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.