organic animal feed and the farming is more labor intensive. This is because farmers try not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As a result of the fact that farmers don’t use herbicides, they rely more on weeding by hand. They also avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost and animal manure. The manure is bulky and expensive to transport. Regular farming uses every acre of farmland to grow crops, while organic farmers rotate their crops to keep soil healthy.

The production costs that it takes to farm organically are more expensive than regular farming. This in turn leads to how much you pay for products at the grocery store. However, when you take into account the true “cost” of food production from conventional farming, including replacement of eroded soils, cleaning up polluted water, health care for farmers who get sick, and environmental costs of pesticide production and disposal, organic farming might actually be cheaper in the end.

Probably the most “green” way to acquire your weekly provisions is through a local farmer’s market. The food travels a shorter distance, which means less carbon emissions and food that hasn’t been shipped hundreds of miles or processed to keep it preserved during transport. The food comes from small farms where the farmers are usually conscious of their impact on the earth and care about the food they’re producing. By purchasing food from them, you also support the local food economy and know where your food is coming from. According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to make it to your refrigerator.

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What You As The Consumer Can Do..

There are many things that people can do to make our lives more “green” and help out our local economy. By following in the footsteps of people like Sean or Judy, we can find ways to get better quality food at a reasonable price.

Another way we can help out the local economy is by going out to local farms and markets in order to buy fresh food and making sure that we use every part of the animal that we can. By spending an extra dollar or two, we will be able to get fresh food in moments and live a happier and healthier life. If you want to find out more about Sweet Stem Farms, go to and John J. Jeffries at

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This site was created by Ryan Thomas at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

© 2011 Millersville University. All Rights Reserved.

Sean is a man that clearly is passionate about what he does. He expects the best so that he can cook the best food possible. A passion such as that makes his restaurant one of the top restaurants around. He will continue to strive for only the best.