Better Beef 31

Aspen Island Ranch Commits to Producing 
Certified Organic, Grass-Fed Beef

Cattle ranching is a way of life in Eastern Montana. Sprawling fields of grazing cows are a common sight on the two-lane highways surrounding Billings. In many ways, Aspen Island Ranch seems just another extension of a quintessential Montana tradition—until you meet Mark and Dr. Jane Smith.

Mark and Jane didn’t begin their careers as ranchers. While both had some experience with ranching, it was limited and hadn’t affected their vocational paths.

“I was an accountant and Jane an integrative doctor,” Mark says. “But we knew we both needed a change. That change was Aspen Island Ranch which we started in 2006.”

If the career change seems abrupt, both Mark and Jane will tell you it was necessary and a long time coming. The first step came when Mark finished a second degree in environmental and natural resource management in 2000. The second, and perhaps more life-changing, step occurred in 2001.

“We had purchased a new-construction home that had construction flaws. Those flaws allowed black mold to grow and poison our health,” Mark says.

Due to the contaminants in their home, all the members of the Smith family became ill. Jane, who was affected the most, become bedridden, while Mark and their sons—they had two at the time—also experienced medical complications. To restore their health and happiness, the family knew they needed to shift focus. The biggest shift was in the way they thought about food.

“Our experience with food was the same as the average American’s,” Mark says. “As our health was destroyed, and our average American diet wasn’t helping, we knew we needed cleaner, more nutritious foods.”

Jane agrees. “We had to rebuild our health from scratch and quickly realized that quality food was the foundation. As time went, we decided to be part of the solution.”

Between 2001 and 2006, Jane and Mark grew their knowledge of clean, whole food as they continually worked to re-establish their health. As the idea for the ranch began to take shape, a commitment to producing certified organic, grass-fed beef was no question.

Aspen Island Ranch, located on 2,500 acres northwest of Billings, is the only local producer of 100 percent grass-fed, certified organic beef. This means its cattle are never fed corn or other starches and that the ranch and livestock have been annually inspected to ensure they are organically compliant in their operations.

To receive the USDA organic emblem, a producer cannot have used prohibited substances, such as commercial fertilizer or pesticides, within three years. The property is then inspected annually and required to submit a detailed Organic System Plan. An inspection is then completed to test water and soil on the property to ensure every part of the operation is compliant, including using a certified organic processor. Since beginning operations, Aspen Island Ranch has been 100 percent compliant.

The result of this commitment to being both grass-fed and certified organic is locally produced beef that’s free from the hormones and other chemicals.

“Research tells us that grass-fed beef is better for our health,” Jane says. “Organic was also a no-brainer for us. This meant our beef would be the purest it could be. Being a physician, I know the disastrous connection between disease and eating food containing growth hormones and antibiotics.”

Mark adds, “We’re not only producing something better for your health, we’re also producing something that just tastes better.”

While both Mark and Jane are passionate about the food they are producing, they also find value in the new way of living they’ve created for their family. Rural Montana living is a big change from busy careers in the medical and financial fields.

“The ranch really brought our family together,” Jane says. “We went from a hectic, scattered family with no direction to a ranch family with a mission to improve life on planet Earth. We love each other more deeply. This love is definitely communicated in everything we do for our customers.”

You can purchase Aspen Island Ranch beef directly from the source by calling 406.667.2332 or by email through their website, Montana Harvest, located on Grand Avenue, also carries Aspen Island Ranch beef year-round.