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Matt NcNany is an 18-year-old farmer from Harrisville, Pa., who has been raising and selling poultry and red meat products since elementary school.
His family always had a few head of cattle, and McNany got his love for farming from his dad, Doug. His entrepreneurial spirit first surfaced when he was 11.
"He came up with this idea to raise turkeys and sell them at Thanksgiving," says Lynna McNany, Matt's mother. So he did. "He took the money from his sales to buy his first four-wheeler."
By age 14, McNany was driving tractors and baling hay with his dad. At 16, McNany wanted a job, and Lynna suggested he start selling beef to Cafe Bon Appetit, at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pa. Lynna works for the cafe and was familiar with its Farm to Fork program.
FARM TO FORK
Cafe Bon Appetit is one of more than 500 cafes across 32 states operated by Bon Appetit Management Company. Bon Appetit established its Farm to Fork program in 1999, which requires chefs to purchase 20% of their product from local small farms. The program defines local as a farm located within a 150-mile radius, and small means $5 million or less in annual sales. The cafe at Grove City College needed local farmers to supply quality, farm-raised goods for the 2,500 meals it serves daily, with a goal of 20% of the meals supplied by local products. Today, the cafe works with three to four local farmers and is always looking for more.
Initially, McNany didn't have enough beef to meet the cafe's demand. Working with the eatery also meant a mountain of paperwork to meet certain requirements. That forced him to rethink how he raised cattle.
To build his herd, McNany reached out to neighboring cattle producer Ed Weber. "I first traded him hay for his bull calves," he says.
Weber also loaned him pasture and equipment, such as a feed mixer wagon. McNany acquired 25 head of red and black baldy yearling feeders and bull calves from Weber, and added them to his father's 15 head of red and black Hereford and Angus crosses, including a mature Black Angus breeding bull.
"Ed was an older farmer and said any younger farmer with that much enthusiasm for farming, he was willing to help him out," Lynna recalls. Sadly, Weber passed away last year but left a lasting legacy in McNany's business.
The younger McNany then set to work making the farm all-natural, going down the cafe's Farm to Fork checklist so his beef product aligned with the program's standards.
To help cut costs, McNany made his own headlocks, feed troughs and squeeze chutes using welding skills he learned at Venango Technology Center, a vocational technology school in Oil City, Pa. In fact, McNany now travels as a welder four days a week for Witherup Fabricating in addition to his farming responsibilities.
After acquiring cattle and pasture space, McNany spent eight months undergoing inspections, completing paperwork and modifying his management practices.
The USDA inspected McNany's cattle and barn. The McNanys' purchased a $1 million liability insurance policy, which meant another inspection by the insurance company. A traceability plan was developed so the beef could be traced from farm to kitchen.
He then found USDA-approved butcher shop Hirsch's Meats, in Kossuth, Pa., about 20 miles from McNany's farm, to process the meat. USDA certification creates a paper trail for McNany's beef, a federal requirement for all commercial beef. Hirsch's Meats has a USDA inspector on site every day.