Where They Live: Nancy Washburn Wyles '61. Gymea Bay, Australia.
alk into a grocery store to pick out a nice steak, says Rob Forstenzer '79, and 99 percent of the time you'll walk out with a potential health hazard: a steak that does not come from grass-finished beef.
"All cattle eat grass during their lives, but very few cattle eat grass and other herbiages during their final fattening, or 'finishing,' growth phase," explains Forstenzer. "Almost all cattle today are finished in feedlots, where they're fed an assortment of grains, chemicals, medications, and by-products." This diminishes the quality of the beef, he says, lowering the amounts of helpful chemicals like conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), omega-3 fatty acids, and beta-carotene-which, according to the studies that Forstenzer quotes, do everything from reduce body fat to lower the risk of cancer.
So what gives a guy who grew up in Scarsdale and concentrated in English at Sarah Lawrence the authority to proffer beef-buying advice? Here's a hint: Ferry Creek Ranch. Located on the Yellowstone River, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, the 560-acre Ferry Creek Ranch is one of Montana's oldest, with buildings on the National Historic Register. On that certified-organic ranch Forstenzer raises Galloway steers, all of them born, nurtured, and harvested in this natural setting.
Forstenzer didn't graduate from Sarah Lawrence with dreams of becoming an organic beef rancher-although he says, "I'd always been interested in animals, in growing stuff, and in the outdoors." Rather, he went on to earn a master's degree in landscape architecture at the University of Michigan. He then moved to Long Island, where he worked at a small civil engineering firm and then as an independent landscape architect. He also met his future wife, Julie Danaher '80. ("We hadn't known each other at Sarah Lawrence.")
Rob and Julie often vacationed in Montana, where some of Rob's high school friends lived. They casually began looking at real estate, drawn to a lifestyle that featured fishing, skiing, and backpacking. In 1990 they took the big leap, buying the storied ranch and moving to Montana to start a new life. Julie had a job lined up as a partner at a local medical clinic, and Rob planned to renovate the ranch, uncertain as to his future career path.
"I didn't know anything about agriculture when we first came here," Forstenzer laughs. But he learned. He began his education by apprenticing for six years under the former owner, to whom he leased back the land. When that man quit, Forstenzer began running the ranch himself-no small task. The land was worn out, he says, and maintenance had been long deferred. Enormous work went into plowing up hundreds of acres, reseeding the fields, and rebuilding the fences, and in 1999, Forstenzer bought his first herd of Galloways, an ancient breed of long-haired Scottish cattle.
From the outset, Forstenzer was determined to run an organic ranch. "The organic food trend is on the rise. People-especially baby boomers-are rightly concerned about how their food is grown. Just as important, I wanted a healthy living environment for my family, free of pesticides."
In 2002, Ferry Creek Ranch was certified organic, and Forstenzer has been growing the business ever since, propelled by a relationship with Whole Foods Market, the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods. The beef he sells, of course, is grass-finished.
Life in Montana goes well for Forstenzer and his family. Julie, an OBGyn, is the medical director for Planned Parenthood of Montana. His son Sam (13) and daughter Lucy (11) enjoy growing up in the wide-open spaces. And Rob derives great satisfaction from his work and life. "The winters are long, but it's very rewarding to see all the improvements I've made. It's a privilege to work this magnificent landscape."
For more information on Rob Forstenzer's ranch, visit www.montanagrasslandsbeef.com.