I can tell you a lot of stories about my childhood on the farm, but if I were limited to stories that did not include my brother, I don't think I would have any good ones to share. Evan is only two years younger than me and when we were little, we spent a lot of time together. Whether we were feeding the chickens together or simply running around the farm (probably with our imaginary animals in tow... yes, we lived on a farm and had imaginary pets, I don't know why...), almost all of my childhood memories include Evan.
One incident that sticks out in my mind is when we were probably four and six years old. We were playing in the barn, like we normally did. We had climbed up on top of the straw bales. I don't know how high up we were while we stood on the top of the stack and looked down at the few pigs below us, but at six years old, it looked like a long ways down. Anyways, I don't remember what we were doing, but what I do remember is all of a sudden, Evan walked to the edge of the bales and pointed down. Of course I wanted to know what he was looking at, so I followed him to the edge. When I got there, what did my twerp of a little brother do? Nothing other than push me off the platform of bales and onto one of the large pigs below us.
The next 10 seconds were a blur as I screamed and ran towards the gate. (I didn't take the time to see if the pig was mad at me or chasing me, I just assumed that she was and I figured my chances of getting over the fence were greater than my chances of climbing back up the straw bales before she grabbed ahold of my leg or something.) I sprinted at the gate. Now, let me tell you, I was a very scrawny six year old. That gate had to have been taller than me. But being fueled by pure adrenaline, I threw myself over the gate in one swift motion. As I looked back, the big pig was still standing where I fell on it. (It probably didn't even notice me, I really was pretty tiny.)
I had the chance to talk to Evan the other day. Actually, I talk to Evan a lot every single day. So much, that I think we are going to get walkie talkies so that we don't have to waste time dialing each other's numbers and waiting for the phone to ring. Anyways, I got to talk to Evan with some specific questions in mind for this blog post. I hope that by reading his responses you can understand just how lucky I am to have him not only as my brother, but as my friend and co-worker as well.
How long have you worked at Gunthorp Farms? I started full time on the payroll after my junior year of high school in June 2014. The key term there is "on the payroll." I started feeding chicks in the brooder barn on a daily basis in second grade, and I've been helping Dad long before I started kindergarten. (Side note: As of December 19th, Evan is now 20 years old. He's been a full time employee since he was 17 years old.)
In your words, what do you do at Gunthorp Farms? My official job title is Plant Manager, but that's more so for Brushy Prairie Packing (our processing plant business's name) more-so than for Gunthorp Farms. I would consider "Plant Manager" less than my full job description, since that is just the portion for Brushy Prairie Packing. Plant Manager is a majority of my hours and most of my work. I oversee the employees on a day to day basis during slaughter, processing, cleaning, and everything else that occurs within the processing plant. I am in charge of regulatory compliance with USDA, human resources (all of our hiring and firing), corresponding with customers on processing questions, relaying weights to billing, and repairs (electrical, pneumatics, mechanical, plumbing, etc.).
On the farm side of the things, I am the purchasing director, so I am the only one who can give final clearance on purchases. I also help the farm guys with scheduling and oversight when needed. I am involved in planning for the farm and figuring out how the farm and processing plant can work together. Unofficially, I don't know what my title would be even, because I do more than "Plant Manager" entails. Maybe Administrative Assistant, because I do a bit of everything?
FamilyFarmed is asking for articles to include in their “Growing Young Farmers” series. You’re obviously young, but do you consider yourself a farmer? Yes and no. By my own definition, no, I’m a plant manager/corporate director. But in the grand scheme of things, if you take out the people like me, how many farmers are there really? I still dive into some production activities too and provide some oversight for the farm employees. I’m also involved in decision making for the farm. When we’re short handed over the summer, you can find me helping set up waterlines or moving ducks to pasture. When I was still taking classes in Fort Wayne, I would almost always drive "around the block" to see the animals, because I knew I might be able to spot issues that someone who didn't grow up around animals their whole life could miss. I think “farmer” is more so a mind set, if you have the skills you will put them to good use.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? A farmer. Definitely. (There was no pause or hesitation to that answer.)
Do you still want to be a farmer when you grow up? What is the definition of a farmer? I think a farmer is all encompassing and I want to be involved in agriculture, both on production and processing. I would like to someday be more of a "macro-manager," so I could oversee both the processing plant and the farm. I see what needs to happen day to day, but I also see the big picture. I want to make the big decisions that help make the day to day tasks possible and efficient.
Dad has spent years making a name for himself in the farm to table movement. Do you see yourself becoming an advocate in the industry as well? I don’t think I’ll hop on as many planes as him, but I think one of the biggest things you can do as far as advocacy work is just to do the very best in what you’re doing. Some people go out and talk about what needs to happen, I want to be the example they talk about and the pictures they show. I want to prove that it is possible to have a very small USDA inspected processing plant and that it's actually happening.
How did it feel to be the youngest delegate at Slow Meat? I didn’t have the confidence to speak up as much as I probably should have, but I definitely felt like I belonged there. I understood everything that was happening. Everyone else was a professional in their field and they were very specialized. Everyone had their thing they were good at and I feel like no one really brought the same things to the table that I did as a young person with a diversified production and processing background.
What was it like taking on management responsibilities at such young of an age? It was very difficult in the beginning. We probably brought on a lot of our own problems because we didn’t have a well established hierarchy. That was my biggest challenge, creating a hierarchy. People respect me now. They know that I know what I’m doing. They know that I’m on their side. If they mess up, they know that I want to help them and retrain them so they can do better. I made friends before I made employees. While I was making friends with them, I didn’t really have their respect yet so I had to help them learn what to do, I couldn’t just tell them what to do.
What’s your favorite part about working at Gunthorp Farms? Seeing the job well done. When the truck goes out early, when the orders are filled correctly, when the customers are happy with our products… that’s the best part. It’s nice knowing that what we do isn’t the norm for the industry and we’re still making it work. We’re not at a point where economies of scale help us out any and we’re not at a point where the processing equipment manufacturers even think about us, but we’re still succeeding.
What is the biggest challenge that you face with working at Gunthorp Farms? Getting people who see the vision. People need to see what we’re here for. It’s not hard to get people to come in and do menial tasks, but it’s hard to find someone who has any passion about what gets sent out the door.
Do you have any generic advice for someone who is looking to work in this small farm industry, whether that be in the production or processing side of things? You can never be too well prepared. You’re never going to look back at yourself yesterday and get mad at yourself for doing too much of today's work.
As many of you probably know, my dad had surgery on his knee on December 2nd. The surgery was long overdue, partially because Dad simply refused to be restricted during the summer or during the madness that is Thanksgiving turkey season. When Dad finally had his surgery, I know he was worried about how we would do without him for awhile. I am very pleased to tell you that everything has been running smoothly without the help of Dad, largely because of Evan stepping up to the plate. He trained employees to run the plucker and the scalder during poultry slaughter. He took over our testing program. He runs the smokehouse on his own. Evan had some really big shoes to fill, and he did so without complaint.
Evan is always the behind the scenes force that gets things done at Gunthorp Farms. He does so with too little sleep and often too little appreciation. Lately, we have gotten quite a few "testimonials" from customers about how smoothly things seem to be running since Evan and I have taken a bigger role in the family business. Let me tell you what, I might be behind most of the communication with our customers, but Evan is the force that keeps things running smoothly and all of us at Gunthorp Farms appreciate that more than he knows.
The Big Sister, Kara
Let's see if I can wrap up all of 2016 in one blog post, shall we? So much has happened in one year!
We always strive to make advocating for very small processors and small farmers a priority. This year we are very pleased with the results of our efforts. In no way have we accomplished our goal of making it easier for small processors and small farmers, but it is encouraging to see such results.
In March, Greg was called to Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann's office to help rewrite the compromise for exempt poultry slaughter laws. This was legislation that allows operations smaller than Gunthorp Farms to legally operate within the state, including selling to restaurants, without the hurdles of daily meat inspection. These exemptions provide a legal framework for entry into an industry that otherwise has extreme barriers to entry. Gunthorp Farms started under exempt slaughter and has now grown to a size that requires 3 USDA inspectors everyday.
In October, we were extremely honored to host a meeting with USDA/FSIS and a number of very small processors at the farm to discuss issues that very small processors face. The Director of Policy, the Director of Field Operations, the Administrator of Humane Handling, the Head of Labeling, and the Deputy Administrator all made it out; USDA FSIS really took the meeting seriously by sending out their big shots! As a result of this meeting, USDA has agreed to have quarterly meetings with the same goal in mind. This is a huge step in the right direction and we are excited to see how the meetings in 2017 help to further the cause. (Read more about the meeting in my blog post here.)
Greg has also been involved in the Meat and Poultry Inspection Dialogue hosted by the Meridian Institute and Pew Charitable Trusts. This group was formed to begin the process of rewriting the over 100 year old Meat and Poultry Act. It is really exciting that sustainable agriculture representatives are able to have a seat at the table alongside the Vice Presidents for Food Safety of companies like Cargill, Hormel, Tyson, McDonald's, Kroger at events like this that will have an impact on our food supply.
I am excited to begin my journey in advocating for sustainable agriculture and the local food movement as well. This year I was featured in FamilyFarmed to help encourage young farmers. I was also asked to join the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership's Local Food Network Steering Committee to help develop a local food network here in this corner of the state and I am looking forward to future meetings in 2017.
Another project that is in the works is our turkey jerky! We have our labels made and approved (with our new logo of course!). Now we are just waiting for Zick's Specialty Meats (our co-packer) to have an opening in their schedule so they can take some of our turkey to make us another batch. Our turkey jerky will be hitting shelves early in 2017.
Next work in progress: our meat cave. We broke ground this fall for a meat cave that we will use to dry cure hams. When Greg went to Terra Madre with Slow Food back in 2014, he was able to taste some Spanish style hams. Ever since then, he has said that we would build a cave on the farm and make our own hams. To most people, I'm sure it sounded like he was kidding, but I could tell that he was very serious about his intentions. We broke ground this fall and are hoping to have it sealed off and ready for hams in the spring! The dry cure process will take around 12 months, so we will have dry cured hams in 2018! We will probably also make some pancetta and a few dry cured sausages.
Gunthorp Farms has always been a family operated business, but this year all of us kids have taken a bigger role in the company. Evan is the full-time processing plant manger. This year he completed his Leadership Development certificate at IPFW. The classes focused on techniques to become a better leader/manager. Over the summer, Cassidy (who is now a sophomore in high school) was getting full-time hours while managing the rollstock packaging machine. Cassidy is now managing on-farm scheduled pickup retail sales around her school and basketball schedule. I graduated from Purdue this year with a degree in Agribusiness Food Marketing and have since began working for the farm full-time as our director of sales & marketing. I love getting to work with my family on a day to day basis and it is great to see the potential myself and my siblings have within the business. I am continually thankful for the business that my parents created and the opportunities that they have blessed us with.
As for our personal lives, we have had a lot going on as well! Cassidy turned 16 and is about to get her drivers license. Evan moved out into Greg's childhood home (and is having fun doing a lot of renovating!). I got engaged to my sweet boyfriend Ed. Greg (finally) got his meniscus repaired.
This year has unfortunately had its low points as well. This year we mourn the loss of Grandpa Keller and Aunt Mel, both of who are greatly missed. Please remember to hug your loved ones and do not take any time for granted.
The Reason This Is All Possible
Thank you! You, reading this right now, are the reason we are able to do what we do. We thank you for your continual support. Without supporters like you, we could not chase our dream of raising animals the way we believe they ought to be raised. Our family business is alive and well because of supporters like you, whether you purchase our products or read our blog posts and offer support from afar.
Merry Christmas from all of us here at Gunthorp Farms and we wish you a happy new year as well!
Until next time,
Choosing a career after college can be a daunting task. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I often resisted the idea of coming back to the family farm, especially after hearing phrases like "just going back to the farm," "oh, you're just studying agriculture," and "are you really sure?" I felt like many thought that going back to the family farm was settling. I would love to go back to those who made those comments before and tell them all that I have learned and accomplished in just my short time back at the farm.
It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.
Let me tell you what, I could not be happier with my choice to work for Gunthorp Farms. I have been throwing around the idea of this blog post for awhile and finally decided that with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity. I want to take a few minutes to share why I am so thankful to be a part of not only Gunthorp Farms, but also the local farm to table movement.
First and foremost, I am thankful for my family, who also happen to be my co-workers. All five of us are involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. We have weekly family meetings where we all come together to discuss the direction the farm is heading and any changes that are occurring from week to week. I spend more time with my family members during the week than I do with anyone else. After spending 3 years away at school, I am so thankful for the time I get to spend with them.
Because I am thankful to work with my family, does that mean it is always a walk in the park? Of course not. We disagree, sometimes more than we do agree! But am I beyond thankful to have co-workers who see me as more than an employee? Always. I appreciate that the business has given us a common goal to strive towards together. I treasure getting to bounce ideas off of each other at any given moment. I love that they always have my back when I need some reassurance.
I am so thankful for the small town I grew up in. (Although if you've ever been out to the farm, you will know that I didn't really grow up in a town... or anywhere close to a town... so by town, I really mean the whole surrounding area.) I consider Gunthorp Farms an integral part of our community. We employ around 20 full time employees and 10 or so part time employees, often local high school kids. We give people in the community the opportunity to make a living to support their family. We give high school kids the opportunity to develop a good work ethic.
I am thankful that Gunthorp Farms encourages me to be involved in the community as well. I volunteer somewhat regularly with Junior Achievement at the local middle school. I get to teach students about economics and mentor them in regards to their future career paths. Gunthorp Farms has also helped local FFA students with their FFA projects and we have also given tours to local college classes. I think it takes a village to raise strong individuals and I love the fact that Gunthorp Farms strives to be a part of the village.
One of the biggest reasons I chose Gunthorp Farms and one of the biggest benefits of working there is the future that I can have because of it. Gunthorp Farms is a small company and I get to be involved in the decision making of the company. I feel confident buying a house in the area because I know that the farm is not going to up and relocate. There is room in the business for my future spouse to work at the farm if he so chooses. When I have children of my own, they can be involved in the farm just like I was when I was growing up. I will be able to move my hours around so that I can be present for my children and their activities. Working for Gunthorp Farms can help me achieve the future I envision and for that I am thankful beyond belief.
I am thankful for Gunthorp Farms because of the meat in my freezer, for sure, but also because of the food security that Gunthorp Farms and other small farms provide. Heaven forbid there ever be a national crisis where we as a nation would not be able to import any food, but thank goodness I know that Gunthorp Farms' doors would remain open and meat would still be available. This relates not only to Gunthorp Farms, but to the local food movement as a whole. I know that in a time of crisis, farms in the local food movement like Gunthorp Farms, Seven Sons, or Hawkins Family Farm would all be available to help keep meat on local tables.
I believe that you can never have too many farmers. When my dad was a kid, there were 600,000 hog farmers in the United States. Now there are 60,000. Ninety percent of hog farmers disappeared in his lifetime and I want to help turn the numbers in the other direction. That is why I am so thankful for the opportunities that Gunthorp Farms gives me when it comes to advocacy work. I am a huge supporter of the local food movement, the farm to table movement, sustainable agriculture, and small meat processors. I believe causes like these will help give more individuals the opportunity to continue farming and it will help move a larger portion of the food dollar into farmers' pockets.
I have so much to be thankful for because of my job at Gunthorp Farms. I would love for more farmers to have these same opportunities, which is why I will continue to use my position at Gunthorp Farms to advocate for small farmers.
This is such a big category and nothing I can write here will do them justice. I am in charge of sales at Gunthorp Farms, so I am the contact for all of our wholesale accounts. I also drive the Indianapolis delivery route, so I get to see all of them on weekly basis. I am sure all farms who work directly with their customers say this, but we really have a great group of customers.
Before 1998, my dad was selling live pigs to buying stations. The buying station was as close to the final customer as we got, and let me tell you, you do not feel very appreciated when the buying station hands you a check for 5 cents a pound for your trailer full of live pigs. At that time, I was four years old. I remember crying on a few occasions as I tried (and failed) to convince Dad to take a pig I had deemed my favorite off the trailer. How do you explain to your four year old daughter that it is necessary to take the pig to slaughter when you will be lucky to get $20 for the hog? How do you continue doing your job, that is in no way easy, when no one appreciates the work that you do? To be completely honest, I do not know how my parents continued.
Prior to 1998, our pigs were not appreciated and neither was the hard work that my parents did to raise the pigs. Thankfully, that is not the case now. Every hog that we raise, slaughter, and process is appreciated. I know this because I get to interact with our customers. They are excited to put our meat on the plates at their restaurants and on the shelves of their grocery stores. They send me emails about how thankful they are to know their farmer and they encourage their own customers to buy locally grown food as well. What we do is a lot of hard work, and I think I speak for all of us at Gunthorp Farms when I say that we would not continue doing what we do if it weren't for the continued love and support we receive from our great customers.
This holiday season, take the time to thank a farmer and to thank a local business owner. Your appreciation will mean more to them than you will ever know.
Happy (early) Thanksgiving from those of us at Gunthorp Farms!
Three months ago, I walked across the stage at Purdue, took my diploma, and began my adventure as a full-time employee at Gunthorp Farms. Over three months, I have learned more, both about the business and about myself personally, than I could ever fit into a blog post. (And to think, I thought I was done with my education when I took that piece of paper in May!)
This blog post is not to tell you what all I’ve learned, but instead to give credit where credit is due. (And believe me, this is long overdue!) So here I am, citing my source for all of my accomplishments and knowledge thus far.
Greg Gunthorp is a pioneer in the sustainable agriculture movement. He broke free of the industrial chains that were tightening on American farmers. In 1998, when some hog farmers were choosing to shoot and bury their hogs instead of selling them for 5 cents a pound (or less if you had to transport them very far), Greg found a way to keep his hogs. No matter what problems he faced, he took it upon himself to create a solution.
Lack of federal processing facilities? He built his own. Lack of industry and government support for “little guys”? He became their voice everywhere he went, whether that be by sitting on President Clinton’s Small Farm Commission on a national level or fighting for small processors’ ability to slaughter chickens here in Indiana . Lack of finances? He did not cry out for subsidies or government assistance, but instead devoted every hour of every day into the business.
There are a lot of farmers and individuals in the ag industry who do not like Greg before they have even met him. (This became apparent to me throughout my time at Purdue, from small remarks at the dinner table and in classes to almost full-blown arguments at the bar.) What most do not realize is that the biggest things Greg stands for are rural development and paying farmers what they deserve. I do not see how anyone can be upset with that, no matter what your production practices may be.
Greg Gunthorp is my mentor, role model, and also my dad. I might be biased, but how could I not be extremely proud of him? He built a company (actually 3 companies) from the ground up, centered around his morals and values, during a time when no one in their right mind believed what he was setting out to do was possible. He built a company that not only is self sustaining, so neither of my parents have to work off the farm to pay for the farm or support our family, but also is now employing myself, my brother, twenty other full time employees, and at least ten part time employees. This is rural development!
I have attended numerous events with Greg in my lifetime. After every event, I have people approach me and tell me, “your dad is so amazing.” Yes, he definitely is. He has a passion for what he does that is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. Many people will search their whole life for a mentor who is as passionate, knowledgable, and willing to teach as Greg is and yet here I am, lucky enough to have met him twenty-two years ago.
I am so excited to dive deeper into my journey with Greg and with Gunthorp Farms and with sustainable agriculture as a whole. I hope that with the help of Greg, I can become a voice for the small farmer and for rural advocacy like he has become. I also hope I can help share Greg’s knowledge that would otherwise be wasted on just me as the only member of his audience on our drives to Indy and Chicago.
More posts to come in the near future. I already have some topics in mind, but feel free to leave topics or questions in the comments below.
Allow your passion to become your purpose and it will one day become your profession.
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