In 2014 an investigative reporter by the name of Christopher Leonard published his book titled "The Meat Racket" The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business.
Most of his book focuses on Tyson. However, they developed the model that all integrators (meat packers) use today.
In Chapter 2 he tells the story of John Tyson as a young married man living with his parents in MO when the Great Depression hit and how his Dad basically told him he had to go out and make his own way as his farm would not support all of them. His Dad gifted him the farm truck and a bale of hay to use for gas money. John was headed to Fort Smith, AR where he heard there were jobs. He ran out of gas in Springdale, AR.
In Springdale he started looking for ways to make money with the only asset he had - the farm truck. He first started hauling fruits & vegetables from Springdale to larger cities. John soon noticed a new opportunity growing in the shadow of the orchards...some farmers were starting to grow chickens to sell into grocery stores up North. Within a few years John was running a steady pipeline of live chickens from AR to northern cities like Chicago and Detroit. Making up to $250 from a single haul.
Before long John signed a contract with Ralston Purina to become the local dealer - later he started buying his own ingredients and making his own brand of feed to the farmers.
However, the chicken market was unpredictable because the population of chickens fluctuated. When prices were good there were not enough chickens - when there were plenty of chickens the prices were low. And, John needed a way to steady his income. For Tyson, controlling the chicken farms was paramount to his success. By 1940 with the outbreak of WWII there was a huge demand for chicken.
Soon, Tyson had his own hatchery, farmers (called growers because they did not own the crop), and processing plant.
Leonard notes at the core of Tyson's strategy is an economic principle called vertical integration - which refers to the way companies buy up the outside firms that supply them. When a company becomes vertically integrated, it takes under its control and ownership all the independent business that once supported it. Tyson does not own the farms that supply it with animals, it does control them through the use of restrictive contracts.
Chris writes that Tyson's structure, and its dominance over all aspects of the rural economy, has delinked the corporation's well-being from the fortunes of the towns in which it operates. In towns like Walton and surrounding Scott County the per capita income has stagnated in Tyson's shadow, growing just 1.4% over the last decade to about $22,000. During that time Tyson's annual income rose 245 percent.
Tyson expanded their "poultry model" into raising hogs. Within two short decades America's independent hog industry was wiped out and replaced with a vertically integrated, corporate controlled model. Ninety percent of all hog farms disappeared.
Today, Tyson is a Fortune 100 company.
I look around today and wonder about companies like Butcher Box who just topped $600 million in sales. Basically a sales & marketing company that buys animals from around the world and resells meat. They do not own land, animals, infrastructure, deal with changing weather, and the endless daily things to do on a farm.
What about White Oak Pastures? While I have tremendous respect for what Will Harris has accomplished I have to wonder about comments he has made. For example, when we were last at his farm in 2016 his sales were $28 million with about 100 employees. Now, he has 187 employees (I have not heard current sales) and Will is quick to say he is not making any money. Well, there are several layers of management before you get to the actual folks doing the daily work. And, look at his prices compared to Nature's Gourmet Farm and you have to ask yourself "Why aren't you making gobs of money?"
At Nature's Gourmet Farm it is not
about making money. Yes, a business must be profitable to survive. However, I firmly believe "family-sized" farms are the only sustainable model. We have no desire to be #1, the biggest, etc. Our passion is to raise nutrient dense proteins and sell to customers in our local area (within 125 miles max) so families can eat healthy and raise heathy children.
One of the things I have learned from farming is you don't build the fence for the 98% good times, but for the 2% when the cows are restless. For example, BB only ships. What happens (and it will happen again) when the shipper goes on strike? Or, the next pandemic happens and Tyson shuts down their plants? Store shelve are emptied.
All of the small family farms I know continued working and providing product to their customers during covid while the big guys shut down.
IF we had many many more small family farms then when one farm had an issue of supply then several of the other farms could pickup the slack until the issue was resolved. But, when a Tyson has an issue there is not enough "extra" capacity in the supply chain to make up the difference.
In our day and time it is so important to buy local (and we practice this with our chicks, feed, seed, fuel, repairs, supplies, etc. to the greatest extent possible). I want to do my part to help keep companies I depend on in business.
These are some of the concerns running around in my brain. Thanks for coming along today - I hope the ride made sense to you.
At Nature's Gourmet Farm, our intent is to create a community that will evolve around one of the most intrinsically important things of the ages, and that’s the provision of sustenance. That's our passion - to raise healthy food to nourish families and strengthen immune systems.
** Product Availability Update **
Chicken - Restocked June 28th. Next harvest date is July 25th with restock the following day. We will process again August 1st and 15th with restock the following day. By mid August we should be fully stocked on chicken. Processing will continue for twice per month for the balance of the year.
Eggs - Eggs are tight again. Will add eggs each Wednesday at 6pm along with any other items processed (like chicken)
Beef - Restocked June 22nd. Next restock will be about July 21st.
Pork - Restocked July 13th. We plan to restock pork again in August.
Lamb - Restocked April 28th. Next restock will not be until July timeframe.