By Matt Reese
The last year saw a convergence of needs for local business, local consumers and a local farm in the Hillsboro community in Highland County. The response to the challenges of 2020 from Maplecrest Farms will hopefully help to meet those needs.
Maplecrest Farms, founded by John and Joanie Grimes in 1990, has found solid footing as a seedstock operation providing high quality Angus and Simmental genetics for other cattle operations. The operation now has around 350 cows and sells cattle in numerous sales every year. These include a fall production sale every September, an annual bull sale in March, multiple online show heifer sales, as well as merchandising bulls through the Allied Producer Program with Gardiner Angus Ranch in Kansas. Maplecrest also sold a limited number of head as local freezer beef.
And, as the Grimes’ daughters (Lindsey and Lauren) and their husbands (Adam and Will) have phased into the operation, some expansion options had to be explored with new ways to add value to the cattle not being sold as seedstock. At the same time, the unique societal challenges of 2020 resulted in an explosion in local demand for beef produced and processed closer to home.
“We were looking for way to diversify and add value to every animal we produce. Only our very best make the production sale or the bull sale or go to Kansas,” said Lindsey Hall. “Freezer beef has always been a part of the operation on a small scale for family and friends. In 2020, people started reaching out to us a little more and we thought we’d better capitalize on it. The shop local movement was getting hot then, so we started a website for marketing our beef locally in mid-summer 2020 to better cater to our new customers. We were then approached by a local businessman who was wanting to open up a meat shop and asked if we would like to partner up.”
Opening up this month in the storefront of the former Ponderosa in Hillsboro, Maplecrest Meats will feature local beef from the farm, local pork products from a cooperating operation in Pickaway County and a wide array of local products including sauces, seasonings and cooking supplies. The launch of the Maplecrest Meats website has already ramped up online direct beef sales for the farm and the opening of the shop will offer customers a local in-person shopping option as well.
“With the meat shop, people will be able to go and buy a few steaks and not have to fill up their whole freezer,” Adam Hall said.
The new buying options for customers fits in very well with buying trends that really ramped up during the pandemic.
“One of the best things that came out of 2020 is the shift towards shopping local. I think it is something that is going to stick around. I know the few people who we have reached though the website and others have started buying completely differently,” Lindsey said. “We need to take this opportunity to educate our customers about why it is worth it to pay a little extra for a high-quality product and teach them how to prepare it to make it the best eating experience possible. We are super transparent. In every box we ship out there is a note card about our family and I hand write a note to thank them for supporting our family business. It is those little differences that can really make a big difference in the end.”
As the Halls have phased into the operation, Lindsey has been helping more on the bookkeeping side and will coordinate the processing of the animals to meet demand for the new meat shop and website sales. She also continues to work off the farm for Farm Credit Mid America. Adam works full time on the farm doing day-to-day activities including feeding, calving, breeding, and hay production. He also oversees the Simmental portion of Maplecrest Farms. The couple was named the Ohio Young Cattleman of the Year by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association for their efforts.
Adam grew up in West Virginia raising Simmentals. He went to Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute and met Lindsey showing cattle at the Ohio State Fair. They were married in 2017 and now have two children.
“The biggest challenge will be maintaining the vision my parents had for the family operation. Nothing would make me more proud than to carry on what my parents have built. They have worked hard to produce cattle that can perform anywhere and provide seedstock for herds around the country,” Lindsey said. “It is hard to figure out the younger generation’s niche so we can all thrive in the family business. Adam and I are more passionate about the production side and the cow-calf stuff. We have to figure out the new dynamics as mom and dad give us more liberties in the business.”
The new venture will allow more options for customers to purchase products from the farm.
“I was hesitant about a store font because of the overhead costs. I am working full time and there are challenges getting that up and running. Our partner owns the building. The Ponderosa had a kitchen and walk-in coolers and we put in some work to get those up to speed. As far as remodeling, we didn’t have to do a bunch. Most changes were strictly cosmetic to give the space a facelift,” Lindsey said. “Hopefully we are going to open the beginning of March. The store will have frozen and fresh meat displays and a deli area. We are going to carry a lot of the types of products we found to be popular at other meat markets as well as many product lines that our family and friends have enjoyed using at home. We’ll have cutting boards, display platters, and breads, popcorn, and other sweet treats. We will carry sauces, olive oils and vinegars produced by businesses from around the Cincinnati and Dayton area. Most products we will offer will be sourced from other small businesses from around the Buckeye state.”
The new venture will employ two full-time employees and additional part time help. The store will feature cooking demonstrations and educational events as well as materials to help customers better understand their food and connect with the people who are providing it.
“We are starting with beef and pork at first. The beef will mostly be Maplecrest-raised beef from here as well as fresh Certified Angus Beef,” Lindsey said. “We are working with the Wippel family from the Orient area and using Berkshires for the pork. They offer chops, bacon and a variety of flavors of sausage.”
Moving forward, Maplecrest Farms also hopes to add value to the production of operations who have purchased their seedstock by then purchasing beef for retail sale from those farms.
“In a perfect world we’d like to sell our best bulls to seedstock and commercial operations and then add value to the calves from our customers by buying back those Maplecrest sired calves for beef for the store,” Lindsey said. “We always want to help our customers add value to their calves and create demand for them. This meat shop may turn into that solution.”
And, at the same time, the quality of the genetics from the farm can improve because there is a more profitable outlet for the other cattle.
“We will mostly operate status quo on the seedstock side, but we can be a little harder on the culling because we have an outlet for them,” Adam said. “We can be a lot more strict about keeping the top-end bulls. We can ramp up our quality because we’re not keeping some of those lower performing animals as seedstock.”
The Halls are banking on the local momentum from 2020 carrying forward and transitioning into a community staple for Hillsboro.
“We will be adding more value to what we produce to provide more opportunity for more family to come back. We primarily are a seedstock operation but now we can also better serve the end user of beef. It brings everything back full circle and we can show our kids and customers firsthand how the beef production cycle works. It is also a way for us to be more involved in the community,” Lindsey said. “There are a ton of people who are really excited about the store opening. This is something new and different for the town and hopefully customers will like it.”
And, by adding value to the farm, the Grimes family legacy of producing top-quality beef while protecting the soil, water and air resources can continue for generations to come, serving the community and benefiting the lives of their customers in the process — all lofty and positive goals built on the converging challenges of 2020.
Learn more about the farm in the video from the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association: youtube.com/watch?v=hLsurRNiCOQ.