WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS (WVDN) – Owned and operated by two Greenbrier County native sons James Tuckwiller and Frank Ford, The Mountain Steer Meat Company is constructing a retail meat store in White Sulphur Springs across from Food Lion with a planned opening date in August of this year.
They will offer customer memberships to provide frequent flier discounts and package deals of Mountain Steer Meat Company meats with an indoor farmers market set-up featuring other local produce from Greenbrier County.
“We will be working with local farmers,” said Tuckwiller. “Helping West Virginia feed itself from its own farms.”
The idea for this started as Tuckwiller and Ford lamented that it just seemed wrong for the fabulous beef product from Greenbrier County to be sold and shipped out of the area, while beef from other parts of the country was shipped to the stores for people to buy and eat.
The duo grew up on neighboring farms just outside of Lewisburg.
“After we finished our schooling, we both came back to our family farms. We had a lot in common besides a strong friendship,” said Tuckwiller.
As with many beef farmers in the area, the young Tuckwiller and Ford were anxious to improve the sustainability of their own family farm income by finding uncommon marketing opportunities for the product being grown on their fifth generational farms.
The first business plan they enacted was a relationship with IGA in Fairlea, putting their product on the shelves in the meat department. “We will continue this program even as our business takes shape in White Sulphur Springs.”
As the young men began to research and participate in programs through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, they became local partners in the Greenbrier County Farm to School programs, providing beef to the student lunch program.
“It started with one school, now we are providing local beef to 13 schools inside Greenbrier County,” Tuckwiller said.
When asked if they would do the same in Monroe County, Tuckwiller said, “We will grow our brand county by county always working for community sustainability.”
Ultimately, they plan to bring in beef from other farms in each county to maintain the necessary product volume for that county’s schools.
Mountain Steer Meat Company was guided in their business plan development by the Hive Network who connected them to Fruits of Labor in Rainelle. The current business plan, for which they received a USDA Value Added Producer Grant, covers their employment expenses for the first three years of the new market in White Sulphur Springs. The three-year plan should roll into building the brand, increasing the customer base, and the 8,000 sq. ft. building will house the meat processing overseen by butcher Brandon Kidd.
“With the marketing plan we were able to present to the Country Roads Angel Network, a West Virginia program with investors that have a proven connection to West Virginia and the “Shark Tank” type of competition for obtaining investor dollars,” said Tuckwiller.
Developing the business platform was not only an exercise in writing numbers on paper. The pair of cattlemen also continued to grow their circle of marketing partnerships with area businesses through 2020 and 2021. At the West Virginia State Fair, they provided the beef for the Hook and Ladder Grill and hope to continue that in 2022, as well as find other fair vendors who would like to have local sourcing for their meats.
And, new opportunities continue to crop up. A partnership in vending with Big Draft Brewing Company in White Sulphur Springs took a surprising turn when the brewing company came out with a new Draft Beer called Mountain Steer Heifferweizen. This was debuted at the 2022 Dandelion Festival along with a mobile food truck/trailer that provided Mountain Steer Beef burgers and other delicacies.
But none of this is coming for free. While there has been grant funds and marketing opportunities along with lots of community goodwill, Tuckwiller and Ford have had to dig into their own bank accounts. All of the construction expense of the new facility is paid out-of-pocket by the two partners.
All that is in service of sustainability and scaled production for not just their farms, but other area beef farms as well.
“We hope to increase our beef production to 10 times what it is now, to 50 head per week. At least we will have the facilities to do that volume.”
Tuckwiller and Ford’s farms are not providing that volume of meat, and do not plan to, because the company hopes to partner with other farms in the county for that.
Tuckwiller said, “We want to work with local farmers. We will co-produce the beef by contracted purchasing of locally raised stock, feeding a prescription of grains over 120 days, and even sourcing the feed for those animals locally.”
Then Mountain Steer Meat Company will become the retail marketplace for more Greenbrier County raised meats.
“We are sensitive to the local practice of grass-fed beef as well. There can be product of that type in our store. It is just a matter of labeling,” he said.
Tuckwiller also said that the customers will have the opportunity through memberships to educate themselves in home cooking techniques and better understanding of how to prepare the cuts not often found in chain grocery companies.
“By using some of our generous store square footage, we hope to create a farmers’ market of companion products. We also want to carry pork and chicken along with seasonal vegetables,” said Tuckwiller.