Finding a niche is important

Renard Turner, of Vanguard Ranch in Gordonsville, Va., said the primary challenge for small farms is to become profitable and sustainable in today’s marketplace.

It may be difficult, but it can be done, said Turner. His solution is to combine value-added products with direct-to-consumer marketing to increase revenue while cutting out the middleman.

Turner and his wife, Chinette, raise meat goats on organically managed pastureland, which they process into ready-to-eat meals such as burgers, curries and kabobs. The couple purchased a mobile food cart to sell directly at major events including the State Fair of Virginia.

That vertically integrated business model, Turner said, also allows them to avoid selling at slaughterhouse prices and guarantee the quality of their product from field to plate.

“Don’t give away the power that you have to the middleman. He’s not your friend,” Turner said.

For example, Turner said, the highest prices farmers can usually hope to get from the slaughterhouse is about $3 per pound. Those slaughterhouses will then turn around and sell the same meat to customers for $9-$10 per pound.

“That’s upside-down math,” he said. “I’ve learned to change the paradigm.”

Small farmers have to be creative and committed to earn extra money through niche markets and direct-to-consumer sales, but Turner said there are options out there.

“It takes more initiative on your part, but I think it’s exponentially more rewarding for me as a producer to do that,” he said.