Beef business grows with the neighborhood
Driving to Little Wing Pasture, I started wondering where the farm might be. On most farm visits I’m taking two-lane roads that may not have painted lines. Traveling to this farm, I followed major roads full of restaurants, gas stations, shopping centers, and apartment complexes.
Finally, I turned off onto a gravel drive and the farm came into view. What used to be one large dairy farm is now a small farm surrounded by development. It’s those new neighbors the Randall family hope will keep the farm in business.
A small herd of cattle graze the pastures, which are surrounded by houses. The cattle live their entire life on the farm, rotating through the pastures and eating hay during winter months. A room that used to house the cooling tank for milk now holds freezers full of beef cuts available for sale.
The family sells all their meat from this farm shop. “We want people to think about the meat they are buying and see where the cattle live and how they are raised,” explains Addison Randall.
The farm was originally part of Ballentine Dairy, which was started in the late 1800s. Mama Jean, Addison’s grandmother, and her siblings worked at the dairy. When the Ballentine family decided to start downsizing the dairy, the land was divided, and some sold. Mama Jean and her family were able to buy part of the dairy at a good price because they had been such valuable workers.
Mama Jean and her husband started Randall Farm, selling produce. After being widowed at a young age, she continued to raise her five sons on the farm. The brothers all worked for Ballentine Dairy, too, until it was finally closed, and the land sold. One by one, Mama Jean watched each son leave for other career opportunities.
The youngest son, Jonathan, eventually came back to the farm and transitioned it from dairy cattle to beef cattle. He raised a small herd and sold calves at the stockyard sales every year. A chance meeting with a farmer at the local farmers market changed all that.
“I saw someone selling meat at the farmers market and approached him to ask if he needed any farmers raising cattle,” says Jonathan. “He told me I should get my meat handler’s license and sell the meat myself. Before then, I didn’t even know that was an option.”
That chance meeting, combined with Addison’s graduation from North Carolina State University and desire to stay on the farm, led the family to form Little Wing Pasture. Where they once sold animals for less than $2 per pound, they now earn a premium for the beef raised and sold on their land.
Land that used to be the rest of Ballentine Dairy is now home to housing developments and a school. This growth in population can also mean a growth in customers for this family’s farm business, which has changed to meet the needs of the farm and demand from patrons for high-quality, local, pasture-finished beef.