(December 5, 2018, by Cirina Catania, Sr. Editor, USTimes.biz) As we approach the holidays, my thoughts always turn to, “What am I going to cook and who I am going to cook for,” and if you’re a foodie like me, that’s always on your mind, particularly during the holidays!
Shortly before Thanksgiving this year, I interviewed Mark Keller, Owner of Keller Crafted Meats in California and John Peterson, a third-generation turkey farmer and owner of Ferndale Farms in Minnesota.
We were curious about how those pasture-raised turkeys are brought up, what they are fed and why the farmers claim that they are healthier for us. I am also personally drawn to the slow food movement, which encourages purchasing from small farmers and ranchers rather than the large commercial operations, and I was curious about what the life of one of those local farmers is like.
Keller Crafted recently partnered with Ferndale to bring us healthy and delicious turkeys for the holidays, so what better place to go than to two men who live their lives for this purpose. Turns out, both men are full of information about how this all works.
This is the behind-the-scenes story of an American farm and the company that helps them bring the food they produce to market, all while maintaining a strong love for and appreciation of the animals.
It feels like a small piece of the past and an optimistic look towards a future dream where we are able to renew our resources, raise animals using sustainable and humane agriculture and bring healthy meat and poultry to our tables.
If you are concerned with your health and you love food, take a listen to Mark Keller and John Peterson as they talk about raising turkeys, and let us know what you think.
Listen to the Interview here:
The written text of our interview follows:
Interview by Cirina Catania of USTimes.biz with Mark Keller of Keller Crafted Meats and John Peterson, turkey farmer, Ferndale Market
On the subject of sustainable farming, pasture-raised turkeys and the clean food
Cirina Catania: This is Cirina Catania with US Times. You know, as we approach the holidays, my thoughts always turn to what am I going to cook and who am I [00:01:30] going to cook it for. If you’re a foodie like me, that’s always on your mind anyway, but particularly during the holidays. Today, I feel very, very lucky. I have Mark Keller, owner of Keller Crafted Meats, headquartered in California. He actually is the owner of a company that brings us healthy sustainably sourced food direct to our doors. I have John Peterson, on the other side of the country in Minnesota, who is a very well respected third generation turkey farmer with Ferndale [00:02:00] Farms. They’re in Cannon Falls. Good morning, gentlemen. How are you today?
John Peterson: Good morning.
Mark Keller: Doing well.
John Peterson: Doing great.
Cirina Catania: I want to ask each of you … Explain to the people listening what you do and who you do it for. Can we start with you, Mark?
Mark Keller: Keller Crafted Meats [00:02:30] started off as a generalized approach to help make the world a better place. The core is to help enable great land stewards, great farmers who treat their animals with extreme dignity and farmers who make incredible food that’s nutrient dense and delicious from a culinary perspective. We develop supply chains, we create connections, we make value-added products, like deli sausages, all kinds of different aspects to utilize the entire carcass. Then, we [00:03:30] also do raw butchery. Then, we sell wholesale. We also have a meat club going direct to the consumer just on what we call the left coast, here.
Cirina Catania: Weren’t you the first non GMO project certified charcuterie company in this country?
Mark Keller: We were, we were. It was something that in pursuit of kind of the gold standard [00:04:00] of food, we did start our career with a lot of certified organics. We found that the cost, I should say, of the organic feed started to become a barrier, which was not in our mission. Our mission is to share as much product from the right farmers as possible. One of our biggest concerns was the GMOs, so we chose to do that in a relationship with one of our significant farming partners with our hog farmer. That kicked it off.
Cirina Catania: Awesome. That brings me to you, John. You and Mark had [00:05:00] similar missions. How did the two of you meet? Tell us about what you do and how this fits into our mutual mission here.
John Peterson: Yeah, absolutely. I can start by tackling the what we do. I’ll light heartedly say that this time of year it feels like what we do is prepare for Thanksgiving. There is a lot that goes into our operation. At the core, what we do is continue to grow turkeys on my family’s [00:05:30] farm. You mentioned in the intro that we’ve been doing this for three generations. My grandfather got us started in 1939. That remains our core business today, growing free range turkeys on the same farm that he founded almost 80 years ago. But then, about 10 years ago, we began direct marketing our finished turkey products, which sets us apart from most people in agriculture that are really disconnected [00:06:00] with where the food that they produce on their farm ends up. That added a lot of new facets to the business. Now we’re engaged with product development, working closely with processors, folks like Mark, to put together a good mix of turkey products. Then, also very much engaged in fulfillment and distribution.
John Peterson: Farming is still our core business and ultimately [00:06:30] remains the most important thing we do each day is get up and raise happy, healthy turkeys. We do have a lot of others things that happen as a result of that now. Then, you referenced how Mark and I first got to know each other. It was actually through a mutual friend, a processor that happens to be located right here in Cannon Falls and is also known for using a lot of good, clean, sustainable practices. This mutual friend connected Mark and I, and we [00:07:00] began a project together producing ground turkey together. It’s been a great partnership. The more that we’ve done together I think the more we’ve realized that our values are really very, very much aligned.
Cirina Catania: They really are, aren’t they? Talk to us about your turkeys and how they live? What’s their life like?
John Peterson: Yeah. I think the way that our turkeys live is very different than most turkeys today. The funny thing that I always say [00:07:30] is that it’s a funny way to enter into a niche because we’re just doing what we’ve always done. I think sometimes people perceive that we’ve adapted our practices to fit consumer demand when the reality is that we’re really the holdouts. Long after everybody else had gone to confinement production of poultry, we’ve stuck with outdoor pasture-raised birds. It’s really a legacy that goes back to my grandfathers [00:08:00] era, and then sustained by my own father. We’re fortunate that we’ve got a farm really well suited for growing turkeys in this way. But again, it’s really a tradition rather than being something new that we’ve adapted to.
Cirina Catania: It’s a beautiful farm. I was on your website. I love the picture of you holding the turkey with all the turkeys free range behind you. I love that picture.
John Peterson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. It’s always [00:08:30] a good photo op. Turkeys are great subjects for photography because curiosity is their defining personality trait, so it doesn’t take much to attract their interest.
Cirina Catania: Mark, you and John are very compatible with what you do because John talks abut wanting to process his turkeys naturally without any additives, and clean ingredients, and no binders. Can you talk about a little, Mark?
Mark Keller: Sure. What [00:09:00] we’re looking for is just fantastic product. Minimalist, pure, least ingredients. Even our value added products, we’ve developed a turkey roast with the Ferndale turkey in the proportions that John proposed. We have one breast and one thigh, and it’s got two ingredients in it. [00:09:30] The idea that you know what’s in your food to begin with, that there’s no gray, there’s no questions. I have to just say kind of right now is when we decide to partner with a farm, one of the biggest things that we look for … We do go all in. We don’t have multiple turkey farmers that we [00:10:00] work with, we have one. We have one hog farmer we work with. We have one grass finished beef rancher that we work with. We go all in in full support. We look at the humans and what they’re about. We say, “Can we support them? Can we help them [00:10:30] and just perpetuate what they do?” In other words, can we just not get in the way, not mess up what beautiful stuff they’re creating?
Cirina Catania: You talk about ‘Eat with understanding.’ Is all this part of that? Can you explain that?
Mark Keller: “Eat with Understanding ” is absolutely, from beginning to end, having a very trusting relationship with the farmer, [00:11:00] knowing the practices. I have a background in animal science, so I understand monogastric and ruminant livestock production. We can talk shop very quickly. But then, it just comes down to farming practices that are realistic, especially for a farm that is trying to really make it in being financially viable, working [00:11:30] 52 weeks a year. That’s something I really enjoy about John’s approach is that, yes, he has this big Thanksgiving push, but they’re producing food year round and creating a supply chain that’s very reliable. Eat with understanding covers the land stewardship, it covers the dignified treatment of the animals, and [00:12:00] also that there are no antibiotics in the food, that the animals have been treated with care and with concern, and that they’ve had a good humane harvest. That post treatment is that the birds are handled in a very healthy and wholesome way.
Cirina Catania: You really believe in that, John, don’t you?
John Peterson: Absolutely, yeah. We believe certainly that the way that we’re growing our turkeys is better for our birds, certainly better for the land, we believe better for our staff, but ultimately that creates a better finished product, as well. It’s better for the eater, as well. Better for turkey, better for land, better for employee, and better for that person that’s going [00:13:00] to enjoy the finished product. Mark is exactly right. There really are two stages of that, what happens during the life of that bird here on the farm, and then how the finished product is handled as well to make sure that it is a clean finished product, as well.
John Peterson: We have our pasteurized birds out there. [00:13:30] The birds have been circulating and we already have reviews. Absolutely outstanding. We actually got to the point where we’re now sold out. John, I just have to thank you for doing a bang up job, just an amazing product. The ground turkey out here …
Mark Keller: I’m just going to touch on the culinary for a second. All the work that you put in, from [00:14:00] the hatchery all the way through the processing, really does reflect in the quality of the food. We have some of the best chefs and we have some of the best palates that I know that are just astounded by the quality of the products you produce. Thank you for what you do on the ground, thank you for what you do with the birds, but also thank you for delicious food.
John Peterson: Absolutely. [00:14:30] Well, I’m of course thrilled to hear all of that, Mark, and really appreciate the kind words. I do think one of the real differences for us is that because we are engaged in selling our finished turkey products, we feel such a deep connection and responsibility to the people that are going to be enjoying the products that we grow. I think that, again, sets us apart from most farmers. For most people in agriculture, farming is not a consumer facing industry [00:15:00] today. We’re very closely connected. Stories like the one you just shared, Mark, really bring us a lot of pride and joy, so thank you for sharing that.
Mark Keller: The turkeys are fantastic. It’s not just me saying that. We know this to be true. He can do it [00:15:30] 52 weeks a year. I liken it to sailing on the ocean. The way he’s doing it is very artful. Being able to navigate a living landscape grazing across fields, and then doing the responsible thing and protecting those birds when mother nature wants to shift her gears, he’s got that wired. [00:16:00] That’s what I would call tribal wisdom, it’s something that you have to learn by doing. It’s probably also something that might be just generational wisdom, but it all ends up in the food. It’s really a fantastic end product when it’s being done with such care.
Cirina Catania: I’m curious about something. What is [00:16:30] not in your turkeys that would be in turkeys that we might buy from larger growers or in supermarkets that might not be as healthy? Obviously, your turkeys are not only delicious, they’re healthy, which really appeals to a lot of us right now. We’re worried about that. What do we not find in your turkeys that might be in supermarket product?
John Peterson: That’s a great question and there’s probably a long answer with a lot of words that I may not be [00:17:00] able to pronounce. The easiest way to answer is probably to say that there’s nothing in our turkey but turkey. We’re not adding anything. Typical whole turkeys would have some sort of a basting solution added. It’s usually some mixture of water, saline, and whatever else is added. We’re proud of the way our turkeys are going to taste. We’re not adding anything. I [00:17:30] think it’s easier to talk about what is there rather than what isn’t there. The other thing I had mention … You’re right, Cirina, it’s about clean food. The other thing that I think consumers don’t always think about is that when a turkey or any sort of a poultry product has so much added water or added sodium, you’re paying for a lot of weight that you don’t have a chance to enjoy.
Cirina Catania: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Peterson: In not adding anything, you know that you’re purchasing 100 percent real turkey. I think there’s pride for us on a couple of levels. Certainly, we believe that it’s a better tasting product and doesn’t need any enhancements, but just as importantly, and this again is a legacy that goes back to my grandfather, we really want to produce fair food and not be using any of the smoke and mirrors type tactics to sneak a couple pounds of water [00:18:30] into a poultry product. It’s important on two levels.
Cirina Catania: They’re also not injected with any kind of artificial growth promotants, correct? You don’t use antibiotics. Can you talk about that?
John Peterson: Exactly, yep. That goes back to sort of the two stages: what happens on the farm, and then what happens with the finished product. You’re right, everything that I talked about was more of a processing level focus. On the [00:19:00] farm, for sure. We believe that the practices that we’re using are much cleaner. Our birds are growing at natures pace, so there’s no growth promoters or anything to speed their growth. Then, and probably more importantly for us, and Mark alluded to antibiotic use, we’re not using any antibiotics. That’s not just growth promoting antibiotics, but really believe that we’re working in tandem with nature to provide a good, healthy environment that prevents [00:19:30] the need for medications or treatments after the fact. So you’re right, both on the farm and in the finished product, less would be used.
Cirina Catania: I think a lot of people think farmers are contracted to market their product to commercial, big brands, and then those big brands sell to large supermarkets. Can you tell people what the difference is between being an independent farmer versus a contracted commercial grower?
John Peterson: Absolutely. You’re right, Cirina, in referencing that model. That is the way that certainly most poultry and a lot of the meat is raised would be under a contract with one of the big meat companies. That is a significant point of difference for us and one that I talk about a lot when we have visitors to the farm or people that we encounter out in a store at an event. [00:20:30] I think some differences in our product are really visible. If you look at our label or come see the farm, you’ll see that our birds are grown free range, you’ll see that we’re not using antibiotics, you’ll see that we’re not adding anything in processing, so they’re naturally processed. Those are all claims that we can stamp on a package and have verification to support.
John Peterson: The point of difference that is probably most important foundationally but is less visible, is that we remain an independent [00:21:00] family farm. That gives us the ability to do those things differently. There certainly wouldn’t be any value to one of the big meat companies in raising our turkeys the way that we do. It’s a little less efficient, a little more costly. Our independence is really what allows us to have the autonomy to continue to sustain the way we’ve grown birds for almost 80 years. Then, to connect with folks like Mark, [00:21:30] who see value and difference in the way that we grow our turkeys. I think, unfortunately, that’s not the way that most of agriculture works today. That’s really evolved in the 80 years of existence of our farm. When my grandfather got started, I mentioned that he wasn’t doing anything specialized or niched at that point. This was how all turkeys were grown. The other real difference was that there were a lot of processors and a lot of options [00:22:00] for him when it came time to sell turkeys.
John Peterson: For him, when it came time to sell turkeys. In fact there are stories about 70 or 80 years ago when my grandpa would have a flock of turkeys ready to go to market. Buyers would come from these various packing houses and would bid on flocks. And so a circumstance like that, the farmer is really able to negotiate or help determine their price, and make sure that they’re being paid fairly for their labor and cost. [00:22:30] You know fast forward 80 years, most farmers have one or two if they’re lucky, options for where that finished product will go, and it’s strictly under a contract with one of the big companies, and so of course they end up being takers of that price that doesn’t necessarily cover their costs or certainly pay a living wage. So it is a very significant difference for us.
Cirina Catania: Mark you talk a [00:23:00] lot about working with these smaller, locally sourced producers. Why is that? You could, I mean I think you’ve made a conscious decision to work with sustainable agriculture, can you talk about that?
Mark Keller: Yeah, you know we’re very committed, it’s at the core of our mission to be a connector to be a link in a very long and important chain that I [00:23:30] believe is the future of food. I feel like … there’s a linear process out there for production agriculture. I believe that that’s not sustainable. and I believe the time to act is now. And to help support and to develop these scalable models like the one that John is [00:24:00] in charge of, and developing and honing what he’s doing is very complicated. Lots of plates of spinning at once.
Mark Keller: Number one, I believe that what we’re supporting is what’s necessary for the future. We also believe in revitalizing the rural landscape, which means that by [00:24:30] cycling dollars back to the actual farmer who farmed that, is … that’s very important. If you drive out through the rural areas, they don’t seem very vibrant. And you’ll drive through towns that look like they were vibrant at one time. It concerns me that one 1.3% of our US population makes their living farming. [00:25:00] And I think that we ought not wake up to that too late. We have a population that’s growing globally, we have big nutritional epidemics that we’re facing, and I believe that with the help of people like John and Ferndale Market, and what they’re doing, [00:25:30] the idea is how can we produce wonderful food that nourishes us, and even if we have to eat less, we’re getting more.
Cirina Catania: John how do you react to that?
John Peterson: I couldn’t agree more, and I’m glad Mark brought up the impact on local communities. I mean again I think that’s one of the pieces of the model of how agriculture is done today [00:26:00] that’s changed so much. To look at our farm, there are a lot of inputs so to speak that go into raising a turkey. We’re buying feed, we’re buying wood shavings for bedding, all of those things are purchased locally. We’re inevitably running to the local hardware store eight times a week for various parts that we need. All of those are dollars that go right back into the local economy, whereas in [00:26:30] a model that would be most common today, all of those inputs are being determined by a big integrated meat company, and typically not in any way funneling back into the local economic pool. So I’m glad that Mark brought that up, ’cause that is a piece not to be overlooked. We need to promote vitality in our rural areas.
Cirina Catania: Can you explain to people what pastured means?
John Peterson: Absolutely, yeah, it means what it sounds like, and I think that’s one of the most important things for customers to know is that when we say that our birds are pastured they are out on green grass and we’re moving them rotationally every week onto fresh pasture. So you know I should back up and say that when our baby turkeys first begin their lives, they do need to be indoors, they need a lotta heat [00:27:30] to replicate being right by their mother. But after about a month of age, we’re able to give them outdoor access, and then when they’re about two months old they’re able to go completely out on range, and so at that point they’re not coming back into a building, they’re living the rest of their life out on pasture. And we have portable shelters, portable feeders, portable waters, and like I say keep the whole operation rotating every week. And we do that, the [00:28:00] rotational piece, because we want the birds to be … have access to good forage at all times, good fresh grass. We also want to make sure that we’re moving them across at appropriate speeds so that they can perfectly fertilize for the very next flock that will come across behind them.
John Peterson: And I love Mark’s term of generational wisdom, I mean that’s one of those things that I don’t think there’s a textbook out there anywhere in terms of knowing when you [00:28:30] should be moving them onto fresh pasture, but it’s one of those things that’s been handed down from my grandfather and to my dad and to me now that we need to keep our birds moving onto fresh ground for them, and for our land, so that we’re able to sustain that system flock after flock and year after year. So that’s a long answer but like I say at the core pastured is exactly what it sounds like, [00:29:00] that our birds are out on green grass on pasture.
Cirina Catania: You know I can hear the smile in your voice when you start talking about your turkeys.
John Peterson: Yeah
Cirina Catania: What inspires you to keep going? This is not an easy business.
John Peterson: It’s not an easy business, you’re right about that. I think our inspiration probably comes on a lot of levels. I mean certainly it’s inspiring for me to be able to carry forward the legacy of what my family has been doing [00:29:30] all of these years, but we also really believe that we are doing something good. We believe that we’re giving our birds a very good, respectful life. We believe that we’re providing good food for people to eat, and nourishing the land that our family has called home for all these years, and also providing good employment for our staff. So I think [00:30:00] that’s the inspiration is really believing in what we do, and believe that we’re making a difference for people and for turkeys and for the earth.
Cirina Catania: Well I think you really are. Mark, talk about some of the challenges of maintaining sustainable food.
Mark Keller: So John alluded to it before, we’ll talk about the critical infrastructure needed to get [00:30:30] the product from the farm to the fork. Number one, there isn’t a lot of generational wisdom, so so that’s a big barrier, and not one that we’re talking about today, we’ve got that in the bag in spades with John. But once we leave the farm gate, things get a little bit lacking in terms of infrastructure. The processing infrastructure, [00:31:00] the logistics, the shipping lanes provide barriers. And really I didn’t quite understand that when I … I thought I was gonna be a farmer, that was what I … that was my goal. And I understood too late because I came from an urban background, I didn’t understand agriculture, and after kind of wrapping my brain around it, I said, “Oh my goodness, you have to learn how to market, or you end [00:31:30] up selling to the commodity market.” And I knew that that was not how we were gonna change the world for the better. And so I got into processing meat because it was the missing link. I just squinted my eyes and looked at the entire picture, and I said, “I think this is where I’m needed for right now.”
Mark Keller: The barriers are the ones that I’ve addressed with Keller Crafted Meats, is creating [00:32:00] the supply chain infrastructure, working with independent processing facilities, working with … creating logistic lanes and actually creating a market with enough demand and enough tonnage so that the products can be taken to the market in a cost-effective way. It’s a real pity when you have a program and the farmer’s [00:32:30] doing everything right, you can get it to the packing plant, but you just don’t have the tonnage, and you’re adding a dollar a pound just in freight costs. And so that’s … it’s always been kind of the stair-step model, and one where … and this is why we go all-in, in a very focused and committed way, is that we need the tonnage, [00:33:00] the farmer needs the tonnage, the packer needs the tonnage, to be able to … just to bring a viable … you know and I love John’s term about fair food. To bring products to market that are affordable, and delicious and nourishing.
Mark Keller: We started with working with these … creating logistics, creating cold storage, creating all these things [00:33:30] that were not accessible, or didn’t exist. It just, the infrastructure isn’t there, and then we started doing distribution, and it was just innocently enough we said, “Okay now we have to make value added products, because we need to use the entire animal or bird.” And that’s part of our responsibility, and that’s what the farmer needs to be sustainable, [00:34:00] to use the term. To be viable. So the whole birds needs to be marketed. Everything, every part of it. And so we started making value added products, and then we started making butcher y… we always did some butchery, but recently we’ve gotten very very focused on that.
Mark Keller: Creating that infrastructure and the distribution model from the farm to the fork has really taken me 18 [00:34:30] years. And it’s slow going, there’s no fast and easy way to do it. You find a great farmer who dreams the same way that you dream, you’re almost kind of finishing each other’s sentences, and then you take that idea to other people who are the end consumers who are also probably finishing the other part of the sentence. [00:35:00] And we’re just trying to link those two people together. Or those two communities I should say. ‘Cause they really are two communities. And so we help facilitate and to create the infrastructure, and to kind of cobble this thing together.
Mark Keller: I can tell you I just haven’t met many farmers of John’s caliber, and to be able to put [00:35:30] together a program. He is the farthest east program that we are supporting and that we represent. And it’s really because he’s the best I’ve ever seen, and the fact that we’re creating this beautiful model that can sustain [00:36:00] a workforce for 52 weeks a year, can sustain a consumer base 52 weeks a year. That makes it very relevant. And I’ll just lob out there that when there’s a lot of folks that … we talk a lot about sustainable or even like kind of regenerative farming, but the piece that is not spoken about enough is the financial piece. And [00:36:30] if we can’t make that work, this is all for naught.
Mark Keller: And so part of our policy, Keller Crafted, is we don’t grind the farmer for … we just ask, what does it cost? And then we say, “Okay, let me go see if we can sell it.” It has to, absolutely has to work. And we do not follow the market, we don’t follow the cost of feed, we allow the farmer [00:37:00] to determine what this is, and then we reset, ’cause it always has to work. If it does not work … and I have to say that the industry does not work this way, and it’s a pity. There’s a very reliable cycle where … at some point somebody’s losing all the time. It’s either the person who’s processing, or it’s the person who’s selling the feed, or it’s somebody that’s [00:37:30] growing the animals or the birds. And I just don’t see that’s the path forward. I feel like there should be a fair margin in it for everybody’s hard work, and for their risk, and … I said a lot, but that’s kind of at the core.
Cirina Catania: Oh I think it’s great. I think what I’m hearing from both of you is that you really care about what you do, [00:38:00] and that your relationships are very important. Not just to your animals, to your birds, to each other, but also to the consumer. If I mention the word relationship, can I ask each of you what comes to mind when I say that?
John Peterson: Yeah I can sure go first, I think one of the problems in agriculture, and this is on both sides, both the farm [00:38:30] and the fork side, is that there’s just so much anonymity. Farmers today don’t know where the food that they’re raising is headed. Who will be consuming that product. And I think that most farmers out there are doing the very best that they can, but like I said at the beginning when it’s not a consumer facing business, when you’re not having to think about every day the responsibility to those people that will be consuming that food, [00:39:00] it changes the nature of the work. And like I say the anonymity runs both ways, most consumers don’t have a relationship back to a farm or a farmer, to know how their animal or their grain or whatever it may be was raised. And so when I hear the word relationship I think about the relationships that are lacking in agriculture today in this sea of anonymity that like I say, it’s a two-way street, and [00:39:30] there just aren’t enough people on either side of that equation that are pushing to learn more about who’s behind the curtain.
Cirina Catania: And I’m gonna ask you as well Mark, but I’d like John while he’s thinking about it, what does the word honesty make you think about?
John Peterson: Well it certainly makes me think about integrity and consistency. You know I think that we believe that we need to have integrity [00:40:00] behind the practices that we’re using, but also be able to do that consistently, time and time again. So you know I mentioned fair food, and think that that happens on a lotta levels from the farm all the way to the supermarket or the restaurant where you’d find our finished product. And I think that for us to be able to produce food that is fair for all of those stakeholders [00:40:30] or folks involved, there has to be honesty, there has to be transparency, and there has to be integrity.
Cirina Catania: Mark, how bout honesty for you?
Mark Keller: So honesty..
Cirina Catania: I can tell you what I’m thinking about, as a consumer, when I go to the grocery store, and I look at the labels on the food, and I don’t know what I’m buying, I don’t know where it comes from, I’ve gotten to the point … this is just [00:41:00] my opinion, I’m not putting you on the spot, but I’ve gotten to the point where I really don’t trust what I’m buying. So for me, how do you react to that? What can you say to us about the way you and John work, and can we trust you, are you honest?
Mark Keller: I’m completely aligned with John on this. What comes up for me with the word honesty [00:41:30] is trust. And it’s the cornerstone of what we do at Keller Crafted Meats. If we don’t have that we might as well pack it in, because we … this is not an easy way to make a living, it’s a continuous 70 hour week, [00:42:00] and if we don’t have that in all of our relationships, and with the integrity of the food, and knowing that we are having impact, we have nothing. We might as well just let the large corporations who are very efficient just do what they’re doing. So as, [00:42:30] to speak to your concern about, “I don’t know what I’m buying,” I think you’re wise. I think that people should ask, “What’s in my food?” I would ask who grew it, I would ask how were the animals treated, I would ask were the farmers who raised this, are they doing it in a [00:43:00] way that has … how should I put this, that the long view in mind.
Mark Keller: I’s not what we’re gonna do for a quick buck this week, this month, this year, it’s what are we doing, the decisions that we’re making, that can sustain. And so just if you just sit back and squint your eyes, you look at the Peterson family, their legacy, [00:43:30] you can see that you didn’t get to 80 years without taking the long view. And you didn’t get to why did they not go into the industrial model? Well they took the long view. That has … that’s meaningful and very valuable, and that’s reason to pay more. There are inefficiencies, but it’s also, they’re stewards, they’re [00:44:00] actually … they’re holding on to …
Mark Keller: Actually, they’re holding onto a very precious resource in our country and we just need more people like them, like the Peterson family.
Cirina Catania: So John, I know people are very curious about what’s a typical day for you as a turkey farmer? I know neither one of you gentlemen in setting this up, we were talking very early hours of the morning, you’re [00:44:30] up incredibly early, both of you and you stay up late so there’s a lot of work on both sides but John, can you talk to us about what a typical day for you might be?
John Peterson: I can try, I wish I knew what my typical say, I wish I knew what the rest of my day was going to look like most days. I say that light-heartedly but you know, there are just so many moving pieces on a farm and [00:45:00] particularly like I said at the top and one that is engaged and that’s selling and distributing our finished product as well, that there probably isn’t any such thing as a textbook typical day but I can tell you the things that every day would involve. Every day would involve spending some time on our farm, with our turkeys, with our staff. Checking in on how things are going. Depending on the age of the birds or where they’re at on the farm. [00:45:30] That can take on a lot of very different forms. When we have baby turkeys, poults, that might involve being in a 95-degree brooder barn, hand-feeding and hand-watering our birds.
John Peterson: By the time that they’re big birds out on a range pasture, it might be on a tractor moving range equipment, moving shelters. Any day would involve some time connecting with customers, [00:46:00] folks like Mark. Checking in on how things are going. If we’ve launched a new product or something like that. Following up on where that’s at. Then typically sometimes, working with our processing partners as well. Whether it’s developing that new product or fine-tuning a process to make sure that we’re producing the best possible finished products that we can for our consumers.
John Peterson: I would [00:46:30] say if I had to put it into a few different hats, those are the hats that I exchange throughout the day but a pattern every day probably.
Cirina Catania: That’s awesome, so Mark, you talk about tribal wisdom and I believe if I’m guessing this right, that you have a very close relationship with your consumers, can you talk about why that’s important to you?
Mark Keller: I think it’s important to me that [00:47:00] our food is nuanced and off the cuff, a consumer might walk by our product and on this shelf and not know that it is very different from the other products that are maybe right next to it. Having our consumer, our customers, our people [00:47:30] know the difference and understand the difference is really what it’s all about. Connecting John’s story and helping them understand that the decision that they make to vote with their dollars has an impact and there is hope and there’s things that, there’s ways that they [00:48:00] can live their every day life and have tremendous impact and working directly with the, we work with a lot of the natural food independent grocers. They’re very kind of near and dear to our hearts. Very aligned in the same mission.
Mark Keller: We also have some really beautiful food service accounts and they’re big cheerleaders [00:48:30] so knowing their values being aligned and not having to talk people in, we educate ,but if people aren’t aligned, we just need to keep gathering the people that are seeking to understand and then we say we say, “Eat with Understanding,” so it’s our job to be able to then filter good, true information to the people so they can continue to support [00:49:00] this system that we’re building.
Cirina Catania: You said to me at one point and I grew up with this phrase and it resonated with me, “You are what you eat.” Where did that come from in your life?
Mark Keller: You are what you eat and you are what you’re eating ate. That [00:49:30] is very important to take that in and so where did the feed come from? How was it grown? I’ve been able to grow birds on grass and I was also able to be, to harvest those birds and to look at their internal organs and to look at the difference. [00:50:00] You see the vitality of these animals and these birds. You are what you eat, yes. A lot of what is the toxins and the things that we’re trying to avoid get tied up in the fat and then are transferred to us. Eating as pure as we can [00:50:30] and as a farmer, being able to start that process starting with really pure ingredients, which it would be on the feed side and even on the water side, and on the pasture of course.
Mark Keller: John talked about that. I mean there’s a very natural fertilization nutrient management plan in place there. I’ll [00:51:00] just throw in there that what he’s doing is very artful. There’s “pasture-raised” programs and they can develop what I call scorched earth, you know? There’s a lot of nutrients there and it has to be managed. You can’t just turn birds out into a “pasture” and then just let them go. That’s not regenerative farming.
Mark Keller: This intensive rotational grazing [00:51:30] that John is doing, just people aren’t doing it. That’s a huge differentiator in the product.
John Peterson: I just wanted to day I want to build off that. I love that phrase, “You are what you eat.” Link that back to when Mark was talking about voting every time that we purchase food. [00:52:00] From where we sit, I think that’s one of the most challenging things to see in the marketplace is that there are so many consumers that would express frustration with the way agriculture is done.
John Peterson: They see that animals are being raised in confinement, or they see that farmers’ livelihood are being squeezed and yet, somehow that connection doesn’t carry through when they’re at the grocery store and purchasing meats in [00:52:30] particular but any product based solely on the price and looking only for low-cost food. We have been in a position of luxury as Americans with ever-cheaper food.
John Peterson: That has come at a cost. That idea that we are what we eat, I connect it to voting each time we purchase our food that whether you’re buying it at the grocery store or at a restaurant, that is an expression of your values [00:53:00] and you have the opportunity to do so three times a day.
John Peterson: I’ll just add this is probably top of mind for me this time of year because it’s the time of year that the big supermarkets will start advertising 59-cent turkeys at Thanksgiving and the reality is that no farmer using even very modern practices would be able to grow [00:53:30] a live turkey for 59 cents a pound. They’re literally being sold below the cost of production and Mark mentioned that somebody is taking a loss in that system, in that case, it might be the supermarket but everybody is getting squeezed.
John Peterson: In the minds of the consumer, they are now trained to believe that the value of a turkey is 59 cents a pound. When nothing could be further from the truth. It is sort of a soap box [00:54:00] issue for us that farmers work so hard, turkey farmers work so hard to get to this time of year and then you know, you see the big retailers selling turkeys at such an unrealistically low cost that they think you are what you eat would be expressed in choosing a turkey that was raised a little bit differently than those frozen birds.
Cirina Catania: I think, you know I travel a lot internationally and I think [00:54:30] the slow food movement that’s occurring around the world and just the increase in respect for our local food producers and also our desire to be healthy and eat real food, I think that works in both of your favors. At least I hope it does because I want to eat real food, I want to go into my old age being healthy. I want my family to be healthy. I wish you both the best and I know John, [00:55:00] tell me why people buy your turkeys are going to love them? I want to hear from you? What people have said and also Mark, you said people have cooked those turkeys. You mentioned it earlier but can you tell us again why we’re going to love them because I actually am going to go get one.
John Peterson: I would encourage to go get one. You have to remember that I’m from the Midwest so I’m too modest to be able to brag about my own product, that’s not in our DNA around here.
Cirina Catania: That’s why I asked Mark too.
John Peterson: Yeah, Mark will be a better spokesperson [00:55:30] but I will say that we work with a lot of chefs because we provide our turkey to a lot of restaurants and food service accounts and the one that always seems so consistent is that they will always talk about both the richness of the flavor and also the richness of color that because our birds are out on grass and of course, getting so much more muscle movement, exercise that there’s such rich contrasts between the light and the dark meat. [00:56:00] Ultimately of course, we are eating the muscle and it only stands to reason that a bird that is outdoors in fresh air and sunshine and running around as a part of their daily life is going to have a very different both presentation and flavor profile.
John Peterson: I’ll leave it at that and let Mark take it from there.
Cirina Catania: Mark, you’re up.
Mark Keller: Well, there’s no doubt that it’s the best product I’ve ever tasted [00:56:30] and then it’s been vetted many times over and this is the, kind of the newest relationship that we have in Keller Crafted is with the Peterson family and you can taste the difference. We have all of these values. We have all of this hard work and all these good reasons [00:57:00] why we would want to support the farm and this family but then you sit down and you taste it and your eyes roll back.
Cirina Catania: Mmm.
Mark Keller: Yeah, it’s fantastic. It really, really is different and we’re getting reports back. We have some of our customers that are testing the birds. This is the first year that we are selling [00:57:30] holiday birds. People are testing them and letting us know like, “Wow, it’s fantastic,” and we’re already getting buyers that put in their initial order, they weren’t quite sure what they were going to get and next thing you know, they’re regretting that they did not buy more.
Mark Keller: Just a testament to all the hard work and [00:58:00] the focus and also just the principles like he was saying, that they’re exercising, they have access to fresh air, fresh water, sunlight and so forth.
Cirina Catania: That does remind me, I have one more question and then I’ll ask you if there’s anything else you want to talk about but mother nature is very important to all of us. The environment is important to all of us, sustainable agriculture and when I say the word [00:58:30] nature, what occurs to each of you?
John Peterson: I think about the weather is one of the very first things that I’m aware of every morning when I get out of bed because it has such a profound impact on what we’re going to do that day and how our birds are going to behave that day. Of course, we’re looking at forecasts but ultimately, a lot things depend on what’s it [00:59:00] actually look like outside the window and what does it feel like when I walk outside. We’re aware of both the blessings that weather brings us and also the challenges when we have extremely hot weather or sustained wet weather that those are days that are going to require extra work to make sure that our birds are comfortable and kept safe from the environment and then of course, [00:59:30] there are many wonderful days where all we as their caretakers want to do is be out on pasture with them, try to soak it up.
Cirina Catania: It sounds like the farm is just beautiful. I would love to visit it. I just picture you opening up your windows in the morning and breathing all that fresh air. For those of us who live in the cities, we don’t get that very often. Mark, how about you? What does the word nature conjure up for you?
Mark Keller: The word nature, it conjures up an idea of kind of a bigger picture. Something or a system that is in place for a reason. Is in a cycle, [01:00:30] in a way in balance. Something to be sought after. There’s quite a bit of talk about natural meats and for those of you that don’t know, natural meats with the USDA claim it’s absolutely [01:01:00] meaningless. It’s minimally processed. All it means is minimally processed. People think that there may be some other claim that there’s no antibiotics or that these birds are being cared for in a different and that’s absolutely just not true. If it just says natural, it’s a meaningless claim.
Mark Keller: The word nature to me, means balance,
Cirina Catania: Well, is there anything else that I didn’t ask you that you might want to say to people who are listening in?
Mark Keller: I would just like to say that [01:02:00] please get to know Ferndale Market Online. Go to their website. You’ve heard from the man himself. What he’s doing is very special, what his team and what his family has been doing and is continuing to do is very worthy. It’s important and I want to encourage everyone [01:02:30] that has questions to continue to do research, to eat with understanding, and to vote with their dollars and to help us shape our rural communities and our supply chain infrastructure for the next generation.
Cirina Catania: Absolutely.
John Peterson: I would simply say thank you and express gratitude [01:03:00] to folks that are making a mindful effort to support farms like ours, whether that’s literally purchasing one of our turkeys or supporting the other folks that are using similar practices to raise meat or poultry. That is what sustains independent farms. We talked about that as a significant point of difference for us but we are only able to maintain our independence [01:03:30] when folks see the value in the different things that we’re doing here and help us to both sustain and preserve. I would just express gratitude to our supporters and customers that allow us to continue to do what we’re doing.
Cirina Catania: This is Cirina Catania with US Times. I’ve been speaking today with Mark Keller, who’s the owner of Keller Crafted Meats, and John Peterson, a respected third-generation farmer [01:04:00] of Ferndale Farms. On the internet, you can find Keller Crafted at KellerCrafted.com, that’s K-E-L-L-E-R Crafted.com and Ferndale at FerndaleMarketOnline.com.
Cirina Catania: I really urge you to visit both of these sites and be inspired by this way of life and how our food producers are working for us every day. Thank you both so much gentlemen, it’s really been a pleasure. I wish you all the best for the coming holidays and [01:04:30] just want to thank you for providing us with delicious, healthy food for our families’ table. Happy holidays everyone.
John Peterson: Thank you, Cirina.
Mark Keller: Thank you. Take care, John.