By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Bill Albrecht
Like any self-respecting rancher, grassfed beef producer Pati Jacobs wakes early and stays busy.
“I get up at five, listen to NPR for an hour and start in,” she says. “I do the website stuff, go over mail orders, call restaurants…. Wink is interested in our beef, and the Culinary Academy of Austin is coming tomorrow to watch us process a calf. I handle whatever comes up.”
Today, for instance, there’s the matter of a heifer who wandered onto a neighboring ranch in pursuit of a “badass, white-trash rodeo bull I don’t want her bred to,” Pati says. “I need to get her back.”
Not yet, though, because a call’s just come in from the Bastrop County welfare department, where Pati’s a volunteer board member and treasurer. A child born last night is being sent home with grandparents—can she authorize the purchase of a bassinet? No problem.
Pati checks in with the four nearby ranchers who help supply her Bastrop Cattle Company with organic, natural meat, then confers with Cleve, her brother and partner, about inventory and mail orders. She drives into Austin on Mondays and Wednesdays to do wholesale deliveries, and of course there’s the head check—the only way to know if cattle have wandered off, taken sick or calved—twice a day, every day.
“Vacation?” she says. “No.”
Pati and Cleve have ranched full-time less than three years, but Pati’s no stranger to multitasking, customer service and getting disparate groups of people to agree on something controversial. Having spent her early childhood in Lebanon and Iran, and worked as a market researcher everywhere from the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Mexico, she’s learned how to get big projects underway.
“But now I live in jeans,” she points out. It’s hard, after all, to cover 235 acres of pasture in pumps and a business suit. These days, Pati takes that walk as often as she can, as she’s done since 1968, when her father bought the land where he’d spend the rest of his life.
“Dad always wanted to raise cattle,” she remembers. “We had no money, but we didn’t know that. We had plenty to eat and nothing but open ranchland between here and Bastrop. You could ride a horse down the highway in those days.”
After her father’s death in 1985, Pati’s mother ran between 40 and 60 head of cattle by herself until just before she died at 82. Cleve and Pati, who’d both come home to care for their mom, stayed on and Pati got involved in the Bastrop community, which was quickly being swallowed by development.
“Our land went from being valued at about $600 an acre to $22,000,” she says. “That’s happening all over. People can’t afford to ranch.”
Throwing herself into local politics, Pati helped draft a five-pronged county master plan that included agricultural concepts that would enable locals to hang on to their land.
“We’ve got to stop treating people like they’re just holding on until a developer comes along,” she says. “If you’ve read Michael Pollan, you know that the 21st century is headed in the opposite direction—decentralizing food production.”
And what would that mean in terms of the Jacobs’ beloved cattle business?
“Well,” Pati remembers, “there had to be a better way than the commodity system.” That’s how her parents did it: raising cattle on grass and chemically fertilized hay, and then selling them at auction only to be shipped from Texas to Montana to a Kansas feedlot.
“But they had no control over prices,” Pati says, “and the carbon footprint was huge.”
Meanwhile, the Central Texas market for local, organic foods was growing. Pati and Cleve decided to give the family avocation a try, but in a new way: with scrupulous attention to each cow or steer, and by taking their herd straight from organic pastures to the processing plant, with no middleman.
In order to grow the Bastrop Cattle Company, they also contracted with four nearby ranching families, all of whom signed on to the hormone-free, non-feedlot program—not just because it was the right thing to do, but because it made more economic sense.
“They grow and process the beef,” Pati says, “and we take care of everything from that point on.”
Once Cleve and Pati set the new course, the learning curve began. The Texas Department of Agriculture took nearly two months to provide certification as organic and all natural, and Pati had to educate and convince customers about things like the “red veal” she produces by slaughtering young calves still getting 20 percent of their nutrition from cow’s milk. They’re grassfed, not grass-finished, and the cuts of meat are smaller than American consumers usually see.
Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due Supper Club quickly became addicted to Pati’s products, particularly the less popular cuts.
“I love Pati’s sweetbreads, tongues, oxtails and cheek meat,” Griffiths says. “Pati cares a lot about every aspect of what she does, and her prices are extremely fair. I shouldn’t tell her to raise her prices, but I do.”
Meanwhile, Pati’s customer and fan base continues to grow. In the first year of business, Pati wrote out 70 customer Christmas cards by hand; this year, she sent 200. It left very little time for such indulgences as dinner out or a day off, but that’s ranching—especially during shaky economic times and environmental upheaval. At the Bastrop Cattle Company, this quintessentially Texan way of life is being reinvented with hard work and new ideas. For Pati Jacobs, that’s a good deal.
Find restaurants and retail outlets providing Bastrop Cattle Company beef at bastropcattlecompany.com. Or visit the cattle company’s booths at:
Bastrop 1832 Farmers Market
1304 Chestnut St.
Fri. 1–6 p.m.
Sat. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Bastrop Producers Market
977 Hwy 71W, Bastrop
Wed.–Fri. 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sat.–Sun. 1–6 p.m.