the meat business
The Rosmanns have found a viable way to build a successful
farming enterprise while providing customers with organic
meat--a product that more and more consumers believe is a
The Rosmanns have a customer base of more
than 100 from their promotional brochure alone. “We've
got people calling us asking if they can get copies of our
brochures,” Maria said.
The family started marketing their meat
a few years ago through the Iowa Acupuncture Clinic in Des
Moines. “They believe in the importance of eating healthy
meat, and we were able to develop a client base through them,”
The Rosmanns deliver pork, beef and chicken
to the clinic about every six to eight weeks. “We usually
have 30 to 35 orders each time, and each customer usually
buys $100 to $150 of meat each time,” Ron said.
The secret to the high-quality meat comes
from the processing, as well as the production, Ron explained.
“We age the beef for 21 to 24 days at 32-34 degrees
F. This consistently improves the meat's tenderness, flavor
and shelf life. Major processors like IBP only age the meat
overnight, and people's biggest complaint with most beef is
that the quality is inconsistent.”
The process is quite different from the
way large packers like IBP handle meat. “They spray
the carcasses with water and freeze it, because they don’t
want shrink. Adding water to the carcass can create a breeding
ground for bacteria, though,” Ron said.
The Rosmanns have also found a strong ally
in the Amend Packing Co. of Des Moines, which has helped them
promote and sell their meat. This three-generation, federally-inspected
operation custom-butchers the Rosmanns' cattle and processes
meat in a time-honored way that produces a premium quality
carcass. “The company was skeptical about our product
at first, but they have become one of our biggest sales promoters
for the last three years,” Ron said.
The Rosmanns keep some of their meat in
cold storage at Amend Packing, which is located 100 miles
east of their farm. The family also freezes meat in a state-inspected
storage facility at their farm.
contact with customers
The Rosmanns' have a wide customer base for their beef, pork
and poultry. “Physicians buy our product, and chemotherapy
patients say it’s the only beef they can eat. Younger
people like the fact that it's organic, while older people
say it tastes like the beef they remember eating as a kid.
They say this is the way meat is supposed to taste,”
The Rosmanns deliver meat once a month to
specialty grocery stores and health food stores in Des Moines,
Ames and Omaha. “We also do some food-service catering
with Iowa State University through Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Iowa State is starting to serve our beef one night a week
at the residence halls,” Ron noted.
The Rosmanns market all the cuts. The beef
is available in quarters, halves and the whole animal. Different
cuts, including steaks, roasts, stew meat and ground beef
are also available in a variety of different packages.
“We’ve found a way to use up
everything from the meat we sell. A kennel in Des Moines buys
the meat bones, we sell the pork lard, and we compost the
beef tallow here at the farm,” Ron added.
The best way to build a customer base is
to build trust, Ron emphasized. “People want to know
where their meat comes from. We want our customers to see
how our animals are raised. We're not just livestock producers.
We build relationships, so we get to know our clients over
time and establish trust.”
The Rosmanns periodically invite their customers
to visit their farm to see how he livestock are raised and
help customers understand why the animals are produced this
One snag in the beef market is the way sales
of organic beef have flattened out in recent years, Ron said.
“Natural beef has a 10- to
12-year advantage in the whole-foods stores. Consumers think
there’s no difference between organic and natural beef.
There is a difference, since natural just means no antibiotics
and no hormones. Organic beef is priced higher than natural
beef, and consumers are staying with the natural beef, since
it’s a product they know and like,” he explained.
Concerns about premium beef markets aren’t the only
challenges facing farmers like the Rosmanns. Current government
programs have created a big problem for agriculture, Ron said.
“We need to move toward the concept
of a conservation security program. Right now, the farm bill
is paying farmers to overproduce corn, soybeans, wheat and
cotton to get subsidies. It doesn’t make sense. As long
as we have a subsidy, which I think we need due to world markets,
that subsidy needs to be based on conservation, not production,”
Subsidies that encourage overproduction
and unbridled expansion have taken a severe toll on rural
America, Ron added.
“Look what they’ve done to our
rural society—they’ve destroyed it. When you raise
subsidies, landlords raise their rent. Land around here is
selling for $2,200 an acre, and cash rent is running $150
to $170 an acre. When land comes up for sale or rent, the
really big farmers snap it up and get bigger. Why should young
people go into farming, when they can quickly go into debt
getting land and buying equipment? Where’s the next
generation of farmers going to come from? I can’t think
of one young guy who has started farming recently in our county.”
Ron said his family's goal for their business
is to stay small and sell more of their beef, pork and poultry
locally, from Des Moines to Omaha. The Rosmanns are also working
to create a farming enterprise that their three sons may want
to take over in the future.
“Farming is our profession, not a part-time job. So
many conventional farmers are encouraging their kids not to
come back to the farm, but we've been able to create something
for our kids to come back to, if they want. We’re trying
to teach them as much as possible about the farm,” Maria
“We’ve learned a lot
through the years with this type of farming,” Ron added,
“but there’s a lot to keep learning.”
Previous installments in the Pioneers
of Iowa Sustainable Farming series
3, 2002: Vic and Cindy
Madsen run a diversified operation in southwest Iowa that
emphasizes customer relations & direct marketing
11, 2002: Dick and Sharon Thompson have 35
years of hard proof that regenerative agriculture can outperform
25, 2002: Tom & Irene Franztzen manage
for quality in soil, hogs and life