In the days right before spring break, students in Gill St. Bernard’s Animal Science learned why the class’s subject matter is relevant and present in their daily lives. Guest lecturer Dan Honig, founder of Happy Valley Meat Company, delivered a presentation on “The Math of Meat” and walked students through the business components that drive pricing and product availability in the meat industry.
“Our mission is to better the lives of the people and animals that feed us,” Mr. Honig said during his visit to Gill. “For the farmers, that means creating stable, dependable, and predictable income. For the animals, that means strict welfare standards.”
Mr. Honig began by outlining the main issues facing meat production today: small farms are disappearing and those farms which remain are making less money. In order to slow this unfortunate trend, Mr. Honig explained that independent producers must become more competitive within the highly consolidated meatpacking industry. That’s where Happy Valley comes in.
Mr. Honig’s company acts as a middleman for small farmers, something which can bridge the divide between producers (small farmers) and consumers (chefs) to ensure a reliable income stream for both partners.
“Without a meat processor like Happy Valley, farmers would have to go to auction. Prices there are subject to dramatic swings, and they vary a lot,” said Mr. Honig. “Instead of that uncertainty, we provide a steady contract with a stable price.”
His company buys whole animals from farmers and finds homes for all the cuts—not just the most desirable. He also removes time-consuming activities like marketing and retailing from the farmers, allowing them to focus all their efforts on their core business: raising cattle.
“If we are able to make small farming a more viable business, then more people will want to do it,” explained Mr. Honig.
One such farm that strives to succeed in a tough economic environment: Home Winds Farm. GSB’s Home Winds Farm successfully partnered with Happy Valley to purchase and process our cattle, and the relationship has been mutually beneficial to the farm, the processor—and the community!
“Our cattle serve all of the ground beef needs of the dining hall—and then some,” said Home Winds Farm Manager, Ned Lincoln. “We actually process more ground beef through Happy Valley than we can use, so it gets sold at market.”
Mr. Lincoln’s goal is to offer students a realistic picture of agriculture, one which doesn’t shy away from the challenges. However, the conversation between students and teachers did not solely dwell on the negative.
“Just because there are big risks doesn’t mean we can’t figure out how to work through them,” said Mr. Lincoln. “We have a lot of discussion around how to see those challenges as opportunities to make the system better.”
At the end of class, students were put through a “real life” pricing exercise where they competed against classmates to “sell” their cattle at auction. As students vied for the best pricing, the tension level in the room increased.
“This is very stressful,” one student commented. “If it’s stressful here, imagine what it is like in real life!”
“I’m completely stressed out,” agreed another student. “It’s hard when you have to get the highest price, and time is a constraint.”
“I’m confused,” admitted one student as she bounced between buyers. “The fact that I’m confused here shows just how complicated this must be at auction. I’d rather use Happy Valley.”
While the Animal Science curriculum exposes students to real life experiences and situations within the food industry, it also exposes them to possible career paths. Mr. Honig and Mr. Lincoln demonstrated the innovation that can happen when entrepreneurial individuals set out to solve a problem. Now it is our students' turn! We can’t wait to see what our Animal Scientists identify and change for the better as they move forward in their careers and life.