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Lucki 7 farm in Rodman finds a growing market for its products

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RODMAN — For the past 17 years, Stephen G. Winkler has been raising animals on his Rodman farm. Now, what started as a midlife career shift and burnout from his management position in the animal nutrition field has turned into a 320-acre farm that sells to top retailers and restaurants throughout New York state.

In 1997, Mr. Winkler started Lucki 7 Livestock Co. with seven or so feeder pigs and a few heifers. By 2002, when he left his job to focus on the farm full time, that number had continued to grow. The farm now has 50 head of cattle — 30 of which are breeding females — and he said he wants to increase that number to 150 head of cattle with 50 to 70 “mama” cows in the near future.

The cattle are primarily Angus and other English breeds and are raised on a grass diet, a trend that has begun to peak in the last 10 years, Mr. Winkler said. Most cows are raised on grain to get fattier meat and take about 22 to 24 months to reach their full weight. Mr. Winkler’s grass-fed cattle take a little longer, about 24 to 28 months, and the meat is much leaner than conventionally raised beef.

“People have learned about, and now look for, the unique flavor,” Mr. Winkler said.

It’s leaner and has a grassy flavor with which many typical beef-eaters are not familiar. The unctuous fattiness that people have come to expect in beef will, for the most part, be absent. In a word, it’s different.

But it’s a difference some people have come to desire, and the extra work and higher price is worth it. Mr. Winkler said his meats are on average 20 to 30 percent more expensive than conventional supermarket products. The farm sells beef by the half and whole animal, as Mr. Winkler said the level of beef production is not quite what it would have to be to sell it retail.

One item the farm does sell retail — and it sells a lot — is pork. On a subzero December morning, Mr. Winkler said there were about 300 pigs on the farm, but that number fluctuates frequently. Lucki 7 pork can be found on restaurant menus and in retail meat markets across the state. The farm has been selling its pork in 42 Whole Foods Markets across the New York City area for the past seven years. Rochester-based supermarket chain Wegmans has been stocking the pork and chicken for the past five.

And Mr. Winkler said if his products weren’t up to snuff, they’d let him know.

“If they didn’t like the products, I’d be off the shelf,” he said.

Just like the grass-fed beef, his pork looks and tastes different from most found at the supermarket. It’s darker in color, with a deep pink tinge that would leave a customer questioning whether pork was indeed “the other white meat.”

Mr. Winkler said he hates to compare his product to that billed as a poultry alternative. His pigs, a blend of Duroc, Chesterwhite and the highly revered Berkshire, produce fatty chops that look more like beefsteaks than pale pork cutlets.

“I use old-fashioned genetics,” Mr. Winkler said. “It’s fattier and more marbled than other pork.”

Local restaurants have caught on, too. Pat McCann, owner of Piggy Pat’s B-B-Q, a popular barbecue restaurant in New Hartford, said he buys pork, beef, chicken and occasionally eggs from Lucki 7. True to the restaurant’s name, pork is its number one purchase from Lucki 7.

“We’re trying to transition our menu to Winkler’s pork,” Mr. McCann said.

He said he wants to support local businesses and people. Mr. McCann said the restaurant has a retail section where local foods and products are sold.

He also is concerned about the healthfulness of the products he sells. He said the “ultimate goal” of the restaurant is to be “GMO-free” (genetically modified organism). Citing recent studies showing a correlation between genetically modified food and increased rates of cancer, birth defects, Alzheimer’s and other health issues, Mr. McCann said he “almost has a responsibility” to serve non-GMO food. While Lucki 7 is not completely GMO-free, Mr. Winkler said, the farm is very close to that certification.

The pork at Lucki 7 is also Step 4 GAP certified. The Global Animal Partnership uses a five-step system to rate farms on ethical practices to improve the welfare of the animals. To earn the fourth step, Mr. Winkler has to provide 24-hour access outside, not use hormones or antibiotics, and feed the pigs a strictly vegetarian diet consisting of corn, soy, field peas and a certified mineral blend.

Mr. Winker said this designation was a necessity for his products to make it to the shelves of Wegmans or Whole Foods.

Whether it be the pork, beef, chicken or the roughly 1,300 eggs the farm produces weekly during the winter — nearly 2,200 weekly in the summer — it’s aligned with his food philosophy, which he deems the “slow food movement.”

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