I think a lot of people in my generation have the same problem. They love the farm and they recognize how valuable and great it is. But like what do we do with it? — Marshall Bartlett
Marshall Barlett: We’re in Como, Mississippi on my family farm. I’m the fifth generation to farm here. It’s been in my family since 1871.
When Dad was retiring, no one was here. Everything was falling in. The vines were covering all the barns. There was all this rusted out equipment. Dad was selling stuff. It was almost like a Faulkner story of decay. And it just really didn’t sit with me. I hated it.
I think a lot of people in my generation have the same problem. They love the farm and they recognize how valuable and great it is. But like what do we do with it?
We’re in rural Mississippi. There’s not a lot of economic activity happening. A lot of people who get educated leave. My dad was a conventional farmer. He raised cotton, corn and soybeans. So we were raised in that very conventional agriculture model. Dad did not want us to farm. So he paid for us to be educated.
I went to school up north and spent four years there and then moved to New Orleans. I didn’t want to do the conventional farm, row crop stuff. It just seemed like kind of a dead-end way to make a living. The farmers are getting stripped of more of their power to make decisions and getting ripped off by big Ag companies. The price of what they’re raising — the value of that is dictated by the Board of Trade in Chicago. So there’s no freedom. There’s no connection to the people consuming your product. You’re part of this global Ag system where you’re just sort of a sharecropper, you’re a modern sharecropper in a way.
So I wasn’t interested in that model. When I lived in New Orleans. I worked for a company that was selling local meat. We were butchering it and selling it to the chefs and I realized there was a huge market. I’ve always been interested in the local food movement. I drew up a plan with my older brother who’s a banker. He helped me with the business plan and we realized that if we built a facility we could really make a go at it, have a successful business. We could create jobs in this area. We could come back.
We want to build something here that impacts the entire economy of the state and changes the way people see local food. It’s not like some dude raising tomatoes and chickens in his backyard. This is a powerful economic force that can really change the economics of our state. It has potential to create jobs — to really start moving money around here in rural Mississippi or anywhere where we have all this land that we’re not fully capitalizing on in any rural community.
There’s a lot of phrases with food and local food — trying to find what you’re actually buying. We’re ‘pastured raised’ — the animals are free range in the sense that they are always going outdoors on fresh pastures. They always have access to fresh grass and rotationally grazed. They’re allowed to exhibit their natural social behaviors. That’s a really important aspect of what we do. We actually feed them a little bit of grain so that we’re not strictly grass-fed, which is where the pasture raised aspect comes in. We grow non-GMO corn here on the farm that we feed them.
We built a USDA slaughter and processing plant so that we can distribute and we can process everything here on the farm. This facility is one of the only ones in the entire southeast region. The fact that it’s on the farm where animals are raised is even more special.
There’s so many different levels why it’s important. First of all the ethical treatment of animals — They’re not trapped in a feedlot wading in their own excrement forced to eat a certain diet every day. So you allow the animal to do what that animal is designed to do and that just makes them a lot healthier and a lot happier. And that’s one aspect of it.
We generate a lot of revenue and it’s sort of the opposite model that you’ve seen a lot of rural places where you have the ability to grow food and produce products all around you. But the reality is everyone that lives in those areas is going to Wal-Mart or going to grocery stores and buying food. You have this massive deficit for all the food that you’re buying. You end up spending billions collectively on stuff coming in from other places that you can produce right here. So we feel like the state is kind of missing out on truly capitalizing on its agricultural potential.
We’re trying to show that if you de-centralized that food system and make it more local, where farmers can raise stuff and directly market it to people in the area, you can actually create a different kind of profitable business model. More of that revenue and more of that money stays local. So you’re actually circulating the money around the community supporting other farmers.
It’s been going really well so far, but I’m too cynical to just think that’s the answer to everything. I mean the stark reality of all this stuff is you have to be able to scale it. We’re trying to do here is scale this to where it really makes a difference – a regional level for showing that this can be a successful business model. I’ve got nine full-time employees now and four part-time. A year ago, I had two full-time.
Marshall Bartlett, 28, co-founded Home Place Pastures with his brother, Jemison Bartlett. It is an all natural, pasture-raised pork, beef and lamb farm that slaughters, processes and distributes regionally. Marshall was photographed with his dad, Mike Bartlett a.k.a the official “mentor” to the operation. His father has farmed his land for 45 years, and the family has farmed it since 1871.
In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.