If you have been to the Muskegon Farmers Market, you might have met Julie Engel, owner of The Pasturage LLC. Her Montague farm was recently certified for the highest animal welfare standards.
It is Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW), which is described as North America’s most trusted and transparent farm certifier.
The AGW label lets consumers know animals are raised outdoors on a pasture or range in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards in the United States and Canada, using sustainable agriculture methods on an independent farm.
“I first learned about Animal Welfare Approved around 2007, and I was inspired by the work that they were doing,” says Engel.
Linda Engel, Julie's mom, staffs the farm's stall at the Muskegon Farmers Market.
Consumer Reports has rated the certification as the only “highly meaningful” label for farm animal welfare, outdoor access, and sustainability — and the only animal welfare certification in which it has confidence.
AGW Executive Director Emily Moose says the organization’s certification delivers real transparency for farmers and consumers.
“We’re proud to work with farmers and ranchers like The Pasturage to promote their high-quality products and sustainable farming practices,” Moose said.
At The Pasturage, the sheep graze one section of pasture before being moved to fresh fields. Practicing rotational grazing is a foundational part of their management, as it allows grass to recover before sheep return to graze again, keeps the soil properly fertilized, and minimizes the build-up of internal parasites, thereby avoiding reliance on chemical treatments, says Engel.
The Pasturage LLC is a sheep farm in Montague.
Her small, diversified, family-owned grazing farm operates on 40 acres. Her current flock is made up of about 38 ewes, 62 lambs, and one ram.
Engel says working with third-party certification makes her a better farmer because she has to keep careful track of what she’s doing and prove it, which builds trust with consumers.
“There are a lot of people that want to ask questions at the market but are intimidated by the pace, or the response they get from some vendors. Plus, they don't even know what to ask. (AGW) knows what to ask, and asks the farmer on behalf of the consumer,” says Engel.
The Pasturage operates at stall 148 at the Muskegon Farmers Market on Saturday. The farm sells a range of lamb cuts, often not found in grocery stores.
Engel thinks consumers are looking for people they can trust, and AWA certification opens the door to build a relationship based on trust. AGW is the best option because of the depth and breadth of questions and their follow-up, she says.
It’s a challenging path for farmers because of the costs and the extra time required. Keeping good records is by far the most time-consuming, Engel says.
Julie Engel's sheep farm is certified by A Greener World.
“To be a successful farm, though, requires good record-keeping and honest analyzing, so it's something I would strive to do anyway,” she says. “But knowing that someone will be asking is motivation to set time aside to make sure I have good records. I don't know if I will see a return, but I suspect that I will. It's too early to tell.”