Ike, Abbie and grandson, Jhett.

Roadtrip: Where do great steaks come from?

It’s almost too picturesque, I thought as I stood in Mark and Abbie Nelson’s circular roundabout and stared. I drove below a canopy of trees to get here — a place where Angus cattle graze upon golden pastures that meet rolling vineyards of zinfandel and petite sirah. The San Francisco coastline is a mere 100 miles in the distance. The road to great steaks is paved with a great deal of awe.

Five Star Land and Livestock - on the road to great steaks.

This can’t be real. The state flag was dancing in the breeze, and there by a big red barn was a grinning young cowboy with his loyal dog, Ike. I need good light for photos … then again California always has good light!

Ike, Abbie and grandson, Jhett - on the road to great steaks.
Ike, Abbie and grandson, Jhett.

The Nelsons, both California natives, hailed from different parts of the Golden State only to end up in Wilton with a combined four kids in tow. Since the 1984 move and beginning of Five Star Land and Livestock, they’ve met amazing people and facilitated some truly enlightening conversations.

Mark and Abbie Nelson - on the road to great steaks.
Mark and Abbie met at the California State Fair. They were both exhibitors at the cattle show.

The home along the Cosumnes River is their beautiful oasis, but separate from California it will never be. Issues of dust or truck length, water rights or taxes — it seems it would be a relief to move to a more secluded spot, build high fences, and lock the gates. Instead, Mark and Abbie stay in the middle of it all.

One hundred Angus cows roam the Nelson’s California land. The animals are the true stars of the show — the center of attention when groups visit the ranch.

Abbie Nelson, Five Star Land and Livestock - on the road to great steaks.
“I do like pretty cattle,” Abbie says. “They’re my therapy.”

“We have a big job to do and that’s to gain the trust of the end consumer, to make sure they know we have a safe product.” And with that notion the Nelsons began an open-gate policy — rather, gates were never built — and the result is an ever-increasing number of guests who visit, ask questions, and leave with an understanding of the beef industry and a family tied to it.

“As a kid, it was pretty cool not always meeting somebody in a cowboy hat,” Ryan Nelson says. Abbie and Mark’s fifth and youngest son runs an Angus ranch with his family nearby. Oldest sister, Andra, does the same across the border in Oregon. “You often get to see somebody in tennis shoes trying to learn about beef.”

Abbie Nelson and family - on the road to great steaks.
Abbie’s grandson, Jhett, tags along with his dad, Ryan, whenever he can. He enjoys checking the cows as much as his dad and grandma.

“We’ve had Polish, Chinese, Japanese visitors. We’ll have a Vietnamese group this month,” Abbie rattles off. To her it’s a no-brainer, an absolute necessity for the industry she loves. But for those who know this life, transparency comes at a cost — mostly time from other responsibilities. It’s a sacrifice the Nelsons are willing to make.

“Our family’s story and the Angus industry’s story are worth sharing with ‘city people’,” Abbie says. “Once we get them here their comments become, ‘I didn’t understand this. I didn’t know that!’. They can do a complete 180 in an afternoon.”

And whether Abbie Nelson and her family are welcoming eighth graders or international visitors to the pasture …

We’re all better for it.

To meet more ranching families on the road to great steaks, visit CertifiedAngusBeef.com.