New organization to help small farms take root

Craig McHugh, left, talks collaboration with Adrienne Larrew and Dan Lorenz of Corner Post Meats.

Craig McHugh, left, talks collaboration with Adrienne Larrew and Dan Lorenz of Corner Post Meats.

Corner Post Meats is a 40-acre farm located just west of the Highway 105-Highway 83 junction in the northern portion of the county. The business is comprised of Adrienne Larrew, whose family owns the farm, and Dan Lorenz. The two manage the land, the livestock and all marketing, sales and distribution of grass-fed beef as well as “beyond-organic” chicken, pork and lamb products.

The small operation, compared to its industrial counterparts, harkens to the way farms were meant to be, according to Craig McHugh of Pikes Peak Small Farms, operating under the Pikes Peak Community Foundation.

“What we’ve lost here is the generational transfer of land,” McHugh said. “That was a huge bonus in farming. The next generation didn’t have to buy the land; didn’t have to buy the equipment; didn’t have to learn all that knowledge over again. It was handed down. Then we built cities and turned farms under.”

McHugh, who says farms can thrive on as little as five acres, said his job with Pikes Peak Small Farms is to assist those interested in starting small farms in the county. He knows a thing or two about the subject, as his family started their own operation, A Joyful Noise Farm, in 2007 before selling it this spring.

After his wife, Kellie, facilitated a homeschool project involving chickens, McHugh decided it was time to leave his 20-year career in IT for a simpler life.

“I wish I could say there was an epiphany, but it did happen pretty fast. I sold my business and moved to Black Forest to hide out,” McHugh said. “I fell in love with it. It’s such a great lifestyle.”

How it started

McHugh said his family grew serious about farming after his wife saw the movie Food, Inc.

“She asked me to go to the movie with her, but I stayed home and ate my macaroni and cheese,” he said. “She came back and said, ‘We have 10 acres. We’re going to grow some stuff here.’ ”

Growing “stuff” soon turned into several head of cattle, sheep and hogs.

McHugh said he learned online how to farm: “You can learn anything from YouTube. “We would also sit in bed at night and my wife would read books about farming aloud and I’d fight to stay awake.”

McHugh said it’s vital to the future of food to make farming a viable source of income and to attract young people back to the business.

“Making a living is doable if you have a low mortgage or leased land,” McHugh said, pointing to the property leased by Corner Post Meats as an example. “To come in and buy wouldn’t make sense if you need a half-million dollars to establish a small farm.

“This is the historical model of how farming should be,” McHugh said of Corner Post Meats. “It’s near the city’s center and closer to the customer. There’s plenty of land [in eastern Colorado], but you’re isolated, which doesn’t appeal to young people, and you’re burning through your profits just to transport your product.” 

He would like to develop a mobile farm project through Pikes Peak Small Farms that would provide, for less than $30,000 per farm, the basic infrastructure needed to start a business anywhere there is farmable land near the city.

The $30,000 would provide for, among other things, a 1,000-square-foot, four-season greenhouse, a mobile chicken coop capable of housing 200 chickens, and purpose-built outbuildings for everything from milking parlors to hog shelters. Funding could come via grants from the Community Foundation.

Multitasking a must 

Corner Post Meats was started three years ago in Dubois, Wyo., by the Larrew family. Today it is a partnership between Adrienne Larrew, her father Tery and brother Wade.

“[Dan and I] were in Wyoming for a previous job, managing a ranch,” Adrienne Larrew said. “We decided to strike off on our own. We would drive down to the Front Range once a month and do deliveries. We intended to move to Colorado, and this winter we did.”

Larrew said she worked with a commercial cattle operation and started a grass-fed program as a side project. That project grew into a family business.

“We really learned about land management and how to improve soil, which improves the plants, which, in turn, improves the meat,” she said.

“What we’ve lost here is the generational transfer of land. That was a huge bonus in farming.” 

– Craig McHugh

Lorenz said they quickly learned that raising animals and marketing their products required different skill sets.

“We learned right away that raising animals is not enough,” Lorenz said. “You have to develop a totally separate set of skills to market, sell and distribute your product. We knew Colorado was where we wanted to do that.”

Larrew agreed, adding the interpersonal aspect of farming can sometimes run counter to why people choose farming to begin with.

“People get into this business because they like animals and they like caring for the land. If you’re into people and sales, you’re probably not going to choose meat as your career path. You’ll work for a big sales company and make $100,000 a year. You’re not going to say, ‘I want to work 14 hours of labor today and then go connect with customers.’ ”

Corner Post Meats direct-to-customer model means all orders are placed via its website, cornerpostmeats.com. The customer is able to pick up his or her order anywhere along a preset route.

“We’re able to bring people together so we’re not driving door to door,” Larrew said. “It saves us time and fuel.”

The direct–to-consumer model immediately saves farmers 75 percent, according to McHugh.

“It cuts out the middle man and the farmer keeps that 75 percent as profits,” he said. “Plus, certifying something as organic is the way the government is supposed to indicate the quality of food. Here, we don’t have to do the paper chase to show customers this is organic. They can come here and see. They can meet their farmer. They can meet their meat. I don’t care how many government stamps you put on a package.

“You can see out here that you’re eating good quality stuff. That openness is invaluable for a farm like this.”

Larrew said the Colorado market made sense because the population is far denser than Dubois, and there is an interest in supporting locally sourced food in the area.

She added that Corner Post Meats is more flexible than meat buying clubs.

“If you want to buy a pound of ground beef now or buy it six months in a row, you can. You don’t have to make an order every week if you don’t want to. We sell everything from a pound of ground beef to a whole cow and everything in between to fit your freezer, budget and appetite.” 

McHugh hopes to incorporate very successful global small farm models locally through Pikes Peak Small Farms. He pointed to Riverford Farms in the United Kingdom, which participates in community supported agriculture, or CSA, allowing customers to prepay farmers to grow produce and raise livestock on their behalf. In exchange, they receive certain products monthly. McHugh said Riverford began as a single farm 12 years ago with a few dozen CSA agreements, growing to more than 40,000 agreements  today.

McHugh said there are drawbacks to the CSA model, however.

“Grant Family Farms is an example of a CSA that fell on its sword,” he said. “Many of them over-promised and under-delivered. Customers would say they can’t eat any more kale. They’re supposed to get pork and bacon and ham and tomatoes, but some were just getting kale.”

McHugh said, while older, pre-industrial farm models are the way to go, the industry will be built on the back of modern technology. That includes direct-to-consumer marketing, Internet sales and free applications that can be used to monitor inventory in real time.

“These tools are becoming more available to small farms and they are very inexpensive,” McHugh said.

Larrew added that she would like to see local small farms collaborate and share burdens, resources and triumphs.

“It used to be you had eight kids on a farm because you needed the help,” she said. “But if farms can collaborate and have one person focus on sales, marketing and distribution for a handful of farms in a co-op situation, that can help everyone grow.”