Cattle and hog producers in south central Iowa welcomed a new processing option this year with the opening of Red Barn Meat Market in Lamoni.

Focused on providing custom and private label processing, along with a selection of their own meats for sale at the counter, Red Barn aims to shore up the animal protein supply chain in the area and provide additional processing capacity. 

Red Barn was born out of a need for access to affordable, high-quality animal protein during the pandemic. 

In 2020, Red Barn’s founders — Tad Whittom and Enos Swartzentruber — saw their friends and neighbors struggling to source meat to feed their families. The local grocery store was rationing sales, and there were no local butchers to fill the gap.

These struggles translated into action when Swartzentruber and Whittom decided to move forward with starting Red Barn.

Building the barn
They were aided by grants from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Iowa’s Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund. They brought in Austin Steele early in the process to manage the facility, and in June 2021, they broke ground on a big red barn-shaped building.

One year later — June 2022 — Red Barn Meat Market opened for business.

“It has been exciting to see the building take shape,” Steele said. "I think it changed about 10 times from the original blueprints.”

The facility includes processing, storage and a storefront. Red Barn's facility is built to process around 25 head of beef and 25  head of hogs, sheep or goats per week. Most of the processed meat is packaged and sent back to the producer for private use.

Storefront changes
Since opening, the storefront has experimented and learned a great deal about local demand. Steele said initially they focused on offering meats at their full-service counter. Now they have moved to self-service coolers for both their fresh and frozen offerings, allowing customers to pick out their own cuts or quickly grab a pound of ground beef to go.

They have also found success offering made-to-order sandwiches and fresh sides in shop. Tuesday through Saturday, customers can stop, grab a bite to eat and take a sirloin for the next day.

“The community response has been great,” Steele said. “We have had a lot of support.”

Fighting poverty
He noted that Decatur County, where Red Barn is located, is one of the poorest in Iowa, making access to affordable, high-quality animal protein a struggle for many. 

“I’m proud of what we’re doing here,” Steele said. “We’ve created more than 20 good-paying jobs, both full time and part time. A big goal of ours is to make this county better.”

Additionally, the region is un­derserved by smaller, private livestock processors, limiting options for consumers and producers alike. Steele said before Red Barn opened, there were no lockers within a 20-mile radius of Lamoni.

More opportunities
Other important additions to the operation are likely within the next few months. They purchased a meat smoker, which will allow Red Barn to offer its own sausage, beef sticks, jerky and similar products. They are waiting on final approval from the state on their processed meat recipes. 

They launched an initiative through their website to connect farmers and consumers directly, encouraging individuals to order one-quarter, one-half or whole animals straight from the farmer. Red Barn will process and package the meat but isn't involved in the sale. 

Whittom said Red Barn is currently recruiting cattle producers to participate in the direct sales program. More information is available at

And they are seeking certification through Iowa’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) agreement, which allows state-inspected facilities to process livestock from other states that participate in the program, including Missouri, and sell products across state lines.

“Four miles south of here there is an invisible line that currently stops us from doing a lot of business,” Steele said of the Iowa-Missouri border. "Once we are CIS approved and are able to move product across state lines, that is when I believe we will see the growth that we are hoping for."

Being able to work with producers on both sides of that line is important to the facility’s success.

“One of our goals has always been to make this county and the surrounding area better,” Steele said. “Having a successful community supporting us is one of the best way to support our business going forward.”