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.
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.
October 18, 2016