The Farm-to-Table Movement

By: Natalie Furniss

 

The concept of farm-to-table began circulating the food scene in the early 2000’s as consumers became increasingly concerned with big industry food production. Products with short shelf lives were being imported from afar and pumped with the preservatives and chemicals needed to maintain freshness despite the long journey. They arrived at restaurants and grocery chains full of bright and tantalizing colors with the guarantee of lasting for weeks on the shelf. As companies innovated in extending the life of a common apple, the taste and integrity started to become noticeably degraded. Any blind taste test would reveal a night and day difference between an imported product and one picked from the vine days before. Consumers took notice and started supporting local with their almighty dollars.  

 

In years since, the popularity of and demand for farm fresh products has intensified nationally.  Today, more than ever, people are paying attention to labels, food safety, ingredients, and traceability. The story of how and where the product was grown, cared for, transported and packaged became a primary focus and the fewer miles traveled was preferred by many. Plus, there was a bonus: shopping local not only resulted in better quality food, but also supported the economy, reduced carbon emissions from fewer transportation miles, and limited the disconnect between farmers and consumers. 

 

Why is it so important to care about this process? Humans extract most of the nutrients needed for growth, energy, brain function, body function, and overall health from the food we consume. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 25% of poisonings and 5% of cancer cases, neuropsychiatric disorders, and vascular diseases worldwide are caused by chemical exposure. Each year, 600 million people around the world (1 out of 10) become ill after consuming contaminated food. It’s no wonder why the demand for food transparency has increased; our lives depend on it. 

 

Over the next 12 months, we are going to break down the barriers between consumers and their food. The focus in January is about “Healthy Eating.” We’ll look at the nutrient cycle from grass to people, why grassfed is gaining in popularity, how to properly cook grassfed and pasture raised meats, and choices you can make in order to feel good about what you eat. Follow along by joining our Facebook, Instagram, or Newsletter and get involved in the conversation. 

 

It’s a new year, full of hope and possibilities. It’s time to take control of your health, make educated and better food choices, and start to see how one simple shift in thinking can result in big changes. Whether it’s called farm-to-plate, farm-to-fork, or farm-to-table, knowing where your food comes from and that it’s raised with care are important things to pay attention to. We’re paying attention.

2020 Vision

By: Natalie Furniss

 

20/20 vision: The ability to see clearly, with perfect eyesight, toward something in the distance. The implication is astounding as we quickly approach the new year. For most of 2019, the leadership team at Hickory Nut Gap combed through all of the intricacies of the business to develop what we feel is the path forward. We decided on a mission statement, a set of core values, and a vision for the future. This was no easy feat considering that we have a legacy of 100+ years to uphold, but we did it.  

 

Our Mission: To Build Community Through Agriculture

Although simple in concept, this mission now infiltrates every decision we make moving forward. Does this build community? Are we improving the land? Are we helping the economy? Does this benefit the consumer? All of these questions have to be asked, and we have to check the box before moving forward. But this is a good thing. It keeps us transparent, authentic, and accountable. 

 

Our Core Values: Adaptable, Work Excellence, Reliable, Connection Building, Helpful/Positive

The exercise was to picture current employees who we felt exemplified qualities that spoke to the brand we want to build and be proud of. Although everyone brings something special and unique to the table, there were two individuals that stood out; Hallie and Jenn. What set them apart was their can-do attitude and commitment to doing their best every time. They care no matter how menial the task may seem to be, and they put their all into it with a positive attitude aimed at doing better and being better. When you view our core values list above, know that these values came from actual people who embody these traits, and not just a list of ideals. Now our task is to spread that message to everyone and encourage others to live up to their standard. 

 

Our 10 Year Vision: To be the brand that scaled pasture-based agriculture right. 

A key word to focus on is the word “right.” Scaling a business, creating a brand, growing and meeting objectives is all part of the plan. Doing those things ‘right’ is the challenge. Making the tough decision to turn down opportunities because they don’t align with our values, that’s what starts to set us apart from the pack. Does this mean we don’t make mistakes? Heck, no. It means that when we fail, we fix. We are venturing down a road less traveled, so mistakes are bound to occur. We are actively trying to innovate and scale in an industry that prides itself on taking short-cuts to be more competitive in the marketplace. When you truly care about the environment, the animals, the people, and the economy, you can’t take short-cuts. 

 

Our 2020 Vision

Now we are approaching the year 2020 with a road map of where we want to go. It is certainly no easy task to get there, but we are in the midst of the planning stages to outline the next 12 months. What our followers will begin to notice is that we are going to focus on the bigger picture.  Education, environment, innovation, and health will rise to the surface as we use each month as an opportunity to fully dive into a big and important topic. Follow our social platforms and encourage others to get involved as we take our community on a journey through agriculture.  

 

We’ll introduce you to farmers who have been working the land for generations and those who have just started their careers. You will be able to learn about topics that directly affect human health and the land we live on. We will be introducing new community events and partnerships that aim to perpetuate our mission with a meaningful experience. 

 

We hope you get involved and develop a passion for the full circle of our food system the way that we have. After all, everything we do starts and ends with you. It’s time to feel good about the meat you eat. 

The Load Out

By: Amy Ager

 

Jean-Paul the newest member of the leadership team who is running our operations and finance departments joined me on a long, fun day to Dobson Farm to meet farmers and help load out the cattle for that weeks harvest just outside of Statesville, NC.

Sam Dobson, our livestock coordinator at HNG and his wife Sherry invited us into their warm, beautifully renovated farmhouse complete with wood floors,  beadboard walls, and high ceilings. All good meetings happen at the kitchen table and the four of us had the pleasure of sitting around for a bit that late morning catching up on how the kids were doing in their many endeavors and cutting up and laughing on the recent inevitable foibles of life.

Our plan was to visit a handful of producers whose farms are in close proximity to Dobson Farm but as all good days go, our agenda was too ambitious to accomplish. We hopped in Sam’s farm truck, bundled up for the cold day in fleece lined coats and headed to lunch at the Amish Store in Union Grove. To Sam’s and my delight, eggnog season had arrived, so we aptly toasted to our love of the drink and the holidays ahead while enjoying a custom sandwich made at the store for lunch. 

We ate on the porch at a high top table and got up to speed about farming, processing and logistics, all the things that come with a scaling farm and meat business. It is an exciting time to be part of HNG as we are planning and strategizing for how our farm in Fairview, the butchery, store, events and deli are going to fit beautifully into our ever growing wholesale and distribution business of 100% grass-fed and pasture raised meats.

Being in the meat business at our scale is a tough go, in and of itself, but when you add the layer of our idealism and the mission to build community through agriculture it takes creativity, innovation and a more than healthy dose of optimism to plan for the future. We covered a lot of ground and got our new hire up to speed.

Jean-Paul has a steady presence and insightful knowledge and we dove into all the important topics to bring him into a grand understanding of the state of things in the industry.

As it turns out our conversation wrapped up just in time because as we pulled into Sam’s farm our first trailer load of cattle were arriving from John Sherrill. For these guys a Thursday load out goes smoothly just about every week but for new eyes the coordination is a testament to Sam’s management. He had three more trailers from HNG farmers, Charles Johnson, Mike Christopher and Ritchie Herman, coming in fifteen minute increments, unloading a mixture of cull cows and finished steers in a range of weights destined for specific customers. The new loading facility Sam invested in at his farm is top notch. Sawdust floors, gates that open and swing effortlessly, and a workflow that requires very little in the way of words. Cattle and people moved about in a dance to organize the cattle backwards so that as we loaded the tractor trailer for the processing plant they would go on and come off in proper order.

 

Shane, Myron Leath’s son, and the driver that day arrived just at the end after the bull, who was stout and just right for grass finishing genetics, was loaded out to another farmer.  The light was waning and the social hour over as the final paperwork was completed and Shane headed out for an overnight haul to get our animals to their final destination.

Sam has this way about him that attracts good people and that day Jean-Paul and I got to hear about their lives in a way that really connects your food to the farmers as people and entrepreneurs. Land based professions take a resolve that is hard to sign up for if you really knew what you were getting yourself into to make managing those resources a profitable reality.

Things like a rescued raccoon, pulling carts with a team of ponies, and a curiosity for what is happening in the marketplace with our customers weave deeply into the fabric of our organization and our connections to these folks. This weekly ritual of checking in with our farming and hauling partners, and the sushi dinner we gathered to eat afterwards over three pots of green tea, demonstrates the open-minded nature and energy dedicated to making this business work.

 

We are truly a family of farmers and entrepreneurs carving a path into a food system that is transparent, understood and connected. It is an amazing thing to see this in action. The amount of work that goes into that beautifully marbled ribeye you may eat at a restaurant in Asheville or Atlanta should be duly honored with a hearty thanks to the farmer.