Tag Archives: Range West Grass-Fed Beef

Prairie Plate: A Sustainable Restaurant

SoupThe first thing I noticed when I walked in the doors of Prairie Plate Restaurant, Waverly’s new farm-to-table restaurant, was the way the light inhabited the room, drawing you to the lake view that lay just beyond the windows.

Renee Cornett, head chef and owner of Prairie Plate, greets me at the door and begins to dive into the history of the land. She and her husband, Jerry Cornett, run Lakehouse Farm, a certified organic farm situated roughly fifty yards from the front door of the restaurant. After they started their farm in 2011, they began renovations on the house down by the lake for the restaurant that would eventually open its doors on April 2, 2014.

While their setup and concept for the restaurant would lead you to believe they had lived a lifetime as farmers, their background tells a more unique story.

Renee grew up in Maryland, graduating from the US Naval Academy with a major in mathematics. She served eleven years in the US Navy, the majority as a naval aviator, before retiring in 2001 and attending culinary school at Metropolitan Community College.

Jerry hails from Omaha. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and then joined the US Navy. Also a naval aviator, his career spanned twenty-one years, including serving as the defense attaché at the US Embassy in Albania, retiring in 2011 with the rank of commander.

When I ask them how they wound up in the farming and restaurant business, they laugh. This is not the first time someone has asked them this question.

“In some ways it doesn’t matter what you do, everybody eats,” Renee says.

She has cooked all her life—for friends, roommates, and her family, including their two children. As Jerry’s retirement approached, they were looking for the next steps. Their life in the Navy had taken them all over the world, including time spent in northern Italy. It was there that the concept of a farm-to-table restaurant formulated.

“You see concepts like this in Europe, northern Italy, even Albania,” Jerry said, “People would travel out into the country to the farm to have a meal that focused on what they grew there.”

In Italy, this concept is called agriturismo.

For the last five to six years of Jerry’s career, they would gather inspiration from restaurants around the world.

Their seasonal menu changes from week to week, depending on what is growing at that moment. Lakehouse Farm grows sixty to seventy different varieties of vegetables and fruit. The items they don’t have on their farm—primarily meat, dairy, and grains—are purchased from local farmers and suppliers. For instance, on the current week’s menu, they featured beef from Range West Beef in Marquette, pork from Erstwhile Farm in Columbus, cheese from Branched Oak Dairy in Raymond, and grains from The Grain Place in Marquette.

As she talks about the logistics of starting up a local food restaurant, Renee’s background in mathematics begins to show.

“You start doing the math. If you’re going to buy local food to start with, local products, how can you make the math work to make it so you don’t have to charge more than people want to come for? And so you start working through some of that,” she says, “I don’t have to truck it in, I know it’s fresh.”

“We want to showcase the region’s ingredients,” Jerry says

The Cornetts are also committed to running both their farm and restaurant as sustainably as possible.

“If we have choices, as much as possible, we try to pick one that’s lighter on the environment, that fits with the rest of the philosophy of what we’re doing. If we can avoid using a light fixture and use a sky light,” Renee smiles and gestures to the other room, “we did that.”

On their farm they practice sustainable farming by using drip irrigation, covered crops, contour farming, crop rotation, and a transplant system where plants begin in their greenhouse before being transplanted to the ground. Additionally, they also compost the kitchen scraps from the restaurant to mix into their soil.

So what incentive does this restaurant have that draws people up from the city?

“From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table,” Renee recites their restaurant motto, “It’s the connection to the place—food from the place—it’s closer to where it started. It’s going to taste better because of that. All the other things—it’s healthier, the economic impact, and all that—everybody is going to have their own section of that discussion that’s important to them, but the ‘tastes better’ is always important to everybody.”

Jerry took me on a tour of the farm, showed me where the food is grown, walked me around the lake as he told me more about the history of how the farm came to be. The sun was about to set, and I left with plans to return the following evening to sample the menu.

It was an even more beautiful evening when I came back. I had snagged the best table in the house, situated in a small alcove of a bay window on the southeast side of the building. This place is a birder’s paradise. Hundreds of birds swoop down, gliding a feather’s width away from the calm, pristine surface of the lake.

The restaurant’s menu is divided into courses: first course, second course, and dessert. Each course provides several options to choose from. They also offer a variety of wines and beers, as well as French press coffee from Cultiva in Lincoln.

What is most important to note about the food is the fact that no flavor is overpowering in any of the dishes. The combinations of flavors work to each other’s favor, and everything is seasoned and salted to perfection.

The Lakehouse Farm Salad is made up of whatever variety of lettuce is best on any given day. From there, Renee adds vinaigrettes and garnishes that compliment the particular type of lettuce available that day. On this particular day, it was garnished with cheese and sunflower seeds and served with slice of bread.

The asparagus and quark soup is also a specialty first course item. Quark is a soft, spreadable cheese that is most common in Germany and other areas of Europe. Branched Oak Dairy Farm provides the quark, which compliments the asparagus for a very satisfying soup. It is garnished with a slice of bread and a halved asparagus tip.

The wilted spinach and feta salad was my favorite of the ones I tried. The spinach was done perfectly—still slightly crunchy but wilted just enough to add that warm spinach flavor combined with garlic and oil. The feta, also from Branched Oak Dairy Farm, was a perfect compliment.

I tried each of the main courses that were available that evening.

First up were the chard rolls. This was the vegetarian option for the evening and was a wonderful surprise. The chard rolls are filled with brown rice and sweet potato and are served over sorrel sauce with a side of asparagus.

The house hickory smoked brisket was served with a side of grilled polenta and roasted asparagus. The meat was very tender. The smoky flavor of the meat married well with the polenta.

The pork chop with rhubarb sauce was my favorite of the three main course dishes I tried. While I don’t traditionally think of a rhubarb sauce on pork, the semisweet sauce really brought out the best of the pork. The dish came with a side of barley and sweet potato pilaf garnished with chive flowerets that provided a beautiful splash of color and a strikingly wonderful flavor.

Two desserts were offered that evening: a rhubarb tart and a hubbard spice cake.

The rhubarb tart was beautiful in appearance; it looked like it belonged in the window of a pastry store in France rather than in Waverly, Nebraska. It was the perfect balance between tart and sweet—just like rhubarb dishes should be.

The hubbard spice cake was the dessert winner for me. The day before, Renee had shown me all about blue hubbard squash. As I helped her carry them from their storage to the kitchen, she explained how they were versatile, like a pumpkin. They are a pale blue-green on the outside and bright orange on the inside. When I saw this on the menu, I jumped at the chance to try it. It didn’t disappoint—still slightly warm from the oven, it was moist and spiced to perfection.

I left, content with having tried something new. And that’s what the farm-to-table experience is all about.

Jerry says it best.

“It’s an experience. It’s not just the food and it’s not just the place. It’s the food AND the place.”

He’s right about that. Prairie Plate is the place where you can come enjoy the beautiful Nebraska scenery and eat the finest dishes with ingredients grown and raised locally. It’s the taste of Nebraska distilled into the food on your plate.

From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table.

Prairie Plate is open Wednesday through Saturday 5–9 p.m., Sunday 12–5 p.m., from April through mid-November. The menu is constantly changing throughout the season, so check their website for weekly menus. A three-course meal plus coffee will run you around $35–43 but will be worth every penny.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Prairie Fire. Story by Sara Sawatski.

Farms grass-fed beef barely keeping up with demand

Originally published in the Grand Island Independent on Sunday, March 30, 2014. Story by Ellen Campbell.

Luke and Lori Jacobsen in pasture with cattle
Independent / Matt Dixon Luke and Lori Jacobsen pose for a portrait with some of their grass-fed cattle in a pasture on their farm near Marquette. The Jacobsens’ beef products have been sold all over the United States and can be found online at rangewestbeef.com.

MARQUETTE — Many people believe grass-fed cattle produce a tough, stringy product, and that good beef comes only from corn-fed animals.

Luke Jacobsen, who farms near Marquette, is proving that, given the right conditions, the opposite is true.

His wife Lori, who is a first-grade teacher, helps with their beef business, especially the marketing. They live on the L&L Jacobsen Farm, where they raised their three children. The kids live away from home now, but assist on the farm when they are visiting.

“I come from a long line of beef producers,” said Jacobsen. “My great-grandfather Peter Jacobsen immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1868. He came to Nebraska in 1872 and settled in the Marquette area in 1892. He was a cattle farmer, and sold his animals at the Omaha Stockyards.

Old photo of stockyard
Courtesy photo Peter Jacobsen, great-grandfather of Marquette farmer Luke Jacobsen, sold his cattle at the Omaha Stockyards. Photo was taken in the late 1800s or very early 1900s.

“At that time, there was a special market in England for fattened beef. The cattle were loaded onto rail cars at Marquette for the trip, and the cattlemen could ride along in the caboose.”

Then there were the next two generations.

“My grandfather, Christian, was born in 1884 and also raised cattle, as did my father Elmer (1919-2008).” Luke Jacobsen said. “I began farming in 1978 and have been involved with cattle since that time. I planted the first ‘finishing’ pasture in 2004 and began selling grass-fed beef in 2007 through the Nebraska Food Co-op. This cooperative is focused on local foods, and has a delivery point in Grand Island.”

Jacobsen said he became interested in grass-fed cattle from the health standpoint. Grass — not corn — is the natural diet for ruminants like cattle, and the meat from these cattle provides three times more omega-3 than those that are grain-fed, twice the amount of beta carotene, less saturated fat and fewer calories per serving. The Jacobsens use no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in their cattle.

“I took a trip to Argentina in January of 2003,” he said. “They grow excellent beef there on the Pampas plains, and I was with a group that wanted to counter the corn-fed theory. We learned that Argentine cattle genetics are different from ours, producing animals with a smaller frame. Also, with abundant rainfall, the pastures have a high moisture content, and the grazing is rotated.

“All of these contribute to a more tender, tastier beef. When we get away from all the grain and artificial additives, and decide to return to nature, we can have that.”

“We feel our flavor is superior to corn-fed beef. And one reason is that the animals are older before begin butchered. In earlier times, cattle were not sold until they were about 2 years old and had time for their meat to develop more taste. Then, when the push was on to get fat cattle to the market as soon as possible, to increase sales volume, the producers began feeding corn and giving supplements so that they attained the desired weight at a younger age.”


cattle at Jacobsen's farm
Independent / Matt Dixon These cows, and many others raised by Luke and Lori Jacobsen on their farm in Marquette, are raised on a pure grass diet.

Back home, Jacobsen began his experimentation with a small part of his 80-acre home place, and now uses all of the property. He has divided the pasture land into a number of different paddocks, and rotates the cattle through, giving each plot a 30-day rest period before another herd comes in. In addition, the pasture is irrigated to emulate the wet Argentinian Pampas.

He has also focused on genetics for cattle that are smaller-framed than the typical beef animal.

“We feel our flavor is superior to corn-fed beef,” he said. “And one reason is that the animals are older before being butchered. In earlier times, cattle were not sold until they were about 2 years old and had time for their meat to develop more taste.

“Then, when the push was on to get fat cattle to the market as soon as possible to increase sales volume, the producers began feeding corn and giving supplements so that they attained the desired weight at a younger age,” Luke Jacobsen added. “We sell our grass-fed cattle when they are more mature, and we get great feedback from customers.”

arm roast in package
Independent / Matt Dixon Grass-fed beef arm roast is one of the beef products sold by Luke and Lori Jacobsen.

The Jacobsens’ brand label is Range West Grass-Fed Beef. They established a website to provide general information, details on ordering including a price list, a chart of beef cuts, health benefits and a section for customer comments. A sampling of the comments:

  • Richard B. of Toronto: “Fantastic meat! Your flat-iron steaks are better than some rib-eyes I’ve had.”
  • Ken C. of Omaha, on a filet cookoff: “We compared your fillets against a competitor’s prime tenderloin at a large dinner party. Every single person preferred your steaks.”
  • Ellie S. of Lincoln: “Thank you. Your ground beef is sooo good!”

Luke Jacobsen recommends a book — “Steaks,” by Mark Schatzker — as an excellent source of information about the benefits of feeding cattle on grass. The Range West website has a link to a video of an interview with the author. In this interview, Schatzker mentioned Range West, and it brought numerous inquiries and orders to the Jacobsens.

cattle in pasture
Independent / Matt Dixon Pictured are some of the grass-fed cattle raised by Luke and Lori Jacobsen on L&L Jacobsen Farm near Marquette.

The Jacobsens have customers all over the United States, as well as a wide constituency of people in Asia, Europe and Africa who don’t like the American corn-fed beef.

“One of our problems is keeping up with the demand,” said Jacobsen. “We’re a small operation and can turn out only a certain amount of beef at a time.

“A frequently asked question is ‘Why can’t I find grass-fed beef in grocery stores?’ The answer is that American food production is geared for high volumes of basically wholesome, inexpensive food with little regard for nutritional differences. Feeding grain is the fastest way to fatten animals and has been the least costly. But our customers are concerned about availability, not price.