On a cold morning in February 2009, I was at a National Grass Fed Beef luncheon, enjoying a slice of meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, and collard greens. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a fourth generation cattleman from Georgia, Will Harris. Harris, of White Oak Pastures, recently received accolades in the New York Times for his innovative approach to raising grassfed beef. As a young entrepreneur venturing into the grassfed beef industry, I was eager to ask questions and learn from a seasoned grassfed cattleman who understood the niche marketing involved in this industry. The slow drawl of his southern accent allowed the knowledge he passed on to stick. As I looked around the packed conference hall, watching empty plates fill with second slices of meatloaf, I asked this southern cowboy how he was able to increase supply to keep up with the growing demand of quality raised 100% grassfed beef. Harris was not only raising and finishing cattle on his own farmland; he was also building a community of growers to supply his brand with quality grassfed beef animals. That’s when I realized it was time to look outside our own pastures to grow Foxhollow Farm’s grassfed beef supply. The challenge became, how could we grow while keeping up with the quality and integrity that is so deeply engrained in our brand and values.
At Foxhollow Farm, we are dedicated to naturally growing our beef herd. Our cattleman, Derek Lawson, focuses on the health and genetic quality of the animals born on our farmland. In order to build the hybrid vigor required to finish our cattle on grass, we keep the best looking heifer calves and add them to our herd of momma cows. Our gentle yet strong willed bulls are small framed in order to create a calf that is the correct size for getting fat on grass. Our growth is limited on our 1300-acre farm because of our commitment to a healthy stocking rate, which ensures the health of our land. At 2 1/2 acres per cow/calf pair, we allow our cattle room to graze and rotate throughout the pastures, ensuring they have fresh grasses packed with the nutrition and sustenance required to live a healthy life.
We are located in a region of Kentucky that is made for growing grass. Oldham County and the surrounding counties have the agricultural capabilities to grow enough 100% grassfed beef to easily feed our local community. So, the question becomes, how do we increase our supply of high quality grassfed beef while supporting the farmers and farmland around us? There seem to be plenty of cattle around us but why aren’t they staying in Kentucky?
Foxhollow Farm will take a holistic approach in growing our local grassfed beef supply while nurturing relationships with other likeminded farmers. We can mimic nature’s ability to thrive without depleting our resources. My goal is to gather a handful of trusted friends, neighbors, and family members to raise and finish grassfed beef on their farmland. We would allow the farmers to focus on farming in the most earth friendly way for the land and the animals around them. I want the farmers to keep their entrepreneurial independence and also gain the freedom of knowing they have a guaranteed market that they can trust to which to sell.
The importance of a strong relationship became evident when I started to work through the trials and tribulations of starting a new business model. I quickly realized I needed to have a clear set of expectations for the farmers under Foxhollow Farm’s “Community Raised” label. I wrote a working list of protocols filled with breed specifics, weight gain ideals, and educational resources. It will take more than a couple of carefully crafted pages to truly create change and grow this side of our business. It will be deeply dependent on the strength of the relationships we build with our community partners. My first “community raised” grower was Paul Keith. Paul has a three crop rotation farm in Henry County, Kentucky and was interested in converting part of his farmland into a cattle farm. Paul worked on his end building fences, putting in waterers, seeding pastures, and buying cattle.
I recently got to travel down to Bluffton, Georgia and have the privilege of visiting Will Harris and his family at White Oak Pastures. The positive impact this fifth generation family farm has had on the surrounding community and the grassfed beef movement across the country is inspiring. I realize this is a long-term plan touching on a possible solution to a very large agricultural issue. The patience, focus, and dedication required to take on this “Slow Money” venture was realized when I read Wendell Berry’s Article on the importance of the 50 Year Farm Bill. He wrote “one of the most important results of the perennialization of agriculture would be the movement of farm animals out of their wretched confinement factories where they don’t, and can never, belong, and back into the pastures and into the open air where they do belong.”
In five years, I hope to support a small handful of high quality and expertly trained grassfed beef farmers. In gathering likeminded farmers, we can build mutual respect and stay true to the deeper meaning of our work. Ideally, we can work together, in a symbiotic relationship that allows us to offer our community a larger supply of Bluegrass-fed beef. We will keep our standards high, our brand trusted, and our customers satisfied and loyal. While this concept is in its infancy, I see the potential and enjoy embarking on a venture that deeply supports the core of our mission, supporting the health of our farmland, the animals and our fellow human beings.
Co-Founder and 4th Generation Land Steward