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Every farm in the U.S. Wellness Meats network is owned by a famliy committed to the sustainable, humane practice of our brand.
Spend just a few minutes with John Wood, and you'll be thinking a lot differently about the food you eat. A one-man Fast Food Nation, John knows all about the ills of big agribusiness (for one, they've taken the choice out of the meat Americans eat), grain-fed, feedlot cattle (night and day difference in omega-3 and CLA levels), and the average fast-food burger (it can contain 1000 different snippets of DNA). Suddenly, you'll find yourself wondering about that pack of steaks you bought at the grocery store.
But John's not about scaring people. He just knows that he's got a vastly superior product, and he's passionate about getting the word out. In truth, if U.S. Wellness Meats has an epicenter, it's John Wood. Combining vision with unflagging energy, John was just the man to see the value of grass-fed meat when he first stumbled on the idea, and to translate that idea into a successful business.
He was the first to put the grass-fed model to the test, and he'll tell you he was surprised when the first harvested meat turned out to be lean and tasty, tender and full of nutrients. But you can't help but feel he just knew it was going to be good.
"Being from the Show Me State, getting these kind of results only once wasn't good enough. So, we harvested again the next year and again the year after that until we knew that what we were doing was producing consistent taste and quality."
And today, working off the same land that's been in the Wood family for four generations, John and his family are committed to the sustainable, grass-fed practices that are rejuvenating the land and re-energizing his rural community. While John's wife Nan and their two daughters Jennifer and Jordan offer moral support for U.S. Wellness Meats; it's son John who already has his sights set on joining the family business when he graduates from college.
Only halfway through his freshman year at the University of Missouri, he's grown up experiencing firsthand the benefits of grass-fed farming, and he's as ready as his dad to tell you why grass-fed is better for the planet (it's not just carbon-neutral; it's carbon-negative), better for the animals (they spend their lives grazing on some of Missouri's best grass), and better for people (Did he mention CLA?). It's safe to say that he's got the farming part down—he runs the operation when his father's away—so right now he wants to learn everything he can about running a business.
If John Wood, Sr. is the heart and soul of the current generation of U.S. Wellness Meats, it seems equally clear that John Wood, Jr. will keep the business thriving for years to come.
As Kenneth Suter pulls up to meet you in his souped-up Geo Tracker, you know right away that this is a guy who can fix anything. While a lesser man might get out of his truck to take down one of the temporary fences that dot his property, Kenneth has rigged his truck with various contraptions that do it for him. Not that he's a lazy man. No, he'd just rather save that time and energy for the orphan calf in the barn or for building the getaway cabin that sits on the other side of his property.
Clearly, it's in his genes. Kenneth's Suter ancestors arrived in Missouri in the 1830s, having crossed through Kentucky and Illinois to get there (Kenneth still wonders why they didn't just settle in the rolling hills of Kentucky), and he's the descendent of one of three brothers who staked their claim, found brides, and hunkered down to create flourishing farms and families. The land the Suters farm today is the same that his ancestors have farmed since 1836.
They were definitely hearty. Kenneth shares the story of one of the brothers, who broke his jaw during a fast-paced buggy race when he was just 18. As it healed, his jaw fused permanently shut, and he spent the rest of his life eating strips of food through a gap in his front teeth. Did he live just a few more years in lonely solitude? No, he found himself a wife, had lots of children, and lived to the ripe old age of 90.
It's that same pioneering spirit that led Kenneth and his wife Pat to raise grass-fed animals. From years of firsthand experience, the Suters saw that traditional farming methods were wasting the resources of the land. Cattle picked off the choicest grasses when they grazed, then had to be fed grain shipped in from other farms. Finally, the animals were sold to big business to finish their lives on a feedlot before heading to your table. It seemed like a whole lot of effort for not much reward.
So when the Suters learned about grass-fed farming, they were more than willing to give it a try. They had acres of good grassland; why not put it to good use? But they were really sold when their first experiments yielded a truly outstanding product. Tender, flavorful, and rich in nutrients, it was the best meat either of them had ever tasted. Still, one good harvest wasn't enough for Kenneth and the other three farm families.
"We're from the Show Me State, so we knew that we had to produce consistent results before buying into it completely. We raised another steer, and then a third, and that's when we knew we were onto something."
Ten years later, the Suters are as committed as ever to providing the very best meat for their consumers, and they take pride in their direct relationship with the people who buy from U.S. Wellness Meats. Even better, they know that they are keeping their land healthy so that generations of Suters can farm it for years to come.
And if you're ever in their neck of the woods, maybe you'll be lucky enough to get an invitation to dinner at their cozy cabin, set by a small pond in a protected hollow on the back side of their property. Between the grass-fed meat and Pat's delicious brownies, you'll be thoroughly content. And though there's no running water, if you're really lucky, Kenneth might just heat a pan of water on the wood-burning stove and do the dishes.
John and Jane Leeser's house sits on one of the highest points in "Marion County, and the visitor who pulls up their drive is greeted by an eastern view full of rolling hills that extends all the way to the Mississippi River and beyond.
And it's not just the view that welcomes you. With a cat sunning herself on the front steps and the big family dog there to greet you like a long-lost friend, you'll quickly feel like one of the family. The kitchen is spacious but snug, and it feels like the kind of room that hosts family bonding — and has since the 1800s when it was built.
As we sit at the kitchen table, John tells the story of how he first became involved in U.S. Wellness Meats and of his family's long history as cattle farmers. Both his father and grandfather were farmers, and it didn't take John long to take to the family business. When he was 11, John says, he marched right up to his father, with his fists planted firmly to his hips and declared, "Dad, I'm ready to raise my own 4-H steer!" to which his father replied, "Sure, son, but if you're going to raise one, you may as well raise 50." "And he was right," continues John, and the rest is pretty much history.
Today, John and Jane own their own farm and their son Grant works as an associate, helping them with the family business when not dabbling in metal work, his first love. Daughter Whitney has the farming bug, too: growing up on her parents' farm she raised 700 to 900 chickens each year.
Despite their history raising cattle with mainstream, grain-fed techniques, the Leesers have embraced the grass-fed model because of its sustainability and because they want to give consumers choices.
"Cows are not designed to eat grain; they're designed to convert fiber into amino acids,"John notes when describing his move from conventional farming. "For too long, the average American has only had one choice when it comes to the meat they buy—it's whatever the supermarket will sell them—which is grain-fed beef 99.9% of the time. What we do empowers the consumer by allowing them to buy directly from the farmers, make a healthy choice, and to support sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices. Plus, our model keeps local farms, like ours economically healthy to support the local community."
But the Leesers lives aren't all farming.
There's a bronze rose in the middle of the table, a gift from Grant to Jane. Yes, he gets his creativity from his mother, who is an expert jewelry maker, and no, he doesn't plan on making any others—this one was special, a gift just for his mom.
And these days, John is just as likely to channel his energies into his other habits as he is to tend to his animals. But, as he is clearly in possession of the energy of men half his age, it doesn't surprise that John manages to find time to manage more than a hundred head of cattle for U.S. Wellness Meats while still baking more than 10,000 cookies for his annual holiday fundraiser. Yes, 10,000 cookies. Right out of his own kitchen. It's no big deal, he assures us, he's got the recipe and baking down to a science. Truth be told, the one year he got a little help from some women in the community (who unwisely asked, "How hard can it be?"), the whole system broke down.
Don't let Jim Crum's soft-spoken demeanor fool you. Underneath that quiet exterior is a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a man who knows that sometimes you just have to take a step back and question business-as-usual.
Though he lives on, and farms, the same land near Virginia, Illinois that his ancestors have worked on for six generations, Jim has spent his career looking for better ways to do the work he knows so well.
It's fitting, then, that he and John Wood met way back in 1988 at an agriculture meeting at Purdue University. Both were livestock farmers at the time, raising grain and corn-fed cattle, but both were also looking for ways to improve their businesses. They didn't find inspiration at that particular meeting, but being minority livestock farmers at the meeting, Jim and John recognized a shared spark and the remained friends.
It would be nearly a decade before Jim and John found something to hang their hats on: with one fateful lecture on holistic land management, they realized that sustainable, grass-fed practices were what they had been looking for all this time.
Jim realized that this new model offered a chance to alter the face of farming for animals, farmers, and the planet. It wasn't going to be easy, but he knew that by learning to work with nature and being thrifty, he was getting at farming as it should be.
Jim's motto? "When you do good, you'll prosper and succeed." Grass-fed fit the bill.
All this helps explain why Jim is as enthusiastic about U.S. Wellness Meats today as he was 10 years ago. At the heart of grass-fed farming is respect—respect for the customer, respect for the animals and respect for the land—and Jim is happy to be a part of a business that not only reflects his values, but also those of most Americans.