Madison County, Illinois
Kiersten and John Schoen had always sold meat to their friends and family as a source of additional income. However, when Kiersten lost her job, the Schoen’s side gig turned into a full-fledged business: Red Barn Farm Meats.
Named after the iconic red barn built by John’s great-grandfather in 1898, the Schoen’s operation celebrates traditional agricultural practices. Their beef is grass-fed; their piglet nursery has open bedding; and their children, Rhett, Luke and Lenny, help with farm chores. Also similar to generations past, the Schoens rely on the support of their community to spread the word about their product.
Customers’ engagement with Red Barn Farms Meats on social media has played an important role in increasing sales, too. “It’s cost effective and that’s where people’s eyes are today,” said Kiersten. “We have our own campaign, #HowDoYouRedBarn, where we encourage families to snap a photo of their meal to generate conversations and share recipes.”
Red Barn Farm Meats caters to their customers in ways that expand beyond the internet. Everything from packaging to flexible delivery to service hours provides families with confidence in the product they are purchasing.
“Our packaging is transparent so everyone can see there’s no additives, fillers or ice chips – just meat,” said Kiersten. “Our products are portioned in one meal because most families only want that much at a time. People don’t buy in bulk like our parents did, and they don’t want to eat hamburger for a week straight.”
The Shoens enjoy engaging with their customers when they visit the farm. “Many customers come out and ask where the meat came from,” John said. “I say, ‘Let me open the door and show you.’ We can tell customers more than they want to know about the contents of each package because the animal was grown here on our farm from “womb to tomb” and that’s pretty unique.”
However, to have the experience of peering into Kiersten and John’s fridge and viewing their livestock in the fields, customers first have to leave the comforts of the city to travel out to the farm.
“One of the hardest things for us is getting people to think outside the box,” Kiersten said. “Instead of just going to the grocery store to pick up their meat with everything else, we have to get them to break the routine and come to us.”
However, as more customers make the choice to travel to the farm, demand for Red Barn Farm Meats continues to increase. This means the Schoens can expand their market into local restaurants and groceries. However, in order to meet the increasing need that results from expanding markets, they have had to increase the number of animals they raise. That’s why they turned to Farm Credit Illinois.
“It takes a long time to recoup your investment in agriculture – 20 months for beef cattle to mature and seven months for a hog,” John said. “We wouldn’t be able to grow this business without cash flow and Farm Credit has given us the financial support to be able to do just that.”
This story originally appeared in Farm Credit Illinois’ biannual newsletter, Cultivations.