Grass-Fed Beef, Pork and Lamb
From the Farmer's Tractor
March 26, 2014
Forrest Pritchard, 39, raises grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb, as well as grass-fed laying hens and pastured poultry on his 500-acre family farm, Smith Meadows, in Berryville, Virginia. He is a 7th generation farmer.
How did you get into farming?
I have been farming since I graduated from college in 1996. Farming is a family tradition.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Although we've practiced rotational grazing and year round free ranging of our animals for close to twenty years, over the past decade I've come to understand the critical need to accelerate carbon capture in our soils. Now, from mob grazing to plant recovery periods to multi-species rotations, each is synchronized to maximum carbon recovery.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
Over the course of my career (18 years), organic farming has boomed by 500%. I see this trend continuing, as currently only 3% of food market share is currently sourced through organic production. Customers are continually educating themselves about their food choices, and I see these two trends intersecting with sustainable production.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Providing food year round. We are a direct-marketed, Farmers market-oriented farm, and as such, we're constantly growing food to serve our markets 12 months a year. Winter comes with tremendous weather challenges, and summer can bring seemingly never-ending droughts.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
With so many customers and so few farmers, this has never been a major question for us. Basic raw ingredients will always find a place in a retail environment. We like being specialized (grass fed beef), but with a broadly desired product (ground beef). As long as the focus remains on producing food with broad appeal, the retailers will always be calling.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
So many! Conservation on the farm is like a savings account at the bank: you've got to save steadily and consistently, or you won't be able to withdraw money when you really need it. Taking that a step further, we view conservation like savings, but our withdrawals like interest. If you can get enough savings under your belt, you can eventually live off the interest, and never touch the principal. Mob grazing, multi-species rotations and long vegetative rest periods are all great ways to harness sunshine, rain and animals to build the soil bank. Conservation is the mindset that allows it to happen.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We sell 100% of our products locally – at Farmers markets, our on-farm store, and local restaurants.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Respect, gratitude, and lots of questions! Direct-marketing farmers must adopt the role of education and transparency. Our customers love that they can have all their food questions answered when they shop with us.
Pritchard's book, Gaining Ground, was named a top read by The Washington Post and NPR's The Splendid Table.