At A Glance
Diana & Gary Endicott
Summary of Operation
• 75 head in
• Tomatoes, grain and hay on
400-acre certified organic Rainbow Farms
• Coordinator of Good-Natured
Family Farms, a group of “natural” meat
and vegetable producers
beef and getting a premium. After moving
to Kansas to run their own ranch, Diana and Gary Endicott
sought a way to produce beef in a way that would reflect
their principles and provide them with a premium price.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
(SARE) program © 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 20 to 22
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Diana Endicott led her meat co-op’s effort to learn
the public’s preferred cuts, partly by in-store
When the Endicotts decided to return
to the rural beauty of their childhood home in southeast Kansas,
they bought a 400-acre farm and began raising beef cattle, vegetables,
grain and hay.
They always had big ideas. They wanted to sell their organic beef
from the farm directly to customers and sought a way to connect
the dots — from rural slaughtering plant to small processor
to local supermarket, marketing their product outside the bounds
of the mainstream food system. In today’s perilous agricultural
markets, realizing this kind of vision takes initiative, energy
and a lot of courage. The Endicotts have an abundance of all three.
What later became a 20-plus-member meat cooperative started small.
In the mid-1990s, the Endicotts had scaled back from salad vegetables
to focus exclusively on tomatoes and wanted to sell them at an upscale
grocery. Diana Endicott took her tomatoes to Hen House Markets,
which has 15 stores throughout Kansas City, and passed out samples
to produce managers.
“We went into that store and not only tried to sell our product,
but we tried to sell ourselves,” she says.
Focal Point of Operation — Marketing
Both Diana and Gary squeeze out about 40 hours a week to work on
the farm, where they are helped by Gary’s parents. They have
integrated their tomato and beef operations, composting manure and
hay from the cattle feedlot for use on tomato plots. The rest of
the time they spend growing their small business, Good-Natured Family
After Hen House began buying tomatoes from the Endicotts, the couple
offered meat managers their hormone- and antibiotic-free corn-fed
beef. Hen House, coincidentally looking for a branded beef product,
began buying their meat. When demand exceeded supply, the Endicotts
searched for other producers who could provide tomatoes and beef
raised using such “natural” methods.
Today, Diana runs the “Good-Natured” cooperative, a
group of family farmers and ranchers in Kansas and Missouri, and
supplies the supermarket chain with both meat and tomatoes.
In 1997, the Endicotts and nine area farmers began marketing their
products under an “all-natural,” USDA-approved claims
label to distinguish themselves from other ranchers who use growth
hormones and add synthetics to feed. Producing and marketing beef
in a cooperative allowed the ranchers to get paid for the added
value of beef produced without such supplements — while sharing
risk, knowledge and profits. Since then, the co-op has added 10
members, opened a web site and cooperates with producers who supplement
the beef line with poultry products.
“The meat market is very competitive,” Diana says. “We’re
all competing for shelf space in the supermarket, and we don’t
have the volume to compete with the large producers. We’re
trying to develop the local markets, and the best way to do this
is to have many producers band together.”
To qualify for membership, ranchers must raise cattle without growth
hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics on a “small family
farm” where family income is primarily generated from the
operation and the family members are actively involved in labor.
Primarily third- and fourth-generation farmers, co-op members hail
from central and southeast Kansas and west central Missouri. They
operate diversified farms using certified organic, transitional
or sustainable practices. All of the cattle are grazed on grassland
on small farms in Kansas and Missouri, then fed a corn ration during
their last four months of production — 20 to 30 days longer
than conventional beef. Endicott thinks grazing and a high quality
corn diet develops marbling for exceptional flavor and tenderness.
Co-op members are careful to ensure that their labeling claims are
true. Each producer follows strict USDA-approved quality control
procedures and sign forms that spell out their production and “no-chemical”
claims. The meat from each animal is labeled at processing and tracked
so that each package can be traced back to the farm — and
animal — of origin.
Diana researched pricing by examining branded beef program pricing
grids, then developed her own pricing spreadsheet.
The middle meats are easiest to sell, while the “end meats”
posed a marketing challenge. With a SARE grant and assistance from
Kansas State University, the co-op gave five meat managers nearly
$1,500 worth of meat products to prepare and judge for 15 consecutive
weeks. Information from the survey not only provided producers with
valuable production and marketing information, but it also helped
cement positive, reciprocal relationships with meat managers.
With support from the meat managers, the co-op now has lead-off
counter space in 15 Hen House stores throughout Kansas City to showcase
their complete line of all-natural meats. Reaching this point has
meant negotiating seemingly endless hurdles, but Diana has taken
on the details systematically — and even cheerfully. To organize
a formal cooperative, Diana did research, networked and attended
meetings to learn articles and bylaws, business plans, feasibility
studies, tax registration and trademarks.
As if the challenge of organizing a producer co-op wasn’t
enough, the co-op had to find a slaughtering plant and processor
to accommodate the ranchers’ desire to follow each cut from
field to grocery. They purchased a Kansas state-inspected meat processing
plant and initiated the processes to change the plant to a federal
inspected facility so they could sell their meat across state lines
— Missouri’s in particular. That meant complying with
a long list of federal rules.
Diana worked with inspectors and other officials at federal and
state levels to comply with the strict labeling and food safety
laws. She wrote her own labels and brought the plants into line
with federal regulations in just one month.
“It was an enormous undertaking,” she says, “but
I worked one-on-one with a federal inspector and had a lot of hands-on
knowledge going into it.”
Eugene Edelman, co-op president, visits the member ranches and does
the slotting and cattle deliveries for the group.
Economics and Profitability
The co-op slaughters 10 head of cattle per week for Hen House, with
plans to increase production. Diana said they are netting, on average,
about $45 per head more than if they sold their cattle on the open
market, but stresses that it has taken two and half years to get
to that point.
“When people put together an organization, they often have
a misconception that it will become profitable immediately,”
she says. “You have to be dedicated to a longer-term effort
and, like most businesses, expect five years before you get the
One of the main benefits of the co-op is that members avoid the
enormous variability in meat market prices, Diana says. This stability
can provide them with a steady income and peace of mind. “Some
of our members find increased profitability to be an advantage,
but most are looking at a system that’s more sustainable,”
she says. “We’re developing a network of producers who
can learn from one another and gain more control over their markets.”
Taking animals independently from slaughter to store has inefficiencies
costing nearly double what it would cost to slaughter conventionally.
But Diana sees this as incentive to reap even higher profits as
they increase efficiency. For her exhaustive efforts, Diana sometimes
takes a small cut from a markup she adds to sales; more often, that
4 to 5 percent markup goes toward the cost of putting on a promotion.
The Endicotts produce tomatoes — both outside and in the
greenhouse — for six months a year. At their busiest time,
in July, they sell several thousand pounds of tomatoes to Hen House
stores each week, receiving about $2 a pound.
Grain fed to Good Natured Beef does not have to be organically grown;
however, most producers in the co-op try to be as natural as possible
in their production. All of the ranchers work on family farms and
raise their animals on the open range. They all finish their animals
themselves rather than in large commercial feedlots, most with feed
they raise themselves, with the rest of the group buying grain with
the least amount of inputs.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
To qualify for membership, ranchers must raise cattle on a “small
family farm” where family income is primarily generated from
the operation and the family members are actively involved in labor.
Working with small, local processors and meat lockers boosts rural
As with any alternative marketing strategy, selling at supermarkets
requires constant consumer contact and education. Endicott hires
restaurant chefs to prepare samples so Hen House shoppers can taste
Good Natured Beef and then buy it with coupons. Producers from the
co-op often attend tastings to meet with customers, learning what
they want in their meat while offering information about their family
“A cooperative is like a family. You put together a diverse
group of people, and you have to respect each other’s knowledge
and opinions,” Endicott says. “Each of us tries to do
what we think we can do best. Getting people together who have different
skills and attributes really helps the business.”
Unlike producers protective of their markets, Diana believes there
is room for more direct marketing, and that saving family farms
means educating other farmers about profitable alternatives. She
suggests producers seek help from private and governmental agencies,
organizations, institutions and businesses. Diana says her first
grant from SARE gave the project credibility and created more interest
from other funding organizations.
Building relationships with processors and retailers also is key
to success, Diana says. Although the road likely will be rough,
persistence and some sacrifice will pay off.
“Do the leg work yourself and hire out as little as possible,”
she says. “This will allow you to understand the necessary
procedures from the farm through the market.”
Diana’s long-term challenge remains to develop a franchise
that markets her idea of a sustainable food system linking local
producers to local supermarkets. She likes to think of her fledgling
Good-Natured Family Farms group as a model that they can package
as a success story prompting others to follow suit.