A Glimpse Into Innovative Farming

Thatcher Farms

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action

Overview

Thatcher Farms is a family-owned and operated business that values sustainability, the environment, and the community. The family raises all their own animals on-site with the highest level of care possible; they even grow their own feed. The business then sends their animals to local abattoirs that value stress-free processes, which also reduces transportation and emissions. Thatcher Farms uses and sells all parts of their animals - beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey - as well as other local products in their on-site butcher shop, bakery, and market.

Authors

Lauren McCrae

Lauren McCrae

Katie Sauder

Katie Sauder

School

Beyond Borders

Beyond Borders

Professors

Matthew Mulhern

Matthew Mulhern

Mike Parsons

Mike Parsons

Innovation

This business employs a variety of techniques and practices in order to improve their community while supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Thatcher Farms directly contributes to three of the goals: Sustainable Cities & Communities, Responsible Consumption & Production, and Climate Action.

Thatcher Farms is a community-based business. They have many local and loyal customers. The company employs many rural residents, and is located in the country. This encourages business to flourish in atypical areas, and allows rural residents to live and shop in a rural area, when they might otherwise have to drive into the city to get food or to go to work.

Responsible consumption and production is emphasized at Thatcher Farms. The family and their employees are involved in their food. When we interviewed Dana Thatcher, she told us that “what makes us super unique is that we’re a part of every step, from raising the livestock on the farm and growing the feed, doing the trucking, and then right to retailing the cuts of meat directly to the consumer.” Thatcher Farms minimizes transportation as much as possible, only sending animals to local abattoirs – otherwise, everything else generally occurs on-site. They also minimize waste by using as much of the animal as they possibly can. Thatcher Farms does not support over-consumption of meat, but offers a high-quality product that they believe should be appreciated and eaten occasionally, instead of being constantly consumed.

Finally, through their actions, Thatcher Farms reduces their transportation and outsourcing emissions, which greatly contribute to climate change. They also grow crops such as hay, which absorbs CO₂ and stores it deep in the soil, acting as a carbon sink that can also be used to feed their animals. Thatcher Farms always uses recyclable and reusable packaging wherever possible, including glass jars, cardboard boxes, and paper bags.

A Glimpse Into Innovative Farming

Inspiration

Throughout Adam’s life he had always lived on a farm and wanted to start one of his own; it was only when he met his wife Dana that they put their plan into action. Adam had been farming his entire life and graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in agriculture. Dana, on the other hand, was a school teacher but came up with the business concept and left the education field to run and establish the farm market, bakery, and butcher shop. Dana said, "I’m a bit of a dreamer, and I just like to be busy and I love people, and it just kind of snowballed from there." They started out with just a small building and only selling pork, but later decided to start diversifying their farm. As Dana told us, “When we started, we just did pigs, so our risk factor was huge, because if pork prices are terrible, then our whole farm suffers … to mitigate our risk … we diversified and now we raise beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey, so if pork prices are terrible, that doesn’t really matter to us.”

Thatcher Farms has also put a lot of thought into how they can reduce the amount of waste that their farm produces. Adam and Dana have come up with the idea to use every part of the animal possible in order to keep the food waste to a minimum. They have decided to use the bones for broth, and instead of having their old meat just sitting in the freezer, they are able to turn it into something else to keep everything as fresh as possible. Adam and Dana know how much of an issue food waste is and they are very considerate with their products when dealing with these types of issues. “In our bakery, we try and use anything like an off-cut; so we do meat pies and things like that to help move product and so that we don’t have old pork chops sitting in the freezer or old roasts sitting in the freezer, we make it turn into something.”

Overall impact

Thatcher Farms’ business model impacts not only the local community but also the environment and the connections that future generations will have with farms. Thatcher Farms produces fresh meat as well as gives tours of their farm to different schools to educate kids on their innovative company. Their business has become very well-known in the community and has allowed the farmers and entrepreneurs of the future to have a better idea of why it is so important to have a sustainable business and what it’s like to start your own. They have also emphasized the importance of having little food waste, how their farm is very environmentally friendly and safe, and how they value high-quality food. Dana believes that “in Ontario especially, terroir isn’t talked about enough. I think our beef is so delicious and so good, because they graze on grass, we’ve got really, really good soil, and we have really good water here.”

Currently they have over 16 employees working on the farm. They have also gone from only selling pork to adding beef, chicken, lamb, and turkey which allows for more choice for customers and increased profits for Thatcher Farms. Dana and Adam also had three kids while building this business, who now help out around the farm. Having this life-changing experience has inspired Dana and Adam to become more knowledgeable about the impacts they can have on future generations and how important sustainability is for their children’s futures. “I think more long-term – we have three little kids and I just want things to be sustainable in the sense of the next generation, for the environment but also so the next generation can take it on.”

Thatcher Farms has enabled many new customers and students to learn about how farming can be done properly and sustainably. On school tours, Dana talks a lot about how the animals are cared for and how the food that the animals eat is all grown fresh on the farm without the use of pesticides. Dana also talks about how they don’t export their meat products anywhere and only sell their products in-store, which allows for less unnecessary pollution and cuts down travel time that would diminish the quality of the food. All in all, Thatcher Farms continue to spread a lot of awareness on how to run a sustainable business and give a lot of insight to the environmentally friendly and local benefits of farming.

Business benefit

The owners of Thatcher Farms, Dana and Adam have currently had their farm open for customers for about 13 years, and every year they have become more sustainable and they have attracted more and more customers. During a segment of the interview that we had with Dana, she explained the expansion of their business. “We sold out of the back of our house for three years, and then [moved the store into] my husband’s workshop. We never had a plan, it just kept evolving. Every year it would grow into something more.”

Now that Adam and Dana’s farm is more stabilized and has expanded, they are also able to keep their prices to a minimum because they only sell from their farm. Dana explained that “we don’t ship to markets anymore … everything from our farm gets sold out our door, so we don’t need to look at market prices to determine our pricing, we just look at our cost of production and we determine our prices. And that doesn’t fluctuate, so if the pork prices are terrible, we don’t put pork chop prices down … which is much more low-risk.”

Social and environmental benefit

Thatcher Farms’ business model intentionally benefits the community as well as the environment to prove that farms can be sustainable and impactful.

Thatcher Farms provides jobs to the local community, as they employ over 16 staff on-site. This encourages and allows people to both live and work in rural areas, which sustains the growth, development, and maintenance of the rural community. The business also donates to projects and organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, which focuses on youth mentorship, and The Julien Project, which uses gardening to improve the mental health of individuals who need it most. They also provide tours to children in school as well as in activities such as Beavers, Scouts, or 4H clubs, as they value education and want to encourage the next generation to be sustainable and to understand where their food comes from and the importance of farms. In addition, Thatcher Farms allows customers to walk around the farm and see the animals for free, which promotes further understanding and connections to farms.

In terms of the environment, Thatcher Farms minimizes their food waste and CO₂ emissions as much as possible. They grow their own hay using a no till method, meaning that it is not plowed and therefore the soil ecosystem is not disturbed and no buried CO₂ is released. Hay also absorbs CO₂ and has long roots, which allows it to store the CO₂ deeper in the ground. Growing their own feed also means that they don’t have to ship feed in from outside sources, greatly reducing transportation emissions, and that they know exactly what they are feeding their animals. Thatcher Farms also makes use of all aspects of their product: their bakery uses off cuts in meat pies and other products; the carcass and bones are sold for customers to make soup with; pig tails, ears, and feet are sold as dog treats; trim is incorporated into pet food; onion peels and other vegetable waste are used to make soup stock; and any remaining leftovers are composted. Vacuum seals are used for all meat products, which maintains freshness and minimizes surface areas. However, they are made of plastic, and Dana says that she would like to find an even better option, such as using a biodegradable or recyclable material. All of the business’s other packaging is recyclable and/or reusable, and always has been – paper bags are used for granola and bulk purchases, honey is kept in glass jars, and bakery items are sold in cardboard boxes. Dana also recognizes that meat may have a bad reputation when it comes to sustainability, but that it is still necessary and still allows for both environmental responsibility and business innovation. “Some of the land that we have in hay, we couldn’t grow other crops, so to be able to grow that and feed livestock from that is incredible.”

Interview

Dana Thatcher, Owner

Photo of interviewee

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Thatcher Farms

Thatcher Farms

Rockwood, ON, CA

Business Website: https://www.thatcher-farms.com/

Year Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Thatcher Farms is a family-run business that serves the community by selling local, fresh, and sustainable food. They raise their own beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey on their farm; the owners truly care for their animals and even grow their own feed. They use and sell their products at their on-site butcher shop, bakery, and market.