In celebration of Got to Be N.C. month we are featuring local farms and businesses and their products that are Grown. Raised. Caught. Made. here. This week we focus on Raised and highlight Harris-Robinette Beef in Edgecombe County.
Raised represents our state’s thriving livestock industry. Livestock, dairy and poultry represented almost 63 percent of the $11.7 billion in farm cash receipts in 2012.
There are about 750 farmers registered as meat and poultry handlers in North Carolina. These farmers sell their products at farmers markets, restaurants and direct to consumers. All meat and poultry handlers must be registered and inspected by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Meat and Poultry Inspection Division. This segment of the industry has seen explosive growth over the last few years, with an additional two or three farmers seeking registration weekly.
Many of these meat handlers are smaller operations, selling to a few neighbors or at a local farmers market. Some, like Harris-Robinette Beef in Pinetops, have a broader consumer base and have been around a little longer. Owner Patrick Robinette raises Senepol Cross cows and has been selling since 2000. “Our main market is restaurants,” he said. “We had a chef ask us if we would sell directly to his restaurant, then a friend of his who owned another restaurant was interested, too, and sales just snowballed from there. We are in about 31 restaurants on a steady basis, and an additional 16 regularly.” A little more than a year ago he also obtained a slaughter facility, Micro Summit Processors, which allows him to control all aspects of production and provide services for other meat handlers. Robinette remodeled the facility for beef, lamb and goat slaughter.
Robinette sees market access becoming easier as consumer attitudes toward buying local become more mainstream. “Millennials are controlling the food purchasing and they want to know the story,” Robinette said. “They are looking for a food experience and want their plate to be a work of art.” For a limited time, Robinette offered his beef at the Carlie C’s IGA in Raleigh, and sees that as the likely next step. “Local grocery stores like Lowes Food are probably the next step for offering locally grown meat products,” he said. “It’s not quite widespread there yet, but it is coming.”
“My advice for farmers just starting out in selling their own products would be to know your product, know your production and tell your story,” Robinette said. “Customers want to know the story.”
Robinette has also benefited from his relationship with staff in the NCDA&CS Marketing Division. “The marketing specialists have connections and have been helpful in getting into several restaurants,” he said. In 2012, the department began the Savor NC on the Menu program as part of the Got to Be NC marketing initiative. This program recognizes restaurants, along with chefs and distribution partners, that support sourcing, purchasing, preparing and promoting N.C. products and ingredients. Department staff help farmers such as Robinette get his products into restaurants and helps promote restaurants that support local farmers. “They are awesome in connecting and networking,” Robinette said. “The staff is forward thinking and that’s a real benefit.”
Today is the kick-off of the Savor NC “Dig into Local” Restaurant Week. Diners in eight Piedmont counties can enjoy special, locally sourced menu items at 42 participating restaurants through July 23.
Next week: Made in North Carolina, featuring a Chatham County specialty foods producer.