I lost a friend last month. His name was Al Erickson (Dr. Albert W. Erickson), a truly amazing man who wrestled bears when he was a younger man, who raised grassfed beef in his 70s, and whom my family watched pole vault when he was 80, when he competed in a decathlon in Seattle.
You heard that right: Al competed in decathlons into his 80s. He had only begun doing so in his 70s! He was modest about it. The first time he mentioned it to me, after he had been competing for several years, he said he didn’t want to make a big deal about it.
Al Erickson, at age 82, competing in a decathlon in 2012 (Seattle Times photo)
Al did a lot more in between as well. He was a wildlife scientist (his expertise was in black bears) who taught at various universities, including the University of Washington; participated in treks to the Antarctic; ran a waterfowl hunting club in the Snoqualmie Valley, and more, which I cannot even begin to cover here. I’d say he did enough for a few people’s lifetimes.
When I became a green fanatic 11 years ago (I’ve since become “balanced”), I found Al’s ad in the newspaper, advertising locker beef with no hormones and no antibiotics. I was looking for grassfed beef.
“Locker beef? What’s that?” I wondered, having my roots in the big city. Al and I chatted on the phone, as I quizzed him on how he raised his beef. “No grain, no feedlots or confinement, no hormones or antibiotics?” I asked. Al assured me that all he did was put his animals on his pastures. We had a warm and easygoing conversation even though we were strangers. Al probably was not a salesman by nature, and his down-to-earth conversation reflected a realness that most customers probably wish for.
My family went out to meet him and to check out his animals, and we became friends. Al was contemplating giving up raising beef cattle, as he didn’t seem to be making headway with it. It was a lot of work, and he didn’t get much return. People balked about prices, not realizing the labor intensiveness and slim profit margin of raising cattle on pasture.
During our first phone conversation when he first admitted he was thinking about giving it up even as I was responding to his ad, I implored, “Don’t give it up. We need you. You’re doing a great thing.” Al told me over the phone that I lifted his spirits. It was what he needed to hear.
With that little encouragement, Al didn’t give it up. He continued to raise cattle on his pastures for the next half dozen or so years. I had the pleasure of working with him to get his grassfed beef business back on its feet, and in two years, he could not produce enough beef to supply the demand.
Al was actually the developer of the grassfed beef enterprise in the Snoqualmie Valley. After his own grassfed beef business was thriving, Al became a voice in Cascade Range Beef, another Snoqualmie and Snohomish Valley-based grassfed beef company, and served on its board in its early years.
Among the unconventional things that Al did, raising beef cattle strictly on pasture (although it was the way beef was produced until the 20th century) was one of them. He couldn’t see raising beef any other way.
I have been blessed to have known this man. Thanks, Al.