Scotty Stevens is a rancher on Whidbey Island. Over the years he developed such a devoted network of producers and customers, that he and his wife Laura were inspired to open a small grocery store to bring local products to the community, with an emphasis on meats. In February 2012, he opened Scotty’s Local Farm to Market in Freeland. Since then, he’s managed to balance running the market and ranch, while continuing to work as a general contractor. Scotty and Laura have two children, daughter Kyah who is 20 years old and son Jordan who is 15. Scotty is a member of the Puget Sound Food Network, Whidbey Island Grown, and Island Grown Farmers Co-op. Northwest Agriculture Business Center’s Sherrye Wyatt caught up with Scotty at the picturesque Bixby farm, which his family leases.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in California and grew up in Salinas. After my father passed away in 1982, my mother remarried and we moved to Seattle. After I graduated from Lynnwood High School, I spent the winters in California and the summers in the Seattle area, taking in the best of both worlds.
I’ve known my wife Laura since we were kids. She lived three houses down, and across the street. When we made the decision to get married in 1991, we knew we didn’t want to raise our children in California. So, at that time we started looking around here. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, a friend actually called us while we were on our honeymoon and said “hey I have a job for you if you want it.” So we instantly moved to Whidbey Island and have been here ever since.
What is your “day job?”
I have been a general contractor for 18 years. I got my license in 1994 and have worked for myself, as well as for other framing contractors. I have a wide range of experience, from a glorified handyman, to a framing foreman on a 300 unit motel or apartment complex. It has been a good living for nearly 20 years, but the last few have been taxing. If you ask me how I make my living, I’d say I’m a general contractor, a part time farmer, and a part time grocery store owner.
I have always been interested in farming and ranching. My grandfather was a veterinarian in Ohio from the late ‘30s until the early ‘70s when he retired. Then he was a USDA meat inspector at a meat packing plant. I’ve always felt that I should have grown up back there, because everything about me is so much like my grandfather. When my brothers were collecting little plastic Army men, I was collecting farm animals and making my own little ranch. I’ve just always been drawn to farming and livestock.
When did you get your first herd of cattle?
In 2000, I had a friend who was leasing this ranch, which belongs to the Bixby family. At that time, my daughter Kyah was boarding a horse at another friend’s place and we moved her horse here to join his few head of cattle. When his lease ended, our lease began. Next thing you know, I did some construction for a guy who paid me with a few steers. It just kept growing from there.
What is your operation now?
We have beef, pork, chicken, squash, corn, and early garlic. We also have free range eggs that we sell right at the farm stead. Artichokes will be ready next year. We have six mother cows with their calves, six feeders and my bull, so that is 19 total cattle.
Why did you start a store?
In December 2011, we stopped in because I wanted to advertise my construction company on the large billboard next to the store on Highway 525. My wife pointed out if we are going to rent a space for commercial use, why not put our freezers in here and sell beef and pork? At the same time we looked at each other and said, if we are going to do beef and pork why not add lamb, chicken eggs, butter, milk and cheese? We knew that beef or pork sales alone would not bring in enough revenue to pay all the costs. So at first, we opened a small grocery store.
What was the plan for the store?
The business plan was set up to do $500 a day, which was an attainable goal, as long as we had a variety of local products in the store. But the customers have turned it into a meat store with 75% of our sales, depending on the day, coming out of the frozen meat case. Another 12% comes from dairy, roughly 10% grocery and about 3% from produce. With so many farmers’ markets here, our community shops for fresh produce elsewhere. So we have scaled back a lot of produce to offer mostly potatoes, onions and garlic. The meat is a real niche, and if we had the volume we could do well. We are not 100% sure yet what direction we will take the store.
Well that is kind of funny! One steer that we processed through the store, I had sold to Leland Long as a feeder calf. But, that is closest we have come so far to selling our meat. We haven’t put any of our meats in the store because of timing. Our steers are almost always ready to slaughter in late November or December. So all of our beef was already directly marketed to our customers. We opened the store because the opportunity presented itself, right at that moment.
What is the most challenging part about what you are doing?
Marketing. All farmers can overcome common problems like a broken fence, a field that needs to be mowed, or a bull that is being difficult. But marketing is the hardest thing, because we have to figure out how to take what we totally enjoy producing, and find that person who wants it. That is one reason I was inspired to create the store. It offered one more outlet to sell products from this farm directly to customers, and we wanted to expand the farm, in part so that I can eventually get out of construction.
What are the best things about the store?
Two things: the ability to bring local, wholesome products to so many people; and hearing directly from them that they really do want this.
What are your plans now, will you keep the store open?
We’d like to specialize in offering local meats and are looking at the idea of turning this into an online specialty meat store. Here’s how it would work: those who are interested in purchasing local meats would place an order at ScottysLocalFarmtoMarket@comcast.net by a certain day, and we would have it ready for pick up at the farm. That way I am not spending hours standing in a store. Theoretically, that would cut down on our overhead quite a bit. We have the customers and the numbers continue to grow. I see new faces of people every day who have been referred by friends.
Yes, I still have my direct marketed beef and pork right off the farm. We have a list of previous customers who have been buying quarters or halves for years. We’ve worked with Del Fox Meats since 2000. He comes to the farm to process here, and then cuts and wraps the meat at his shop in Stanwood to the customers’ specifications. I’ve added one service that has really helped everyone. I pick up the meat for my customers and then deliver it to central points throughout Whidbey Island.
Besides the farm and your family, what are some of your other passions?
I would have to say hunting and riding dirt bikes. Those are the two other things that I enjoy doing the most. I really shouldn’t complain and say I don’t get to do them enough. I do get to ride dirt bikes quite a bit. Hunting, well, you have to wait for the season.
What is the most gratifying part about the farm?
That is a two answer question. It is gratifying to know that I have worked to produce a very safe, sustainable, dependable source of food for my family and for customers who have bought directly from us for years. It is great to know they have a quality product, which I have started and finished. The other thing that is really gratifying is spending a Sunday in a beautiful hayfield with my beautiful wife and a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers, and our cows.