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Outstanding Young Farm Family—Beef

Outstanding Young Farm Family—Beef
October 4, 2006 |

It didn’t take Julie Lee long to figure out the difference between being a preacher’s kid and the wife of a farmer who is also a preacher’s kid.”Being a pastor’s kid, you get up to read your Bible,” she said. “Being a farmer’s wife, you get up to feed the cows.”Of course, praying ’til the cows come home doesn’t hurt either. Nor does praying that customers will find their way to David and Julie Lee’s meat market.It’s all part of life down on their cattle farm, and part of being entrepreneurs who found the best market for their cattle operation is Harvest Fresh Meat. That’s what they call their very own 600-square-foot store in a small strip mall outside Toney, just off Pulaski Pike in Madison County.It’s that spirit of enterprise that has earned the Lees, along with their daughters, 3-year-old Savannah, and 1-year-old Kaiya, recognition as the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Beef Division.The Lees actually run two farms — Lee Land & Cattle Co., a brood cow partnership with David’s brother Joseph, and a beef operation called Trinity Farms where David and Julie wean and feed 200-250 head a year that are retailed through their store. The farms are spread across 650 acres (all rented) in Madison and Limestone counties. “I started raising cattle when I was in high school,” said David, who notes that he got into farming after a Future Farmers of America project with a couple of hogs turned into a seven-hog, five-cow operation. “After I went off to college, Joseph started taking care of the cattle for me, and we ended up buying a herd together. That was the beginning of the Lee Land & Cattle Company.”The Lees began selling custom sides of beef two years ago. But when they noticed customers running out of certain cuts before they were ready to order another side of beef, they decided to open their own meat market.”Somebody would run out of ground beef, but we couldn’t just sell them ground beef,” said David. “Before we could do that, we had to have a retail establishment that was health-inspected and had all the permits and licenses to do that. So we opened up the store.”Of course, setting up shop was easier said than done. “It took about two years to get it all done — the inspections, find a building, and figure out what all we had to do legally,” said Julie, who is expecting the Lees’ third child, a son, in November.”The store we were first going to open was going to be a full-processing facility which falls under HACCP (Hazard Analysis in Critical Control Points) regulations and all that,” said David. “So I took those classes, and we kind of went overboard. We were going to build the facility here where we could do everything, but we decided to back off of that a little bit. “Instead, we do our processing off site. We don’t do it there at the store, so it saved us from some of the regulations we had to have and some of the investment. It was pretty scary to jump in because that was big investment, a lot of money involved in a little bitty store. We’ve got $50,000 invested in the store, which isn’t a lot, but it is a lot to us.”Harvest Fresh Meat, which opened a year ago this month, may be a “little bitty store” but the Lees make the most of its space. “We try to pack every square inch with some product,” said David.They stress local and natural in their products — from locally grown, natural honey and candies, to books by local authors, and gift baskets that have become popular closing gifts with real estate agents. Of course, it’s the locally raised, natural fresh meat that draws 30 to 40 customers into the store each week for rib eye, T-bone and New York Strip steaks, filet mignon, chuck and round roasts, and ground beef patties.”We’re not on the low end of the pricing. We’re a high-end meat market so we’re not trying to sell 50-cent ground beef,” said David. “It’s taken a little more creative marketing and things to get people not only to drive out into the country and buy it, but also once they get there, know that they are going to spend more than they would for Wal-Mart meat.”That “creative marketing” includes a brochure that urges customers to “Know Where Your Beef Comes From!” The brochure goes on to tell customers that their beef comes from only the best Angus cattle, those chosen to enter the farm’s backgrounding program to graze cool-season forages until they weigh between 700 and 800 pounds and then enter the grain-fed finishing program.”Calves are fed to meet optimum beef quality with no harmful antibiotics or growth hormones,” the brochure says. “We only produce beef the way nature intended it.”So when an Alabama cow was found to have Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) last spring, the resulting hysteria actually drew customers into the store. “But they had a lot of questions when they walked in the door,” said Julie.”That was a good thing because we could answer those questions,” said David, welcoming the opportunity to educate the public about the safety of American beef, especially theirs. “We could tell them where the calves came from. We know what these calves have been fed from Day One. We know everything about them.”That also applies to the pork they sell — pork chops, pork ribs, Boston butts, ham, sausage, tenderloin, shoulder and bacon. “We don’t raise the pork, but I’ve got a guy who raises it for me to meet our standards,” said David. “When people come into the store, they want to be able to pick up their week’s meat. You can’t just sell beef. So we sell pork, and we’re eventually going to add chicken and things like that.”To be honest, meat markets are a dime a dozen,” David added. “Every corner has some type of meat market, but we’re the only one that actually raises our meat, processes our meat and sells our meat. We do it all. We like to say that we’re pasture to plate.”

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