Shop Small ILM w/ Excellent Farmer AJ Stanaland from Northwest Land & Cattle Episode 4

Thank you for tuning in to Shop Small ILM, where we showcase locally owned businesses from the Cape Fair Region. If you like what you hear, please subscribe. Leave us a rating and share with your friends today on Shop Small ILM. We have fifth generation farmer and entrepreneur. AJ Stan Land with Northwest Land and Cattle.

Aj, thanks for coming on. Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here. So you’re a fifth generation farmer. What does a typical day look like in the life of a farmer? Probably a little more normal than people think. Okay. So I’m also a mom than a wife, and I try not to wake my kids up yelling, but usually they don’t get out the bed

So that’s job number one is to get them to school on. . So what’s kind of neat about us is I also married a fifth generation farmer. Oh, wow. Most of the time when two farms kind of marry and have to merge, somebody’s gotta move. Yeah. And most of the time they’re not close enough to commute. And we were really lucky that it’s a 45 minute drive between.

Okay, so now all of our cattle are on my granet farm and all of our row crops are 40 minutes down the road. So we live in Columbus County and then we farm in Brunswick, Columbus, and Bladen counties. Oh wow. That’s a pretty big spread there. Yes. So I drive a lot. Yeah. But I check hogs in the morning.

They’re at the farm in Columbus County, and then I drive 45 minutes to kind of get started on the Cattle Inn and check with my granddaddy. He’s 94 and my right hand. We check everybody, everybody has to be fed. So, I mean, that’s my, like, constant. I mean, I can make all the plans in the world, but if the cows aren’t fed, we’re not moving on to the next task.

So after that, I direct market all of our meat. So I’ve got to figure out how to sell the meat to pay the bills. Yeah. every day is completely different, I would say, because there’s always different things going on as far as if we’re hauling livestock to the processor. If we’re picking up livestock and we ship anywhere east of the Mississippi.

So if we’re shipping, like today I had to drive to Wilmington to get dry ice. Okay? And I go to rose Ice right down there and I load up with dry ice and then drive back to the farm and pack boxes and get it all ready for the ups. Okay. I didn’t realize you guys did row crops too. Yes. So my father-in-law, his office looks like I, I like to brag on him.

He’s the peanut man. So we row crop with him. We raise corn, soybeans, and peanuts, and we actually raise seed peanuts. So it’s the peanuts that the farmer will plant the next year. Okay. And we get a premium for raisin that they are very particular. So you can’t have. A really weedy field or whatever the seed peanuts are, like the cream of the crop.

Okay. And then anything that doesn’t make it in there goes to in shell. So think ballgames where you get the bags of peanuts and they’re in the shelf. Okay? So that’s cool. And then we go right behind our peanut combines and we bail peanut hay to feed our. It’s literally like a byproduct of like, we’ve already got it right?

So we’ve already, we’ve already harvested our peanuts and then we’re using what’s left, which is actually the vines and it has a lot of nutrients and protein, and we bail it up and then we will feed that to our mama cows in the winter. Okay. Can you tell us about how Northwest land and cattle came to be?

Sure. So this is a goal of mine since I graduated from nc. , but as always, life gets in the way. We had started thinking about it, we were selling whole hogs to restaurants in Wilmington years ago RX downtown. Yeah. We sold to them Pembroke. When they were open, everybody kept saying, you’re gonna do cows, you’re gonna do cows.

And. . There’s a lot of time that goes into raising them, and I just was like, the time isn’t right. I found out I was having twins and I went on bedrest. So life gets in the way and throws you curve balls. Yeah. So they got old enough to kind of. start going to daycare. And I was like, now’s the time. So me and my dad had always had cattle.

I mean, I’m fifth generation, so I was raised with ’em. But when I got out of state, came home, we were background in calves. So we had anywhere from 600 to at the most 900 head of calves on the farm. And we fed cows all day. So we used to sell truckloads. They’d go to Kansas to the feed lot. And now I didn’t have enough cows to sell truckloads.

And now it was like, how am I regroup? How am I gonna make this work? I don’t, I don’t wanna not have cows and it’s now or never. So I started small, we started feeding out, I think eight, and we were like, okay, cool. It just kind of spiraled. I opened. Selling direct, which keep in mind it was 18 months of feeding that animal and getting that all that kind of ready before I could even take it to the processor and get it back.

So I opened selling direct to the public, but I wanted to make sure I was staying with my roots. So I wanted it to be, I wanted you to know where your meat was coming from. I wanted you to know your. , like I already talked about, my granddaddy, he’s 94 and he remembers the Fishman coming around, right? So like, yeah, everybody came around the milkman Fishman and you had a relationship with who you were buying your food from.

And I always thought, that’s just the coolest thing. I want people to know that, hey, this is, this is AJ’s, you know, this is, this is good stuff. So I just wanted it to be personal. So I started out with only offering subs. . Now I call ’em my original farm club, but it was the Farm club , and I didn’t even tell ’em what they were getting because I feel really strongly about if I’m gonna take this animal that I want to use everything it possibly gives us.

Yeah. And I had so many people tell me, you’re gonna go out of business because everybody’s gonna buy all. and you’re not gonna be able to sell the hamburger and you’re not gonna be able to sell the London Bros. I felt strongly that people wanted to support small and they want to support farmers, but sometimes it’s not convenient or they don’t know how.

Yeah. So how do we make it convenient? So I knew I wanted to start off shipping and most of the people I grew up with, and y’all might do this too, but I mean so many. , they’re either gonna do a pickup or they’re gonna do something, or they’re a meal planet. And I’m like, how can I fit into their life?

Yeah. And I like the having a relationship with the person that, yeah, you’re getting your food from like, you know, we were joking earlier. We call it AJ’s beef. So, and when we’re eating it around the house, we call it AJ’s beef. Not only cuz it comes from you, but you could tell the. So, yep. And that’s what I want people to know.

I mean, I’m not saying that, you know, you shouldn’t buy it anywhere else. I’m just saying, you know, I love what I’m doing and think my product is a premium. We’ve had all kind of different cattle, but in the year 2000 my daddy switched to Angus and we’ve been buying our bulls based off of Mar. , they’re a rib eye score and then their birth weight.

I think a lot of people don’t realize what goes into it and it’s a lot in genetics and kind of what you want to raise. And you know, I say I’m doing it in the new old-fashioned way. Like I like, I like how granddaddy, I love the stories and I love how it, listening to him talk about his daddy selling whole animals.

But let’s do it with all the new technology and let’s do it with all the things that we have available. . All right. So can you tell us a little bit about how you went from the original plan to now having a storefront? I still can’t believe I, I have a storefront sometimes. I’m like, okay, it’s really a barn , , right?

Like, don’t get crazy. It’s just an old tobacco barn. So it’s a really nice old tobacco boy. That’s right. So I applied for and got a small grant through the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund. Okay. So I applied for that. It was a very detailed application and I was like, there’s no way I’m getting this.

But it was enough to get me started with electrical and. doing some repairs because this old barn was, my dad’s like hoarding wood, like that’s all that was in there was like cherry that he had cut in the seventies. And we got in there and we ripped the old floor out, all new floor choices, put it all back together.

And I was like, this is two gorgeous to not let people come out. Yeah. So originally I had asked them like, help me make like a shipping. Kind of, you know, I need a big set of scales and I need to do all this. And, and then it was like, why don’t we offer, let people come out and Yeah. You know, one of the main things was when I first started, you had to buy a box.

Y’all know that? Yeah. You got a box. So it was the people who didn’t want a box, they, they just wanted to come see what you have. , you know, now I have customers that come and buy breakfast sausage and hamburger and they might not buy, but a few packs, but they come every other week. Yeah. So that’s been a fun, a fun transition for sure.

But it was a big, I think I started out and I was like, this is awesome. And then it was like, I think, I think this was too big of a idea, but I’m really thankful for where it is now. So we’re going into a year and a half being open only on Fridays and Saturdays, which throws people. But at the same time, I have to make it work for me.

And Well, you have two farms to, yeah. To work and a lot of driving to do. And a lot of driving to do . Well, good deal. All right, so what’s the next big thing for Northwest Atlanta Cattle? So rolling into 2023, I’m finally doing something that I’ve had a lot of people ask about, but I just wasn’t sure and out of my comfort zone.

Okay. Started with subscriptions, went to local with the pack house, with the barn, and now I’m finally moving to the wait list I have for whole cows and half cows. Awesome. It’s gonna allow people to really get exactly what they want. Yeah. So let’s say y’all decide you want a whole one, you’ll get to fill out your cut sheet exactly like you want it.

So you’ll be able to get, if you want your rib eyes one inch thick or two inch thick, or however you wanna do it, you’ll be able to do that. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of things people don’t know about, kind of how it works. You know, everything is done in 50 pound. quantities. Okay. So, you know, if you wanted 10 packs of something, that’s actually not gonna happen.

You know? Yeah. There’s a little bit of limitation there, but I think the people who are wanting to stock their freezer, they’re wanting to, Hey, go in with a buddy. Let’s split a cow. Yeah. I think that’s gonna be fun for them. And it’s gonna be, I think, almost whole circle. . That’s how my great granddaddy, you know, they sold whole carcasses.

Yeah. And back then, that was before refrigeration. So they would sell it to the general store and it would hang in their cold room. Okay. And then people would come in and buy parts of it, or however that worked. When I was in college, dad would kill one cow a year or something, and he used to sell some holes and he just, he wasn’t the greatest at dealing.

the public with it. So . Yeah, I think now it’s fun because I’ve already kind of dealt with all that. So now it’s like, okay, the customers who are serious and they want a whole one, let’s do it. Awesome. You know, I wish I could focus even more on bringing other farms to, I mean, you know, you always say like, oh, if I hit the lottery, I would have like the coolest forms were ever.

I would have everything showcase all of yes, yes. . And I think what’s really cool about the ag community is it’s really small. Mm-hmm. , so less than 2% of the population are farmers, so we’re feeding the rest of ’em. And then when you break it down into North Carolina, I pretty much know everybody who’s in it under 50, just because, well, farm Bureau has a really cool, I sit on the board of directors for Brunswick County.

me and my husband actually served on, they have a young farmer and rancher committee. Okay. And it’s people from each part of North Carolina. And then you go tour, you might go to the west in the fall, and then in the spring you go to the east. And that’s really cool because our state is so diverse. Yeah.

We go from out apples and Christmas trees to tilapia. Yeah, so I think it’s neat. It’s not really a competition because even if I fed out every cow I own, right? Yeah. I, I’m only feeding a certain amount of people and you know, all my friends that are doing the exact same thing, they’re doing it in a little bit different part of the state.

And yeah, we’re not gonna feed the whole world. So I think there’s room, there’s room for everybody. There’s room for the big guys, there’s room for the little guys that. . So tell us about all the products you have at the Pack house and and where the Pack house is actually located. , so we are about 20 minutes outside of Wilmington.

Okay. If you are on 74, 76, we’re about three miles past Compass Point, and we’re right there in the old tobacco barn. That’s the only place we offer single cuts. So all of our pork, all of our beef, we have some. Inch and a half bone and pork chops that are great seller and bacon. But I always tell everybody bacon is like, if it’s there, it’s there and you better buy it off because there’s, it hangs in that smokehouse at the processor and I only get it like once every eight weeks.

Right. Oh wow. So if it’s there, you better buy all you want and put it in your. . I don’t know. I don’t know if I need to start hiding it. I don’t know, but it’s usually there. So historically I’ve always been a bacon guy. Mm-hmm. , like you could put bacon on bacon. Yes. That’s the only thing that would make bacon better.

Right. The sausage from the packhouse is phenomenal. Like has changed me people, so many people. What are doing? What are you doing to it over there? , so many people say. So most, I would say all of the pork you buy in the store, they’ve bred those hogs to grow fast and to be lean. Pretty much any grocery store you buy it from, they’re in a hog house.

They’re br, they’re genetically, they’re pushing ’em and they want ’em lean and they want ’em as fast as they can get. And I kind of do the opposite. So, okay. I do it just like my granddaddy. They’re out there in the tall pines and living their best life. I’m using Heritage Breed Hogs, so we make our own feed.

So okay. We’re grinding feed just like my dad did in the seventies and it’s really cool. We actually used his feed mill up until last year. My husband finally said if I welded on it anymore, it’s going to fall apart . So we had to break down and buy one, but I think you can tell more because of the pork.

It’s a. Almost like a wider spectrum, like you don’t find really good pasture raised pork. Okay. So I think that’s, I think that’s why there’s a lot of good cattle in the United States. Yeah. And, and when you think about pork, it’s pretty much all raised one way. And so, so many people tell me, they’re like, your sausage is just like, I can’t go back. 

All right, so now that everybody knows where the Pack house is, how else can we get ahold of you? So our website’s always been number one, and I tell people that that’s kind of where my loyalty is, right? Okay. So like all my subscription people are through the website and we now offer a side. kitchen staples, and that’s through the website.

But for local people, they can come in, they get to pick anything they want that’s in the pack house. The only thing it excludes is our premium steaks, which usually don’t make it in the pack house, but they, for being part of our farm club kind of deal. They get first dibs on them, but it gets ’em a $15 discount, so that’s cool.

They go, but it’s still through the website. So our website is. our number one, we always are gonna have a build your own box. So you have to put some sort of a box in your cart before you get to single cuts. Okay? And we’ll always have pre-made boxes, specials. It doesn’t matter if it’s Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day, we’ll always have specials.

And then that box, I really just designed it to where I’m approve all the people wrong, that I’m not going outta business like I’m gonna sell the Hamburg. It lets people also feel like they’re supporting the farmer. They’re not just buying one thing. Yeah. So I love that we’re very active on all of our social media, so Okay.

Tag us in all your recipes, . Yeah. And we’ll link all of those in the show notes. But I do have to back up because you mentioned premium cuts. Yes. And I had heard a rumor, a rumor that there might be some tomahawks in the. it. It’s very secretive. But if you’re listening to this podcast, yeah, so that’s my like running joke is all of my good customers are like, don’t tell anybody.

But yes, we have some Tomahawks and they’re gonna be coming out for Valentine’s. They’re humongous. I just wanna look at ’em like, I just wanna keep it . They’re just so pretty. They’re just so pretty. Okay. They’re huge. They’re averaging maybe two and a half pounds, so we dry age all of our beef when vacuum ceiling came out.

People stop doing that. They wouldn’t. Okay, so say like grocery store stuff, the name of the game is to get it to the processor and get it to the grocery store as fast as possible. Yeah. So they don’t let ’em hang like they used to in the old days. And they call it wet aging, which just means we’re gonna go ahead and cut it up.

We’re gonna package it, we’re just sending it to the store. It’ll age in, in the package. Okay. So we do everything. Old Charlie, my granddaddy we’re hanging it all, so even our hamburgers dry aged, so Okay. Talking about premium cuts, you know, our steaks are dry aged and them big old tomahawks are dry aged, so.

All right. And something we do on the podcast, we like to ask everybody, what information or tip would you give to other small business owners? I think one thing for me has. to know what I’m good at and to know what I’m not good at, and to make sure that I’m doing what I’m good at. And then if you outsource something, make sure it’s something that you don’t en enjoy doing.

Yeah. Mm-hmm. and you’re not great at. And I think, you know, most small businesses start with a passion, right? So they start with I love doing this. Yeah. And I think sometimes we have to be careful not to lose that. , I’ve said since day one. You know, I told my husband, I really wanna do this and I’m committed.

I mean, for goodness sakes, I learned to build a website and I hadn’t owned a laptop since I left NC State. Oh, wow. . Until I got serious and decided I was gonna do this, and I took a class and it was like how to market your farm product. And I knew I had to learn to run the. one, I was too broke. I didn’t have money to like, yeah, pay somebody to do a website.

And two, with my product, things go out of stock really easy. So I’ve oversold before. That’s not cool. Right? I need to be able to shut it down. Like, oh my God, I don’t have any more ribeyes. Yeah, I gotta shut it down. I, I knew I couldn’t hire somebody to do that, so it was like, I think a lot of that comes from having to do it, you know?

Of course, if I’d have had, you know, an extra 10 grand, I’d have been like, I want a really pretty website. Yeah. Put my cow on the front. Bonnie and put Bonnie. Yeah. But having money just exaggerates failures, you know, you’d have Oh yeah. You would fail real big. Yeah. Uhhuh . much rather fell small. Yes. . A hundred percent.

That’s what, what is it? That’s what success looks like, is a bunch of failures stacked on top of each other. Mm-hmm. . So, and you’re standing on top of them. Yeah. You’re standing on top of ’em. So, exactly. And what a time, right? Like going into 2023, like looking back at 2022, or y’all know, being small business owners, like almost at the end of every year, it’s like, We made it.

We made it. still here. Bar Look. . Yeah. The bank’s not coming worse yet. Yeah. So. Well, AJ, thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for having me. This has been fun. We might have had too much fun. Maybe a little bit. So if you’re looking for the best quality meat in the Cape Fear area, be sure to visit AJ over at Northwest Landing Cattle.

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