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Chef Becomes Farmer and Dodges Pandemic with Consumer-Direct Sales

Written By Melissa Harris

In 2010, Colin Brown was 22 years old and had just started working at the Greenhouse Tavern. Beginning as a line cook and working his way up to sous chef and head butcher, he gained experience in just about every nook and cranny of the kitchen.

“I remember when I was working the grill, we’d be at such high volume that we’d have to really pack the steaks on there. The grill temp would get so hot, in order to reach the back of the grill I’d have to wrap my arm in towels to avoid burning myself.”

Colin quickly developed a passion for food and the culinary arts, but he says that butchery is where his interest in animals and meat quality began.

“I had started growing a garden at home, and there’s that feeling you get when you grow something, and you grow it well, and you’re proud of it. You start comparing it to what you get at the grocery store, and you think to yourself, ‘Yeah, that tomato looks just as nice as something I would buy at Heinen’s,’ but maybe your cucumber falls short. You start paying attention to quality. I noticed I was becoming obsessed with the variety of meat products coming into the restaurant, and I was interested in how they achieved their quality.”

By 2013 Colin’s interest in farming had grown so much that he started asking local farmers if he could intern on their farms. The first to take him up on his offer was Jason Tipton of Teahill Farms in Loudonville, Ohio.

“Once a week, I had to be there at 5:30 in the morning, which meant I had to leave my house at 4:00. He taught me to slaughter and process chickens. I wasn’t paid at the time, but I started wanting to come down more and just learn as much as I could. I was soon coming down five days a week, doing daily chores, collecting eggs, and becoming an actual employee.

After that summer, which is the end of the season, so to speak, I offered to grow chickens for him on the property I had moved to in Medina County. He had told me that he was having a hard time keeping up with the demand, so on the contingency that I would follow his exact protocol, he agreed to contract me to grow for him.”

Shortly thereafter, Gifted Grass Farms was born. Over the next few years, Colin continued to expand his knowledge of livestock, and developed a particular interest in rotational grazing and regenerative agriculture. By the spring of 2019, Colin had added ducks, hogs, and turkeys to his pastures and was beginning to try his hand at cattle.

“Having worked for so long in the restaurant industry, it seemed only natural to market my products to restaurants. I know what chefs are looking for, I know the price point. With a couple of years under my belt, I felt confident I could operate a scaled production. Things were looking really good. I had even expanded my market to some neighboring cities, like Detroit. Then the pandemic hit.”

The sudden closing of restaurants in April 2020 hit the whole industry hard, and Gifted Grass Farms had to think fast. Long-standing orders were stifled or even halted, and with the hefty overhead that comes with livestock farming, Colin wasn’t sure that the farm would survive.

“Up until this point, I had little to no experience with home consumer marketing, but I also didn’t have many other options. We put a post out on Facebook, and to our surprise it was shared pretty extensively. People started messaging us for orders. It was overwhelming to try and revise our system—from delivering large quantities to a smaller number of customers to small quantities to a larger number of customers. We finally started gaining some traction around mid-summer.”

By fall of 2020, Colin had regained a steady number of restaurants and bulk home consumers. The farm is currently developing a web store in an effort to reach more customers outside the Greater Cleveland area. Gifted Grass has become a regular at the Coit Rd. Farmers Market on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm and hopes to add a few other markets soon. To order or inquire about products, email giftedgrass@gmail.com or follow them on Instagram @giftedgrass and Facebook @giftedgrassfarms.

Click below to get the recipe for Fire-Roasted Duck:

Fire-Roasted Duck

 

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