So many things – wine, cheese, even leftovers – get better with age. Thanks to Show Me Kansas Farms, meat lovers can now add beef to that list. Husband and wife team Caleb and Janet Phillips grew up eating homegrown beef. It wasn’t until they were both in college and shared the experience of eating store-bought beef that they realized something special was missing – the taste that comes from taking time to do it right.
“We just wanted people to enjoy beef as much as we did,” Janet says. But the dream of raising cattle and selling directly to consumers – that dream took time as well.
Janet explains, “Both Caleb and I both grew up on farms – he in Kansas, me in Missouri. Our families did conventional row crops and some cattle. When we got married, I wanted to start selling direct right away. Caleb didn’t think it was the right time. Fast forward to 2017 – four kids later! – God spoke to me again. I saw others doing it, and I knew we could.”
Once again, time played a key role. Janet says the revelation was in 2017, but Janet says there’s good reason you can’t rush Mother Nature.
“From conception, it takes a full three years to get beef ready to sell. You can’t rush that! But that gave us time to figure out our business model – on top of raising four kids and managing our farms.” (Caleb and Janet help operate three family farms.) Janet took a small business course with small-scale producers in other part of the country, and found that her background in Ag Communications and natural love of photography came in handy.
“I basically stalked the internet, constantly seeing what other producers were doing and how it might work for us. I ordered meat from different farms because I wanted to have that firsthand customer experience – how was it shipped, how did I feel about the purchase?”
Janet notes that of all the producers she reached out to for guidance, there was never a feeling of competition, only collegiality. “One successful beef farmer in California told me – we can only reach the ones we can reach, there’s room for everyone.”
Time came into play once again, mixed with the record-setting rains in Southeast KS in 2019. In order to launch the direct-to-consumer (DTC) business, the Phillips needed a building to freeze, vacuum-seal, and coordinate distribution. But in order to build, they needed a few days of sunshine.
“Normally our region gets 40 annual inches of rain,” remembers Janet. “That year we received 65+! But in spring, miraculously, we had a two-week window with no rain. We also had a 21-day deadline – our beef was coming from the processor and we needed freezers to store it, which meant a building with electricity to store those freezers!”
Timing was critical, and the long days of hard work and stress were accompanied by prayer. In the end, the pieces came together, and Show Me Kansas Farms was launched… and the real work of a start-up was just beginning.
“Like any small business, I have to stay on top of marketing. I love sharing stories and photo of my farm, but I also have to educate why our beef costs more than store-bought. Our cows spend longer feeding on a combination of grass, hay and corn, which means great taste. We age it a full 21 days, which means great texture. We personally raise every cow that ends up on your plate – they spend their entire lives with us, until they fulfill their final purpose.”
Janet also says the logistics of planning and shipping can be mind-boggling.
“I’m constantly juggling the anticipated demands of customers with – when the cows will be ready, what cuts of meat will we need, will people want their prime rib for Christmas this year? You have to think months, sometimes years in advance.”
At time when “Just in Time” (JIT) supply chains are the norm, honoring a natural life cycle of livestock is a challenge – but one the Phillips family embraces, despite the imperfections. SMKF’s social media is filled with photos of the entire family pitching in, even on those recent negative temperature days. If you put in an order, chances are the Phillips children helped to stamp and tape your box – and maybe put their own artwork inside.
And there’s been many more orders, thanks to the Shop Kansas Farms Facebook page and website. Janet is grateful for the website that helped pandemic-panicked consumers find an alternative to grocery stores. She hopes their commitment to buy great tasting and ethically-raised beef, delivered straight to their doorstep in dry ice, will endure.
“Family meals are a special, intimate time. It’s an honor to be part of that – people send me photos of the meals they prepare with my beef!”
And Janet hopes, in time, the farm and business will continue to grow: providing gainful employment for others, supporting a mission they care about (lifewater.org), and most of all, carrying on the time-honored tradition of family farming.
Some things really do get better over time.
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Guest Writer: Dr. Elizabeth Burger
Elizabeth Burger loves to eat local food and promote the people who work tirelessly to grow it. By day she works at a statewide health foundation, with a focus on helping communities increase opportunities for physical activity, access to nature and healthy food. By night she volunteers as a rural EMT/firefighter and a myriad of other community service projects. She has previously worked in broadcast journalism, hospital rehab/wellness, small business owner, academia, and research/evaluation. What she hasn’t done yet is farming… so she welcomes the chance to learn and write about the amazing people in Kansas who care about the earth and the food on our plates.