Interview with Garnett Brockman, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, Luray, VA

On Thursday, August 24, Matt Ludwig and I left Blacksburg and headed to Harrisonburg to interview Garnett Brockman, an experienced insurance agent with Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance. Garnett works out of the Luray office, focusing on ag and production-related policies. He was kind enough to walk us through the insurance considerations involved in marketing products directly to restaurants.

Most products sold to restaurants are covered under product liability policies, although the type of policy may vary somewhat with the product or product form. The amount of coverage necessary is determined by the amount of assets you’re trying to protect. Any farm insurance agent should be able to advise you on what specific policy you might need.

So how does the claims process work? If there’s a food safety outbreak at a restaurant you supply in which damages are claimed, the restaurant is going to audit their product chain to figure out where things went wrong. If it wasn’t your product, don’t worry about it. If it was your product, call your farm insurance agent and they’ll settle the damages under your policy. Don’t have insurance? Garnett recommends you get a good lawyer.

This underscores a great point about insurance. While liability insurance isn’t typically prohibitively expensive, many people view it as an unnecessary expense, or even a nuisance. Many people think that just because they’re good farmers, they’ll never have an outbreak. They may never have an outbreak, and one hopes they never will, but if an outbreak gets traced back to them and they’re uninsured, they can lose their farm. Protection from the possibility of such an outcome is more than worth it, and in many cases it’s simply the cost of doing business.

At the end of the day, insurance is just another risk management tool, no different from hedging or pricing contracts or any of the other devices farmers use to mitigate risk. Garnett and folks like him across Virginia and the US help keep farms safe enough to pass from generation, and safe enough to start in the first place To learn all you need to know and get an idea of all the questions you should be asking your insurance agent, be sure to watch Garnett’s interview on the Virginia Market Ready YouTube Channel. Thanks again to Garnett for sharing his time and wisdom with us.

Ben Garber (Virginia Tech Ag Econ ‘19)
Blacksburg, VA
September 1, 2017

Interview with Mike Calhoun, Stover Shop Greenhouses, Churchville, VA

On Wednesday, August 16, Matt Ludwig, French Price, and I traveled through the hills and rills of Churchville, Virginia, to meet Mike Calhoun of Stover Shop Greenhouses. Stover Shop is a family hydroponic lettuce operation with four lettuce cultivars and a variety of product options and distribution channels. They do everything from bagged lettuces targeted at institutions to plastic clamshells in grocery stores in the western part of the state to lettuces served in restaurants across Virginia.

Like many farmers, this isn’t Mike’s first career. He spent years in the construction business, but when the greenhouse a couple miles from his house went up for sale, he and his family decided to get into the lettuce business. Mike makes no secret of the fact that it’s a tough business to get into and a tough business to stay in. Still, the Calhouns stick around. Mike’s wife and two of his sons work at Stover Shop with him, and he hopes to have room to bring more of his family on if they’re interested. Stover Shop also employs folks from around the Churchville area; some of those folks help with harvest when things get busy, and some work at Stover Shop year-round.

The Stover Shop team prides themselves on being able to provide the best product possible by controlling as much of the product chain as possible, which is why they decided to grow their lettuces in a greenhouse. The greenhouse can control temperature, light intensity, and humidity using a digital control panel. Stover Shop also uses a fertigation system, meaning that their irrigation water contains tightly controlled amounts of fertilizer. According to Mike, this allows them to change the flavor of their lettuce simply by changing the fertilizer mix. To make sure the product stays fresh, they also do their own packaging in-house and handle some of their own delivery.

This high level of control over the product is apparently a necessity when growing lettuce. Mike made it clear that even in a greenhouse, lettuce is very difficult to grow at certain times of the year. Summer is difficult because the lettuce has tendency to bolt and are stemmy, while the winter grow is expensive to heat. Despite the modern, controlled environment Stover Shop maintains, they still have seasonal cost, quality, and supply issues to consider.

In addition to their control over their product, Mike credits their involvement with state agencies, state specialists, and other ag organizations as giving them the tools to succeed. Attending a Virginia Cooperative Extension networking event helped Stover Shop get some of their first clients, and Mike has tried to stay abreast of their marketing events ever since. He sees good marketing as essential to Stover Shop’s survival and expansion. Another big step for them was the opportunity to work with Amber Vallotton, Virginia’s Produce Safety Specialist, to get USDA GAP certification. In Mike’s experience, GAP certification is a necessity to work with large buyers, distributors, and institutions. If you don’t have it, you can’t play with the big boys. Although GAP certification intimidates a lot of people, Mike says they find it very manageable at Stover Shop, and it gets easier the longer you do it. The first audit is a little scary, but the more GAP becomes part of your routine, the less you have to worry about it. In fact, “I bet my son doesn’t spend an hour a week doing his GAP manuals. He doesn’t have to.” For more about Stover Shop’s GAP experience, see this video.

Visiting Stover Shop was a great chance to see the intersection of old-school customer service and high-tech agriculture. Not only that, our visit highlighted the science and attentiveness that go into a single leaf of lettuce. To learn more, be sure to catch the full interview with Joe on the Virginia Market Ready YouTube Channel, visit their website, or look for their products in a grocery store, restaurant, or school near you. Thanks again to Mike for sharing his story and wisdom with us.

Ben Garber (Virginia Tech AG Econ ‘19)
Blacksburg, Virginia
September 1, 2017

Interview with Joe Cloud, T&E Meats, Harrisonburg, VA

Virginia’s agriculture industry is full of businesses built on longevity and strong relationships. T&E Meats, a meat processor located on the northwest side of Harrisonburg, is one such business. T&E has been in operation since construction on the building was completed back in 1939. As the business evolved over the years, it grew to include retail and wholesale enterprises in addition to the core meat-processing business.

In 2007, current General Manager Joe Cloud and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms purchased T&E and brought its focus back to the USDA-inspected meat processing business. On July 19, Matt Ludwig and I traveled to the T&E plant to talk with Joe about T&E, meat processing, and selling meat products directly to restaurants.

One of the main themes of our conversation was the type of processing that is required for a product to be sold to restaurants. Smaller producers who sell only to individuals typically use custom processing, a simplified method where the meat is processed on an individual’s behalf, but it cannot be resold. To sell in restaurants, via wholesale, or in retail outlets, farmers must have their meat processed under the more rigorous (and thus more expensive) USDA inspection process.

USDA inspection requires more-involved processing and packaging steps, as well as requiring abattoirs to keep an inspector on their staff present whenever the plant is in operation. Inspectors ensure that live animals are treated humanely and are fit for slaughter, that carcasses are fit for human consumption, and that processing facilities are kept in a sanitary condition. Undergoing USDA inspection allows a farmer to access resale channels such as grocery stores, restaurants, and on-farm retail, as well as a greater degree of credibility. Being inspected to one standard or another doesn’t intrinsically improve the value of the meat; good product is still good, and bad product is still bad. However, USDA inspection gives the consumer a more complete idea of how the meat was handled during the processing phase. In addition, USDA inspected meat bears a processor-specific stamp, and sometimes a lot identification number, so that the meat is more easily traceable. In the event of a foodborne illness outbreak, the processor and lot identifier can be used to track down any affected product, resulting in a greater level of food security for the end consumer.

As with other aspects of direct marketing, communication is key when processing meat for sale to a restaurant. One of the incentives for chefs to purchase meat directly from the farmer is so they can have ingredients that meet their exact specifications for the dishes they serve. At T&E, when processing meat destined for a restaurant, they call the chef for specific cutting instructions. The longer they work with a certain chef and a certain farmer, the better they get at processing those animals just as the chef likes it. Joe told us that some chefs will even ask T&E to leave the meat in subprimal cuts (large cuts consisting of large muscle groups rather than individual steaks) so that the restaurant staff can finish the processing of the meat into cuts preferred by their customers themselves. Buying meat directly from the producer has other benefits as well. As Joe points out, small farmers tend to produce meat with more distinctive flavors and textures than that offered by wholesalers. While not all consumers prefer these characteristics, those that do tend to love them, and it can be a good way to distinguish a restaurant’s cuisine from the rest of the pack. Buying directly from the farmer also supports the local economy, makes for better farmer-chef communication, and provides restaurants with a story to tell for each dish.

Joe also noted that his success is directly tied to that of the growers he works with. Although T&E prides themselves on their relationships with their customers, in his 10 years in the meat business, Joe has met his share of processors and farmers who view each other as adversaries. As he told us, “If the farmer doesn’t make money, I can’t stay in business. It’s in my best interest as a processor to help farmers succeed.”

Another major part of T&E’s mission is education. Joe gives tours of the plant by appointment, and he’s worked with groups such as industry members, college students, and homeschool groups. He feels it’s important to show the public not only the work that’s done at a meat processing facility, but that the animal is treated with respect and care throughout the entire experience. The hope is that an educated consumer is an engaged consumer, and that people who know more about their food will tend to buy directly from the farmer more often. An educated public is also better able to interpret the marketing terms used in the food industry, which can make it easier for farmers and restaurants alike to form long-term relationships with consumers who value the same things they do.

We learned a lot about the meat business from our conversation with Joe, and we’re extremely grateful for his generosity with his time and knowledge. To learn more, be sure to catch the full interview with Joe on the Virginia Market Ready YouTube Channel, or learn more about T&E and their services by visiting their website.

Thanks for learning about Virginia’s food systems with us. It’s good to know our food is in good hands.

Ben Garber (Virginia Tech AG Econ ’19)
July 30, 2017
Verona, VA

Conversation with Daniel Salatin, Polyface, Inc., Swoope, VA

Direct marketing and the attendant importance of forming relationships with customers have become important for many small farms looking to find ways to stay profitable, but that hasn’t always been the case. It started as a movement spearheaded by a small number of influential farms at a time when many farmers still sold their products to distributors or buyers at the stockyard. On March 2, Matt Ludwig, our project’s media guru, and I were privileged to interview one of these direct marketing pioneers, Polyface, Inc.

Polyface is a third-generation family farm nestled in the hills of Swoope, Virginia, just southwest of Staunton. Polyface is most closely associated with Joel Salatin, the farmer, author, and speaker who made the farm famous. Joel has spent decades touring the country and appearing in print, film, and audio media to discuss his take on sustainable farming practices and advocate for local food systems. He has written several books about sustainable agriculture, including Folks, This Ain’t Normal and Salad Bar Beef. He has also been featured prominently in books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and films such as Fresh.

We interviewed Joel’s son Daniel, who, in addition to his own speaking duties, now handles most of the day-to-day management of the farm. Daniel’s wife Sheri also has speaking engagements where she discusses her experiences as marketing director at Polyface.

Any farm that is serious about marketing in today’s economy must proactively engage with consumers, but Polyface takes that to the next level. The speaking engagements have benefitted the farm on several levels. While primarily a way to discuss the principles behind Polyface (more on those later), these speaking engagements have also helped build the farm’s brand and drawn visitors to the farm–a major pillar of Polyface’s marketing strategy.

Daniel highlighted the importance of free samples in their marketing strategy. When selling to restaurants, Polyface will often send large sample baskets to chefs so that they can taste the product and cook with it before making buying decisions. I actually happened to run into Daniel and another member of the Polyface Team a few days after our interview at a Virginia Cooperative Extension networking event in Luray -they believed in samples so much that they’d driven an hour and a half just to hand out free samples to chefs!

Perhaps the most interesting point about the Polyface team is that their marketing strategy is driven by the same principles that shape their lives–their focus on personal relationships is a huge part of their brand and their lives. Activities like checking in on restaurant accounts weekly and inviting people to see the product being made help them maintain loyal customers. Living in a small rural community has a tendency to make you reliant on personal relationships, so this comes naturally to them. The Salatins have used these principles to their advantage in the business world. By the same token, their support of local food systems and pasture-raised proteins are fundamental pillars of their message, their personal beliefs, and elemental to the Polyface brand. They argue that their products are intrinsically different not just because of the discernable difference in taste and texture, but because of their positive effects on the land and community. They are farming on their terms, and they’ve excelled largely due to their ability to describe the ethos that drives them and targeting customers who hold the same beliefs.

That brings me to a point Daniel made in our interview: Polyface is not trying to be the low cost producer, because that wouldn’t work for them. Consider their broilers: it costs them more to raise a chicken to market weight, process it, find a consumer, and deliver that chicken to the consumer than it would for a large, publicly held, vertically integrated poultry company. Part of the difference in cost is due to the differences in production practices, and part of it is due to the fact that Polyface doesn’t have access to the economies of scale that larger producers do. But Polyface has still flourished selling their product for a higher price. Price is a way to communicate value. Farmers looking to enter direct markets should not be hesitant to raise prices if they feel their product is better than competing products.

Although the Salatins have done a stellar job making their farm business successful, not every farm can do exactly what the Salatins have done and still be successful. But despite the differences between farms, there’s plenty that every farmer can learn from the Salatins’ story, from their success in belief-based marketing to their ability to find and maintain a place in the market without having to compete with lower-cost producers.

If you’re interested in learning more about Polyface but don’t want to wait on the video, feel free to visit or swing by the Polyface farm store. You can also find Joel’s books and information about other Polyface media resources. Many thanks to Daniel for sharing Polyface’s story with us.

Ben Garber
Blacksburg, Virginia
March 18, 2017

Conversation with Sarah Lynch at Baja Bean, Co., Staunton, VA

On the morning of October 19th, 2016 I took a nice little two-hour drive to Staunton, Virginia.  There I visited a local restaurant, Baja Bean Co., manager Sarah Lynch to discuss her fresh produce she buys from farmers to create her delicious meals.

Sarah loves buying locally grown food from farmers who contact her. Usually she has at least one item or ingredient on her menu that is from local farms, and her customers love it. The idea that they are eating food that is fresh and good makes them come back for more.

With her schedule it is not easy to search out farmers who are willing to sell her their direct food items she needs, so she relies on the farmers to contact her through email. She believes email or calling is the most effective way to communicate between buyers and sellers in direct sales. It is easy and she can just add it onto her spreadsheet in order to plan out of her menu for seasons.

The atmosphere, the fresh food, and the smiles of the reoccurring customers make this restaurant festive and fun. I highly suggest if you are ever near Staunton, Virginia to stop by and try out this lovely restaurant. Make sure you ask what the farm fresh food of the season is! For more information and a look at their menu, visit

Emilie VanDyke
Baja Bean Fish Taco
October 19, 2016

Conversation with Page County Area Farmers at the Mimslyn Inn – Luray, Virginia

I returned to the valley to visit with Page County Area farmers and chefs to talk about their experiences with direct marketing their products. This interview was set up a bit differently than our other interviews. Kenner Love, extension agent from Rappahannock County, coordinated the interview. We met at Mimslyn Inn, located in downtown Luray, Virginia and conducted the interview over lunch. The lunch, by the way, was delicious! I was able to speak with Jared Burner (Skyline Premium Meats, LLC), David Sours (Public House Produce), Darrell Hulver (Survivor Farm), Lynette Shenk (Little Cabin BBQ), Mike Peterson (Heritage Hollow Farms), and Chris Harris (head chef at Mimslyn Inn).

Entree served at the Mimslyn Inn, Luray, VA

Entree offering, Mimslyn Inn, Luray, VA

One main takeaway from this interview relates to getting started in direct marketing to restaurants. They all talked about getting your foot in the door, both literally and figuratively. Whether that is offering the restaurant your product to try for free, or repeated calls and visits. A great way to make your name known is to attend the social events in your area. Some examples they provided were the Farm to Table Conference or “the ice cream social”. Also, utilize the web to market your products such as a Facebook page or website. In Page County, David Sours started Page County Grown, a website designed to help local farmers market their products and to also to brand local products. The website features local farmers, products and different eateries which support Page County Grown. They also have a Facebook page, which keeps followers up to date with different local foods events happenings.

Communication is key. When talking about what tips they had for those looking to get involved in direct marketing, communication was a big one. You need to be honest about your products and straightforward in what demand you are able to meet. Building that relationship with your buyer is absolutely necessary, because your relationship may be what keeps them buying from you and not from someone who has a lower price. Another tip was to “sit down, figure out your costs and do a breakeven analysis”. Loving what you do, although a great thing, is not going to keep you in business. “At some point you have to draw the line between a hobby and a business”. Also, realize that customers are not going to pay more than what they think it is worth.

Overall, I had a wonderful time hearing about each farmer’s background and their stories with direct marketing. It always amazes me how much I don’t know about agriculture even though I’ve been involved with it my whole life. Learning about new things, especially when it comes to something I’m so passionate about, is something that excites me.

Morgan Meador
Blacksburg, VA

Conversation with Steve Baker of Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, VA

I made a trip up to Mount Jackson, VA to interview Mr. Steve Baker about his hog operation and his involvement in direct sales. I met Mr. Baker at his USDA inspected processing facility, located across the road from his hog farm. It only took me driving past the big, red building twice, a phone call, and Steve coming to find me on his four-wheeler to locate the facility; this goes to show my great sense of direction and how it fit right in with the scenery.

Mr. Baker has a strong history in agriculture. He has two Century farms on both his mother and father’s sides of the family. Steve’s passion for hogs started when he raised his first pig as a 4H project to compete at his county fair when he was about 9 years old. At the time he graduated high school, his herd was around 12 sows. After graduating community college, he decided to make a living out of raising hogs. Today he runs an operation of about 80 sows in an all outdoor, labor intensive operation.

Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, Virginia

Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, Virginia

In 1998, when the hog market crashed and the prices dropped out, Mr. Baker decided to move into the direct marketing his own pork products. He capitalized on this idea by transitioning from just selling a commodity to processing a commodity into a food product. Baker Farms started out by going to their local farmer’s market with just one processed hog to test of how their product would be demanded. Although they didn’t know whether consumers would like their product, their products turned out to be a big hit. As Mr. Baker said, “Our product sold itself.” Since that initial farmer’s market, they have expanded to other farmer’s markets, restaurants, and schools.

Mr. Baker also touched on how he runs his business. One important area he focuses on is having competent and dependable employees to represent your product and your business. He emphasized how employees are the face of any business and must be able to answer questions about the business, and market the product to customers. His hog operation is managed so that the end product sells itself.

Mr. Baker graciously gave me some of his products to try after our interview and I enjoyed some bacon from Baker’s Farm Fresh Pork the other day for breakfast. I would definitely buy it! The amount of fat contributes to the wonderful flavoring.

Farming is a full-time job, and then some. When it comes to farming, there is never a day off. The animals still must be cared for, no matter if the calendar says it is a holiday. Selling your product direct takes a lot of effort, but getting your foot in the door is usually the hardest part. It is obvious how much care and pride Mr. Baker puts into his operation. At the end of the day, repeat customers are what keep him in business and hearing customers praise his product is one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences.

Morgan Meador
October 18, 2016

Conversation with Sarah Lynch, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

 On the morning of October 19th, 2016 I took a nice little two-hour drive to Staunton, Virginia.  There I visited a local restaurant, Baja Bean Co., manager Sarah Lynch to discuss her fresh produce she buys from farmers to create her delicious meals.

Sarah loves buying locally grown food from farmers who contact her. Usually she has at least one item or ingredient on her menu that is from local farms, and her customers love it. The idea that they are eating food that is fresh and good makes them come back for more.

Craft and Draft beverage offerings, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

Craft and Draft beverage offerings, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

With her schedule it is not easy to search out farmers who are willing to sell her their direct food items she needs, so she relies on the farmers to contact her through email. She believes email or calling is the most effective way to communicate between buyers and sellers in direct sales. It is easy and she can just add it onto her spreadsheet in order to plan out of her menu for seasons.

The atmosphere, the fresh food, and the smiles of the reoccurring customers make this restaurant festive and fun. I highly suggest if you are ever near Staunton, Virginia to stop by and try out this lovely restaurant. Make sure you ask what the farm fresh food of the season is! For more information and a look at their menu visit

Emilie VanDyke
Baja Bean Fish Taco
October 19, 2016

Conversation with Cathy Powell Cavender from Monrovia Farm, Colonial Beach, VA

On the morning of October 17th I got in my car and drove 4 hours to conduct an interview about direct sales. The interview exceeded my expectations and made that drive entirely worth it. The information I learned was great, and hearing Cathy Powell Cavender’s story about their family farm warmed my heart.

Cathy Cavender was born and raised on her family’s farm. She decided, when it came to building a life for herself she would move away from home. She built her life in North Carolina with her husband, but soon it came time for one of her family members to return to the family farm and work with her aging father; she decided she would make the move.


Upon returning to the farm, she realized that not all operations on the farm were covering input costs, so Cathy and her husband looked for ways to improve profit margins for existing farm operations. The family farm originally was only selling their beef cattle through another company like Sysco that is a multinational corporation involved in marketing and distributing food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, and other foodservice and hospitality businesses.

The Cavender’s decided to dive into direct sales, and Cathy Cavender believes that was the best decision they could have made to increase profits on their family farm.

Selling direct to restaurants is a full-time job, but, according to Cathy Cavender, it allows the family to set their beef at prices that cover all costs and include a reasonable profit.  Cathy currently sells direct to around six restaurants all across Virginia and is looking to expand by increasing her advertising efforts by using more marketing tactics. Currently, she uses Facebook and word of mouth to advertise.

One of the biggest problems she faces in direct sales is that restaurants will be interested in having farm fresh food on their menu, but not realize that it is completely different than ordering through a company. The quality is better, but she cannot provide multiple cases of one cut of beef at a time like a company would since she has only so many beef cattle on her farm.

The benefits of direct sales outweigh the negatives. Cathy says the best moment is when she takes her dad to a restaurant, that her sister owns, and they eat a steak that is from their own farm.  It is so rewarding for the Cavender’s to enjoy the work they do, and see the creations that chefs come up with from their own beef cattle.

The wisdom and story behind Monrovia Farm excited me; it made me eager to gain more knowledge on farm to fork in upcoming interviews and through the market trainings. I encourage you to learn more about farm-to-fork and Monrovia Farms by visiting their website

Emilie VanDyke
Monrovia Farm
October 17, 2016


Conversation with Wade Hawkins and Terry Sager of the Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative

I was in a good mood when I went to this morning’s interview. I was a little nervous, the kind of low-grade stage fright that comes with any kind of public event, but it was a good day. I got off Interstate 81 in Woodstock just as the fog was burning off. The birds were chirping and the air was just crisp enough to make me alert as I drove down the backroads to Pleasantdale Farms.

My good mood was justified when I stepped out of the car. Pleasantdale Farms is surrounded by mountains that paint a glorious picture, typical of Shenandoah Valley farmland, and I was greeted by the sweet, unmistakable smell of corn silage. I spent the morning talking to Wade Hawkins and Terry Sager, growers who direct market their beef to restaurants as members of Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative (SVBC).

One of the more interesting things about the cooperative is its balance between the past and the present. Every single member is from a farming family. Wade is the third generation to farm at Pleasantdale, and he hopes that one day his son will be the fourth. Their sustainability-focused farming techniques, however, are more indicative of the direction modern agriculture seems to be moving in. Their flagship beef products are natural, which means they are not exposed to growth hormones or antibiotics. Every animal that requires treatment with antibiotics is identified and sold conventionally after the withdrawal period has passed. The cooperative considers animal welfare and environmental stewardship not just a matter of personal principle, but also a business decision. They raise their beef the way they do so that they can market it as a premium product. As Terry clearly pointed out, maintaining a premium brand is the kind of marketing strategy that will help keep family farms afloat in the long run. If family farms are going to continue to be such a touchstone of American life, product differentiation is one of the keys to keeping them alive as businesses, helping them to stay profitable and supporting the lifestyle with which they are associated.

Terry and Wade also make it clear that farmers can find strength in numbers. SVBC producers all work on finding new leads for the cooperative independently and as a team. Customer demand is met by whichever producer can best meet each buyer’s logistical needs. This ability to keep a more consistent supply of quality product is a key component of the SVBC’s success.

Six years ago, Wade Hawkins was a producer trying to sell beef on his own. After struggling for two years and becoming frustrated with the difficulty of marketing the Pleasantdale brand to buyers as an individual farm, he joined SVBC. Now beef from Pleasantdale Farm is served at Washington Nationals baseball games and at the Clyde’s family of restaurants in the D.C. area. SVBC believes that they can provide a better product for their buyers and a better return for their growers by adopting the cooperative model.

In both my interview with Mr. Rob Harrison of Foods for Thought, Inc. and my interviews with  Terry and Wade, I’ve been struck (although not surprised–important distinction there) by the expertise of the growers.Terry and Mr. Harrison, together, do an excellent job of summing up the situation. One of the things that stuck with me the most from my talk with Mr. Harrison was when he said, “as a small producer, you have to understand that you’re competing against the most effective food-producing machine in human history.” In the same vein, Terry noted that “people think that any dirtkicker in bib overalls can be a farmer. That’s simply not the case. To be an effective farmer, you have to be effective in every area that touches your farm business.”

I think that explains some of the success that both Mr. Harrison and the producers of SVBC have experienced: They are experts in the field of agriculture. They’ve spent their entire lives in the industry, in one form or another, and they’ve made a point of learning everything they can about it. They pay just as much attention to their customers, their supply chains, and their bottom lines as they do to the health of their herds. Clearly it’s not impossible to be successful selling farm products directly to restaurants, but it does require commitment, knowledge, and experience. I, for one, am more comfortable as a consumer knowing that my food is in the hands of such thoughtful, dedicated producers. I’m even more excited that these producers have been willing to work with those of us on the Virginia Market Ready team to help train the next wave of experienced, conscientious farm-to-restaurant producers.

If you’re just chomping at the bit to see the video and hear all the insightful things Wade and Terry had to say (as well as laugh at all the shots of cows glaring at me for interrupting their breakfast), you can tide yourself over by visiting the Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative online at

Ben Garber
Verona, VA
October 14, 2016

The feedlot and facilities at Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock, VA. Pleasantdale Farm is operated by the Hawkins family as part of the Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative.

The feedlot and facilities at Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock, VA. Pleasantdale Farm is operated by the Hawkins family as part of the Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative.