Farm Story Meats in Ames is one of six finalists in Iowa Farm Bureau's Grow Your Future award for young, rural entrepreneurs.
Every pork chop tells a story. That’s Ray Schmidt’s premise.

At Farm Story Meats in Ames, Schmidt distributes meat from a few select producers directly to consumers. He believes every farmer has a story to tell. 

Orders are placed online and shipped across Iowa and to 30 states. They are hand-delivered to customers in Ames and Ankeny. 

“Farmers have a good story to tell,” says Schmidt. “And the meat helps them tell it.”

Others agree. Schmidt and Farm Story Meats were selected as one of six finalists for Farm Bureau’s 2021 Grow Your Future Award. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill commented in announcing this year’s contest: “This award elevates those young Iowa farmers who are innovating and seeking alternative paths in agriculture to provide for their families and offer their local communities something unique.”

The contest started in 2020. The top three Grow Your Future winners for 2021 will receive cash prizes to grow their business, with first place taking home $7,500, second place $5,000 and third place $2,500.

Online voting in December narrowed the field to six, with the winners announced at the 2021 Young Farmer Conference in January.

Schmidt hand-selects the producers for Farm Story Meats. He studies their operations. He visits the farm. His criteria revolve around animal stewardship and sustainability. 

“I’m all about transparency,” says Schmidt. “People want to know where their food comes from. I want to tell them. It’s like our motto says, ‘Because Where Matters.'”

Pasture-raised chickens and turkeys come from the Vandenbroeks at Up a Creek Farm near Hubbard. 

Grass-fed beef comes from Trevor and Bailey Smith of Marengo. Farm Story is taking orders for beef available in February.

The Schultz Farm near Lake View will supply Angus beef as of March. The cattle are raised birth to finish on the Schultz farm and fed an all-natural diet. 

Farm Story Meats is the sole source for certified Chester White Pork, a heritage breed known for its meat quality. Ray’s father, Randy Schmidt, has worked since the 1960s to perfect the breed and has exclusive rights. Certification requires meeting rigorous quality standards of color and texture, as well as genetic proof that at least one parent is purebred Chester White. The hogs are raised on the Schmidts' farm near Williamsburg.

(Photo above: Ray Schmidt of Farm Story Meats feeds a marshmallow treat to a hog on his family's farm near Williamsburg. Top right: Farm Story Meats sells premium, Iowa-raised pork chops and ribs, delivered to customers' doors.)

Schmidt began his venture in 2018, but he’s been preparing for it most of his life. As a teen, he worked with his dad to perfect the Chester White pork genetics.  As he watched the farmers' percentage of money earned from each hog decline, Schmidt wanted to do something about it.

He also saw there is a strong demand for local meat as customers would drive from as far away as Denver or St. Louis twice a year for half a hog.

At Iowa State University, where he studied business management, marketing and graphic design. By the time he finished his education, he was connecting dots.

Technology enabled direct sales, making the selection and purchase process easy for consumers. The digital age also brought opportunities for mass marketing — and a way to effectively tell the story.

A consumer awakening made telling that story more important than ever. COVID brought a need for contactless food delivery. 

“Our goal at Farm Story Meats is to bring the customer and the product together through easy-to-use e-commerce and to keep the supply chain as short as possible so the producer receives the best financial outcome,” adds Schmidt.

He pays his producers a premium for their product.

And he navigates the system of food processors that often doesn't cater to the smaller operation. “We’re too big for the local locker and too small for the big lockers,” he says. 

Schmidt is able to use nearby Story City Locker for beef, though strong demand has the processor booked for most of 2021. His pork and poultry must travel to Missouri to find processing.

Once USDA inspected and frozen, meat is kept frozen until delivery. Shipped orders are packed in dry ice with environmentally friendly packaging. Hand-delivered orders arrive in insulated totes.

Meat is primarily sold in bundles that offer a variety of traditional cuts and specialty meats.

A “Starter” bundle includes pork chops, bacon and brats in a variety of flavors, specialty meats, ground products and a bonus cut. “Ray’s Faves” includes Iowa chops, sugar bacon, applewood bacon, cheddar brats, BBQ beef jerky and ground pork. There are whole chickens and turkeys, hot Italian sausages and cured pork belly. A subscription makes delivery of your choice of cuts automatic every four weeks.

Schmidt says Iowa chops are one of the most popular items on the list, along with premium items like St. Louis ribs, pork loin roasts and holiday hams. House specialties are the jerky and meat sticks, along with ground meats and sausages.

Schmidt says he is hoping for stable, steady growth in the years to come. He wants to become more efficient with economies of scale and is looking for ways to make his product more affordable for low-income households. 

He is always scouting for new farmers to join the network.

Of course, he wants more customers. Schmidt treasurers his ISU roots and is a die-hard Cyclone fan, making it natural to tap that market through podcast advertising.

“I appreciate all the support we’ve had already. Being part of the Grow Your Future Award contest is very humbling,” says Schmidt. “Where matters. People want to know the farm behind what they eat, and they want transparency in the farm to fork journey. We give them that along with a great meat eating experience. Farm Story Meats is looking forward to continuing to support farmers and feed families.”

Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.