By Matt Reese
It all comes down to providing the farm connection that consumers are seeking — that is why Brian and Stacie Anderson do what they do. The much sought-after connection of consumer to food takes quite a bit of extra work, but it has paid off for the small, but growing business of Anderson’s Farm Fresh Products just outside of Bowling Green in Wood County.
“We have been raising poultry, beef, egg layers and now turkeys here in Wood County for six years. We got started with a small-scale egg laying operation and have grown from there. The reason behind that growth is serving the local community that has a need and a want for locally sourced protein products. We are able to sell at the Bowling Green Farmers Market, we do direct sales to customers as well as partner with local businesses to share our products with people all around northwest Ohio,” Stacie said. “Our story is a huge part of what we do. We entered this business venture because we wanted to raise food that we would feed our own family. With every chicken product you buy, every carton of eggs, every package of ground beef, it is the same product that we are feeding our children here at home. The values and the ethics we put into raising livestock and the care we take with those are the same things we want to offer to our community. We think people really value that and it has allowed us to create some really long lasting relationships with folks. They trust us as producers. We take pride in that, but it is also a great responsibility in ensuring a safe product for them.”
Both Brian and Stacie have grain farming backgrounds. She grew up in Wood County and he grew up in Iowa on a grain and hog farm. They met while working in Nebraska and settled back near Bowling Green in 2013. Brian just left a career in the seed industry to work full time on their farm raising livestock and working in her family’s grain operation growing corn, soybeans, wheat and barley. Stacie works off the farm with the Legacy Cooperative.
The business started with 30 laying hens and 200 or so broilers and has grown substantially to now market around 200 dozen eggs a week, four annual batches of 350 broilers, 6 cattle a year, and, new this year, 75 Thanksgiving turkeys.
“There are times it is tough. The chores have to get done no matter what. Sometimes it relies on my wife, or the kids or sometimes our family friends to help with chores when I’m out in the field late at night or early in the morning,” Brian said. “The hens are in roll-out next boxes. The eggs are laid in a communal nest box and they roll down to the same location and they are kept cleaner that way. We use LED flashlights for candling to look for cracks. The eggs take about an hour a day. Last year we were hand washing 100 dozen eggs a week. One big challenge we addressed this year was getting an egg washer. Now we can wash a whole day’s worth of eggs in about 30 minutes.”
The eggs are washed and refrigerated immediately. The procedures, water and facilities for the farm are inspected regularly by both the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Wood County Department of Health.
The laying hens are rotated on pasture in a mobile hen house with electric fencing. The broilers and turkeys are housed inside for more protection and all are fed locally sourced feed from Kalmbach Feeds.
“The meat birds are started in our shop in brooder boxes. We start our first batch in March and they are hand fed and watered twice a day. We later move them into big group pens with rubberized chicken wire and screen type doors,” Stacie said. “They have a roof over them so they are totally enclosed.”
With the meat products, dependable, certified processing is a vital part of the equation. The Andersons work with King & Sons Poultry Services in Greenville for the poultry and St. Mary’s Meat for the beef. The processing is critical in allowing the Andersons to offer the products their customers demand.
“People don’t want 200 or 300 pounds of meat at a time any more. When you think about poultry, you often think about whole chickens. But as you go through the grocery store you see a lot of chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken legs,” Brian said. “King & Sons can do a lot of those specialty products for us. That allows our customers to take that whole chicken that they really don’t know what to do with and start using the parts and other specialty products like chicken brats, chicken sausage, and chicken patties that they can take home that evening and cook for their family.”
Along with the different product options, the Andersons base their production schedule on getting the specifics their customers are seeking.
“Since we had the broilers, people started asking us about turkeys for Thanksgiving and ground turkey. In the last few years you see a lot of ground
turkey being used in recipes. We got a lot of pre-orders for turkeys and about 75% of them will go for Thanksgiving turkeys and the rest will go into turkey products,” Stacie said. “We took pre-orders and we asked for what size the customers wanted. Most wanted around 16 pounds, some wanted bigger.”
With that in mind, the Andersons got the turkeys in late July and used a combination of toms and hens with the plan to market them at 16 and 18 weeks, holding the toms longer for larger birds.
“We’ve had really good luck with the turkeys so far. When they start picking at each other we use dairy milk replacer. I tried that in week 11 and it worked,” Brian said. “They will go to processing the Friday before Thanksgiving. Everyone wants turkeys processed at the same time so that is a challenge, but we were able to make it work. The processor will cool them, vacuum seal and box them. We’ll bring them home from the processor and have customers pick them up the next day.”
Offering samples to customers helps with the marketing of some of the more unique products.
“We offer quite a few different samples at the farmers market and once we get the customers to try those products they really get hooked. We have had a lot of success when we have people in line asking about chicken brats or patties and the next customers hear that and will ask about them too. A lot of it is word of mouth and the samples we offer at the market,” Brian said. “We don’t sell a lot of whole chickens. We can do boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, ground chicken patties, chicken sausage and chicken brats in three flavors. All of those specialty products are huge sellers for us. The brats and the patties are the top sellers. We have an apple chicken brat and tomato basil chicken patty that are really popular too.”
They also offer unique products that are often sought out from the diverse customer base at nearby Bowling Green State University.
“With the diversity of BGSU we have had really positive feedback on some of our more unique cuts. We sell out on things like liver and chicken feet and chicken hearts,” Stacie said. “The people who look for that stuff have a hard time finding it. Once they know we have it, they keep coming back because they know we have it. And we don’t sell a lot, but we have a few customers who really want chicken backs for making chicken stock.”
They also work hard to keep prices reasonable, while commanding enough of a premium to be profitable.
“We sell to a lot of young families and seniors on fixed incomes,” Stacie said.
They see a number of options for expansion, including wholesale markets, but expanding sales means additional freezer space on the farm and bigger facilities for handling more animals.
“Increasing the size on the production side and transport logistics and freezers have all been challenging,” Brian said. “You think it won’t be hard to raise more, but then you realize you need all of these other things that go along with that increased production. Expanding sales doesn’t take that much more legwork in caring for the animals, but it does take more legwork in managing the sales.”
Facilitating the crucial connection customers crave is an ongoing effort, but it is vital to the farm’s success and business model.
“I try to share the story of our family and not just about raising chickens and beef. People want to know about our family and we try to create the bigger story that lets them understand what we are all about,” Stacie said. “A lot of times the best place to acquire new customers is the farmers market where we can share recipes and give samples. It is not just the sample, but the chance to interact with the customers that really helps at first. Then when they find out we live right outside of town and they find they like our products, they can turn into longer-term customers. We also deliver to long-term customers and send out a newsletter once or twice a year.”
Their farm size right now allows for high quality products and valuable one-on-one relationships.
“We are in the middle size-wise where we can create some genuine relationships and talk about why we are raising chicken, beef and turkeys. I tell them we started so we could feed our own family. People see that and trust us. They want good quality, local products that meet all of the safety standards of the grocery store,” Stacie said. “Most people, when you get into the face-to-face conversation, they seem to care about knowing us and being able to visit the farms more than the ingredients that are in their feed or an organic certification. When it comes down to it, it is more than just a buzzword. It is about supporting us and they want a safe product, but they really crave more of the transparency and the connection with the farm.”