In this post, we answer a couple of common questions, address a national and international meat policy and labeling issue, take a few jabs at the industry, and quote a mentor and a poet. We’ve broken this meandering journey into a Q and A to make it more digestible. Hope you enjoy- please email Marshall@homeplacepastures.com for any questions or follow up discussions!
What’s the history of the Home Place?
The Bartletts have farmed the Home Place for a living for 5 generations, dating back to 1871.
Marshall Bartlett moved back to the farm and founded HPP in 2014. Before that the Home Place was primarily a row crop farm, producing cotton, corn, and soybeans. The Home Place has always had a cow/calf operation, and calves were marketed each year in the fall after weaning. Marshall’s dad, Mike farmed the Home Place for 50 years and continues to operate the cotton gin in Como- one of the few left in this part of the world.
7 years in, Home Place Pastures now takes in more and more of the family’s pasture and row crop land each year, transitioning it from input intensive, commodity agriculture, to a year-round forage based system for cattle and hogs. HPP also operates one of the few on-farm, USDA inspected slaughter and processing facilities in the country, which the company opened in 2018.
The latest addition to the business is our Farm Store: a full service butcher shop and restaurant in a beautifully renovated old farmhouse right across Home Place Road from our headquarters and meat plant. Keep an eye out for great events and dinners here and come grab lunch and your favorite meats Tuesday through Saturday!
What’s the crux of the HPP business model?
HPP is one of the few vertically integrated beef and pork farms in the USA. We raise and finish our livestock here, slaughter and process under federal inspection on site, and sell our products to restaurants, retailers, and individuals. We also have a network of producers who raise animals for us according to our exacting standards. In return, we offer them a stable, premium market. In this way, both here on the Home Place and across the region we are putting more farmland and animals into a humane, soil enhancing, revenue generating farming model that we believe has tremendous potential to improve the farmland and rural economy of our region.
If you operate your own plant, why are you sometimes sold out of cuts or have longer lead times?
Every bit of meat that we sell is harvested on site. We DO NOT, under any circumstances, receive boxed meat from other companies to reprocess, because this would separate our plant from our farm. In our mind, the processing facility is an extension of our farming operation. In fact, the meat plant exists only to connect our customers to our agricultural practices. We are not in the meatpacking industry; we are farmers who harvest our own livestock. This limits our inventory to the ratio of cuts nature provides on a whole carcass. Our skilled and knowledgeable staff can make excellent recommendations for substitutes if we are out of your favorite cut: there are so many wonderful cuts and recipes to discover!
What makes HPP different from local butcher shops and meat brands?
Supporting local businesses is always the right choice. However, we do want to emphasize that if your goal is not only support local, but also support local farmers, humane animal husbandry, and land stewardship, then sourcing your protein directly from a farm like ours is the way to go. Many butcher shops source boxed meat from large national companies and re-cut and process in house for their community. This is not inherently bad, and often provides more economical meat options and a valuable service to the community. We simply want our customers to understand the difference so they can achieve their purchasing goals! It's important to note that some butcher shops like Piece of Meat in New Orleans and Iverstine Farms in Baton Rouge do source from local farms! Don’t be afraid to just ask the store about their sourcing practices.
Why is your meat more expensive than grocery store meat?
This is a complicated question, but the simplest and shortest answer is scale. We spend a lot of time, labor, and resources to produce meat in a way that is good for our land, offers a good way of life for our animals, and pays a living wage to our staff. Instead of say, 10,000 animals a day, we slaughter and process only a few dozen. However, when you buy from us, you know your dollars are going straight into a tax paying, job creating, local farmer supporting business and that your dollar will circulate locally many more times over than if spent at a national chain grocery store brand (roughly 3 times more, according to some research).
Is the HPP Monthly Box like Butcher Box?
While the subscription model is the same, we would like to emphatically say, “absolutely not!”. We believe that national, eco-friendly meat startups are not the answer to fix our food system. While we support the idea behind these businesses (and have sold meat to a couple), we believe that supporting a farm in your region directly is the most effective way to put your dollars towards building soils, creating viable jobs, and providing humane lifestyles for food animals. The national brands too much resemble the centralization of the commodity industry. To create food system resilience and sweeping economic benefits to rural America, the solution is not a few impressively funded and marketed “eco” meat companies with supply chains rooted in overseas production. Rather, we need several thousand small farms supplying their surrounding communities with 100 percent of their protein. This decentralization is vital to put power and money back into farming communities, combat environmental degradation, and make our food safer. However, it means that meat will become more expensive, which is a separate, complex issue that deserves unpacking in another post.
Ok, but why not support big brands if they have certifications I trust?
Here’s a great article, please read! Big Meat (for lack of a better moniker) noticed concerning market share declines (probably 1 or 2 percent) in the early 2010’s, as pioneering domestic grass fed beef producers were succeeding in meeting explosive demand in this new market. In response, Big Meat figured out how to purchase “green” brand lines, or execute impressive supply chain and label claim gymnastics by sourcing boxed meat from overseas companies specializing in grass fed and organic labeled products. Thanks to some clever lobbying to change country of origin labeling policies (discussed more below), in 2015 the big boys inundated the market with super cheap grass fed, certified organic beef from overseas and squeezed out the domestic producers. These claims are big business in Australia and Uruguay, similar to the feed lots of Kansas and Iowa here in the US. The unfortunate side of this is that much of the organic, grass fed, “made in the USA” beef at grocery stores is consolidated and sourced overseas and imported by the same industry players whom grass fed beef consumers are trying to avoid! Do some digging at your favorite retailer and see what you find (Wegmans, Trader Joes, etc). Butcher Box (somewhat subtlety) admits most of their beef is from Australia in their sourcing fine print. You have to click “more about our beef”. All their sourcing info is just kind of sing-song, happy farm bullshit with no real claims or certifications (sorry to pick on Butcher Box, they just provide a well known example of what I’m discussing).
Ok, but if its still certified organic and grass fed, isn’t it just as environmentally friendly as domestic product?
I would probably argue that sourcing grass fed beef from American farmers has a lower environmental impact than buying from overseas producers (especially after a drink or two), but I don’t have enough data to make that claim. As for the transportation, container barges are a very efficient way to move freight. As for the production methods, they vary drastically both intra and internationally. I’ve heard anecdotal horror stories of South American beef conglomerates displacing indigenous peoples and clearing rainforest to create more pasture, but I certainly can’t argue that all companies use these tactics, or that such practices are ever employed in Australia or New Zealand, where a lot of grass fed beef and lamb in US markets comes from. I will add that if you buy beef from regenerative farms in the US, studies suggest that year round intensive forage management sequesters more GHG than the cattle emit.
I will also confidently argue that buying regional product has a much better impact on our economy than supporting international grass fed beef supply chains. Buying regionally produced (born, raised, butchered) meat pumps money into rural communities and small independent farms and ranches. Buying greenwashed product from meat conglomerates with global supply chains puts your dollars right back into the same old system, and away from American farmers and rural jobs.
Ok, ok, but how can companies put “Product of the USA” on a label if the meat is imported from other countries??? That seems totally misleading?
You are truly an astute consumer, and WE COULDN’T AGREE MORE. The USDA watered down the requirements of the country of origin claim in 2015, making it legal to apply this label to imported meats that were minimally reprocessed and re-packaged in the US. This means a company like, say, Butcher Box (sorry again BB), could import container loads of boxed beef primals from Uruguay, cut them into steaks in a facility here, and re-label the steaks as “Product of the USA”, even though the cattle were neither raised or slaughtered in this country. I’m not arguing that supporting overseas ranches is wrong, but the current label policy is clearly misleading consumers. The result: American demand for grass fed beef skyrockets while domestic ranchers’ market share plummets.
Man, this is confusing and I feel overwhelmed! It can just be so inconvenient and expensive to support local.
Global trade, politics, and supply chains are interesting, but too much to contemplate when you just need to grab some groceries and feed your family. We ask that you do what you can, when you can, and know that each transaction you give us instead of the grocery store makes a HUGE difference. At the same time we are working to make supporting us as easy as possible with our online store, home delivery via Fedex, farm store, and farmers markets!
In a recent conversation with visionary and Home Place mentor (whether he’ll claim that or not) Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, we discussed this challenge. Well mostly, I despaired, and he counseled. After a self pitying monologue about our steep uphill battle against an industry that for over a century has hooked consumers on convenience and cheap prices, Will responded, in his characteristic Georgia drawl, “great change never occurs without great pain- this shit ain’t easy son!” On a more positive note, he concluded that when farmers like us preach the same message together, our united voices become much louder.
OK, so I don’t live within 300 miles of you. Should I give you my business?
We urge you to source meat from regional farmers if that’s an option. We know and admire many amazing farmers devoted to land stewardship, animal welfare, and rural economic development across the country and each deserves your business. At the same time, we are happy to send you our product if you’d like to try us out! It would be amazing to limit our sales to a small regional area, but for now, we are not in a position to turn it down. If you call this hypocritical, I’ll leave you with a quote from Walt Whitman. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. (I am large and contain multitudes.)”
Plus, I would love to bring in dollars from far away places and put them in my employees’ and southeast farmers’ pockets, instead of exporting our livestock and dollars to Tyson or JBS. Just saying.
- Marshall Bartlett