Where’s the Beef?

George Lake preparing to herd the cattle.

George Lake preparing to herd the cattle.

When thinking of our little town of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, what usually comes to mind? Friday nights at Grey Field, the age old argument between East End and Mac’s market, or even the Tavern where you can get delicious wings and fries. 

But what you might not know is one of our local farms has been selling their grass-fed beef products to some of the best restaurants in the biggest cities on the east coast.

Tyrone graduates Christy and George Lake, owners of Thistle Creek Farms in Warriors Mark, have been selling their beef all across the east coast for many years now. The farm has been in George Lake’s family for 100 years.

George Went to Millersville College and studied industrial arts. After teaching drafting and woodworking at Tyrone High School for several years, he joined the US Marines. Christi and their young children traveled with George until they returned to live on the farm around 1983. George continued working as a pilot in the reserves and for commercial airlines and Christi taught in the elementary school.

George’s interest in sustainable farming began as a teenager when he saw practices that affected the water supply on the farm. After moving back to the farm, George’s goal was, “to get earthworms back into the soil on this farm as it was when I was a kid.  I started the farming practices that would result in better soil while still working as a pilot with an eye toward farming full time when I retired.” George also wanted to repair the environment of the surrounding rivers, lakes, and creeks.

“It was George’s dream to bring back healthy soils on the farm where he was raised. He also wanted to preserve the springs, creek, and the lake on our property so that they could support aquatic life, and in turn that would allow the return of native species,” said his wife Christy.

Currently, Thistle Creek supplies their products to major cities such as New York City, Long Island, New York, West Palm  Beach, Florida, Brooklyn, Maryland, New Hope, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Brookeville, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Their beef is attractive to restaurants and companies in these large cities for several reasons.

They feed their cows solely on grass instead of genetically engineered feed to improve the overall taste and quality of the finished product. They have also taken steps over the years to bring nutrients back into the soil from deep inside the earth which makes the beef more nutrient-dense. 

“George has always been interested in the value of healthy foods without chemical inputs. He wanted to foster the return of earthworms, microbes, and beneficial fungi which in return help to bring back nutrients from deep within the soil. Then the nutrient-dense soil produces a nutrient-dense product for the consumer, (the cows), offering many health benefits,” said his wife Christy. 

Specific grasses from The Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and Romania were planted because they provided a great tasting product with nutrients that passed into the beef and were also more effective at replenishing the soil. The formula followed at Thistle Creek is that 1/3 of the grass is eaten by the cattle, 1/3 is stomped into the soil to provide nutrients, and 1/3 remains so that photosynthesis can occur and replenish the root systems. “Earthworms are essential in this equation since they carry the nutrients from the plant and dung deep down into the soil. The return of the earthworm happened relatively quickly to where we currently have about 400 pounds of earthworms per acre,” Lake added.

To market their beef and veal, the Lakes use a variety of techniques including online options, which is primarily Christy’s responsibility, and suppliers. The supplier who sells both the beef and veal in New York City actually arranges for visits by potential restaurant owners, chefs, and other employees to the farm. That allows the customer to see exactly how the cattle are treated, the quality of the grasses they eat, the procedures used to ensure that the cattle only graze on sustainable  pasture,  and to be able to talk in person with George and Christi about the commitment Thistle Creek Farms has to providing a more nutritious and healthy product.

Locally, the beef can be found on the menu of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Altoona and in Way’s Fruit Farm as well as other suppliers from the tristate region. Residential sales occur through the web site.

For his willingness to share what he has learned about sustainable farming with other people in agriculture, George Lake was awarded the 2013 Outstanding Pasture Producer Award from the PA Forage and Grassland Council and earned first place in the Council’s 2016 Forage Spokesperson Competition.

So if you are looking for  good tasting beef and are tired of all the genetically engineered products, you can find Thistle Creek beef right here in Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania.