What is your favorite story? Is it about a princess locked away in a tower? A troll who lives under a bridge? A fire breathing dragon? I am as big of a fan of fairytales as the next person, but my favorite story does not have any of these mythical elements in it. My favorite story is one I have heard so many times I could recite it for you by heart. Even to this day, when I hear it I get goosebumps. Let me tell you my favorite story...
The young man thought long and hard about the choice that stood ahead of him. "I am a fourth generation pig farmer. Yes, I am selling pigs for less than my grandfather did, but I am still raising pigs just like Grandpa showed me how to." At the end of the day, he knew he could not give up this family tradition.
Around this same time, the young man was asked to speak at Ron Macher's Small Farm Today Conference. Realistically, it was too farm from the farm. He knew he should not leave the farm unattended... but for some reason, he went anyways. After he gave his presentation at the conference, he was talking to a group of farmers in the back of the room. One of the farmers said that his friend raised milk-fed pigs and was selling them to Chicago, but his friend was about to get out of the business. The farmer handed the young man a business card and said "Give this guy a call. Maybe you could sell him a pig." And that is just what the young man did.
If you have not figured this out by now, the young man is my father, Greg Gunthorp. He made that phone call to none other than Matthias Merges at Charlie Trotter's. Rumor has it that this Merges never answers his phone. But for some reason when Greg called, he answered. Merges talked to Greg for about 15 minutes, asking him all sorts of questions about how the hogs were raised, what breed of pig they were, even what the pigs ate. Greg was astonished that he was so knowledgable on pigs but was even more shocked when he said, "Yeah, can you bring me one next week?"
Greg had one hog butchered and loaded it up in a Brute tank in the back of their little Suzuki Swift. Greg and Lei headed off to Chicago for the first time, not knowing what to expect. This pig farmer from a small town in LaGrange, Indiana was white-knuckled the whole drive in. Greg still did not know anything about the restaurant he was delivering to. He did not know Charlie Trotter from Adam. When he pulled up to the back door of the restaurant and helped them unload the pig, they offered to give him a tour of the restaurant. As they walked through the restaurant and saw extravagant paintings on the walls and hundred dollar bottles of wine as the cheapest wines on the wine rack, Greg realized he wasn't in rural Indiana anymore.
That first trip to Chicago gave Greg the little taste of the foodie world that he was about to dive into headfirst. After that first pig, Charlie Trotter's began taking a pig every couple of weeks. When your first customer in the fine dining world is Matthias Merges and Charlie Trotter, advertising is the least of your concerns. Once everyone found out that Charlie Trotter was getting his pork from a small farmer in Indiana, everyone wanted some of this prized pork. You could say the rest is history.
Goosebumps. Every single time I talk about it. But what is this story missing that every good story has? That's right, a happily ever after. Since Greg entered the meat distribution business in 1998, Gunthorp Farms has changed quite drastically. We built a USDA-inspected processing plant to do all of our own slaughter and processing. We have added chickens, ducks, and turkeys. We built a smokehouse and smoke more bacon than we could have ever imagined (and it is not even close to capacity yet). Expansion has not been a problem for us... so where does the happily ever after come in?
If you ask Greg why he did not throw in the towel seventeen years ago, he will tell you, "My family has always raised pigs. I am the fourth generation and I surely do not want to be the last." That is the key to our happily ever after. When I was home this past weekend over fall break, my dad pulled my brother Evan and I into the living room for a "family meeting" as he likes to call any of our gatherings/discussions of important matters. My dad is on a committee through Pew Meridian that is rewriting the Poultry Modernization Act. It is an honor for him to be on this committee and it is extremely important for small processors and farmers everywhere that he gets to be their voice. The committee had a meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday this past week. With that being said, this past Monday was a government holiday so our slaughter day was moved to Tuesday. Long story short, Dad was torn because he really needed to go to Washington, D.C. for his committee meeting but how could he miss a slaughter day?
Cue me and my brother. We got him on his way and told him to have a safe trip. Then Tuesday morning when it came time to slaughter, I took over final house inspection and Evan took over.. basically everything else. We made it through slaughter without any major hiccups, complied with all of our HACCP tasks, ensured the antimicrobial interventions were correct at each stage of the process, and dealt with any problems thrown our way. Not once did we have to call Dad during slaughter. We just... handled it. That night the truck got loaded for Indianapolis. The next day, the truck got loaded for Chicago. All of this was done without Dad being there. Evan really proved that this fifth generation of Gunthorps is capable of carrying on the family business!
My father is the most intelligent man I know, hands down. He is my constant reminder that no matter what life throws at me, I can push through it and overcome any obstacle just like he has done repeatedly over the course of this business. My dad has made an amazing company and for that I will always be grateful. What is so exciting to me though is that my brother and I can help create the perfect ending to this fairytale my parents started. Evan is an amazing plant manager already at the young age of 18 and well on his way of following in my dad's footsteps. I am hoping to take over sales and marketing and really help with quality assurance and human resources as soon as I graduate in May. My mom does a fantastic job of keeping all of our finances in line. We are such a team with different skill sets, it just amazes me.
Gunthorp Farms will see a lot of growth and change in upcoming years. Each year we will add to this story and work closer to the "happily ever after" we have in mind. For now, this is a story about a fourth generation pig farmer who took a struggling farm and turned it into a successful business that is changing the food supply. In twenty years, what impact will Evan and I have on the story?
Allow your passion to become your purpose and it will one day become your profession.
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