At A Glance
Diana & Gary
Summary of Operation
• 75 head
in cow/calf operation
• Tomatoes, grain and hay
on 400-acre certified organic Rainbow Farms
• Coordinator of Good-Natured
Family Farms, a group of “natural”
meat and vegetable producers
beef and getting a premium. After
moving to Kansas to run their own ranch, Diana
and Gary Endicott sought a way to produce beef
in a way that would reflect their principles and
provide them with a premium price.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
(SARE) program © 2003, Beltsville MD. Used
by permission. Pp. 20 to 22
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Diana Endicott led her meat co-op’s effort
to learn the public’s preferred cuts, partly
by in-store sampling.
When the Endicotts decided
to return to the rural beauty of their childhood home in southeast
Kansas, they bought a 400-acre farm and began raising beef
cattle, vegetables, grain and hay.
They always had big ideas. They wanted to sell their organic
beef from the farm directly to customers and sought a way
to connect the dots — from rural slaughtering plant
to small processor to local supermarket, marketing their product
outside the bounds of the mainstream food system. In today’s
perilous agricultural markets, realizing this kind of vision
takes initiative, energy and a lot of courage. The Endicotts
have an abundance of all three.
What later became a 20-plus-member meat cooperative started
small. In the mid-1990s, the Endicotts had scaled back from
salad vegetables to focus exclusively on tomatoes and wanted
to sell them at an upscale grocery. Diana Endicott took her
tomatoes to Hen House Markets, which has 15 stores throughout
Kansas City, and passed out samples to produce managers.
“We went into that store and not only tried to sell
our product, but we tried to sell ourselves,” she says.
Focal Point of Operation —
Both Diana and Gary squeeze out about 40 hours a week to work
on the farm, where they are helped by Gary’s parents.
They have integrated their tomato and beef operations, composting
manure and hay from the cattle feedlot for use on tomato plots.
The rest of the time they spend growing their small business,
Good-Natured Family Farms.
After Hen House began buying tomatoes from the Endicotts,
the couple offered meat managers their hormone- and antibiotic-free
corn-fed beef. Hen House, coincidentally looking for a branded
beef product, began buying their meat. When demand exceeded
supply, the Endicotts searched for other producers who could
provide tomatoes and beef raised using such “natural”
Today, Diana runs the “Good-Natured” cooperative,
a group of family farmers and ranchers in Kansas and Missouri,
and supplies the supermarket chain with both meat and tomatoes.
In 1997, the Endicotts and nine area farmers began marketing
their products under an “all-natural,” USDA-approved
claims label to distinguish themselves from other ranchers
who use growth hormones and add synthetics to feed. Producing
and marketing beef in a cooperative allowed the ranchers to
get paid for the added value of beef produced without such
supplements — while sharing risk, knowledge and profits.
Since then, the co-op has added 10 members, opened a web site
and cooperates with producers who supplement the beef line
with poultry products.
“The meat market is very competitive,” Diana says.
“We’re all competing for shelf space in the supermarket,
and we don’t have the volume to compete with the large
producers. We’re trying to develop the local markets,
and the best way to do this is to have many producers band
To qualify for membership, ranchers must raise cattle without
growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics on a “small
family farm” where family income is primarily generated
from the operation and the family members are actively involved
Primarily third- and fourth-generation farmers, co-op members
hail from central and southeast Kansas and west central Missouri.
They operate diversified farms using certified organic, transitional
or sustainable practices. All of the cattle are grazed on
grassland on small farms in Kansas and Missouri, then fed
a corn ration during their last four months of production
— 20 to 30 days longer than conventional beef. Endicott
thinks grazing and a high quality corn diet develops marbling
for exceptional flavor and tenderness.
Co-op members are careful to ensure that their labeling claims
are true. Each producer follows strict USDA-approved quality
control procedures and sign forms that spell out their production
and “no-chemical” claims. The meat from each animal
is labeled at processing and tracked so that each package
can be traced back to the farm — and animal —
Diana researched pricing by examining branded beef program
pricing grids, then developed her own pricing spreadsheet.
The middle meats are easiest to sell, while the “end
meats” posed a marketing challenge. With a SARE grant
and assistance from Kansas State University, the co-op gave
five meat managers nearly $1,500 worth of meat products to
prepare and judge for 15 consecutive weeks. Information from
the survey not only provided producers with valuable production
and marketing information, but it also helped cement positive,
reciprocal relationships with meat managers.
With support from the meat managers, the co-op now has lead-off
counter space in 15 Hen House stores throughout Kansas City
to showcase their complete line of all-natural meats. Reaching
this point has meant negotiating seemingly endless hurdles,
but Diana has taken on the details systematically —
and even cheerfully. To organize a formal cooperative, Diana
did research, networked and attended meetings to learn articles
and bylaws, business plans, feasibility studies, tax registration
As if the challenge of organizing a producer co-op wasn’t
enough, the co-op had to find a slaughtering plant and processor
to accommodate the ranchers’ desire to follow each cut
from field to grocery. They purchased a Kansas state-inspected
meat processing plant and initiated the processes to change
the plant to a federal inspected facility so they could sell
their meat across state lines — Missouri’s in
particular. That meant complying with a long list of federal
Diana worked with inspectors and other officials at federal
and state levels to comply with the strict labeling and food
safety laws. She wrote her own labels and brought the plants
into line with federal regulations in just one month.
“It was an enormous undertaking,” she says, “but
I worked one-on-one with a federal inspector and had a lot
of hands-on knowledge going into it.”
Eugene Edelman, co-op president, visits the member ranches
and does the slotting and cattle deliveries for the group.
Economics and Profitability
The co-op slaughters 10 head of cattle per week for Hen House,
with plans to increase production. Diana said they are netting,
on average, about $45 per head more than if they sold their
cattle on the open market, but stresses that it has taken
two and half years to get to that point.
“When people put together an organization, they often
have a misconception that it will become profitable immediately,”
she says. “You have to be dedicated to a longer-term
effort and, like most businesses, expect five years before
you get the returns.”
One of the main benefits of the co-op is that members avoid
the enormous variability in meat market prices, Diana says.
This stability can provide them with a steady income and peace
of mind. “Some of our members find increased profitability
to be an advantage, but most are looking at a system that’s
more sustainable,” she says. “We’re developing
a network of producers who can learn from one another and
gain more control over their markets.”
Taking animals independently from slaughter to store has inefficiencies
costing nearly double what it would cost to slaughter conventionally.
But Diana sees this as incentive to reap even higher profits
as they increase efficiency. For her exhaustive efforts, Diana
sometimes takes a small cut from a markup she adds to sales;
more often, that 4 to 5 percent markup goes toward the cost
of putting on a promotion.
The Endicotts produce tomatoes — both outside and in
the greenhouse — for six months a year. At their busiest
time, in July, they sell several thousand pounds of tomatoes
to Hen House stores each week, receiving about $2 a pound.
Grain fed to Good Natured Beef does not have to be organically
grown; however, most producers in the co-op try to be as natural
as possible in their production. All of the ranchers work
on family farms and raise their animals on the open range.
They all finish their animals themselves rather than in large
commercial feedlots, most with feed they raise themselves,
with the rest of the group buying grain with the least amount
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
To qualify for membership, ranchers must raise cattle on a
“small family farm” where family income is primarily
generated from the operation and the family members are actively
involved in labor. Working with small, local processors and
meat lockers boosts rural economies.
As with any alternative marketing strategy, selling at supermarkets
requires constant consumer contact and education. Endicott
hires restaurant chefs to prepare samples so Hen House shoppers
can taste Good Natured Beef and then buy it with coupons.
Producers from the co-op often attend tastings to meet with
customers, learning what they want in their meat while offering
information about their family farms.
“A cooperative is like a family. You put together a
diverse group of people, and you have to respect each other’s
knowledge and opinions,” Endicott says. “Each
of us tries to do what we think we can do best. Getting people
together who have different skills and attributes really helps
Unlike producers protective of their markets, Diana believes
there is room for more direct marketing, and that saving family
farms means educating other farmers about profitable alternatives.
She suggests producers seek help from private and governmental
agencies, organizations, institutions and businesses. Diana
says her first grant from SARE gave the project credibility
and created more interest from other funding organizations.
Building relationships with processors and retailers also
is key to success, Diana says. Although the road likely will
be rough, persistence and some sacrifice will pay off.
“Do the leg work yourself and hire out as little as
possible,” she says. “This will allow you to understand
the necessary procedures from the farm through the market.”
Diana’s long-term challenge remains to develop a franchise
that markets her idea of a sustainable food system linking
local producers to local supermarkets. She likes to think
of her fledgling Good-Natured Family Farms group as a model
that they can package as a success story prompting others
to follow suit.