Wallace Farms Gets Back to Basics with Grass-fed Beef
June 20, 2013 | Jenny Smiechowski
As a young man, Wallace Farms CEO Nick Wallace faced a health crisis that would radically alter the future of the Wallace family. “Wallace Farms started out of our parent’s garage in 2001 and it started because a year and a half earlier I had cancer— I was 19. Everyone was starting to ask questions as to how that could happen.”
What the Wallace family uncovered in their search for answers was unsettling information about our modern food system and the negative impact it was having on human health. “My dad heard [Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation] talk and he came home and said ‘I think I know why you had cancer’ and we realized that the foundation of our food production had changed drastically in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Needless to say, the Wallace family made some major lifestyle changes and decided to start a business that would help other families make similar changes. Today, the Wallace family runs three separate operations, all based around sustainably-raised meat. They have the farm in Keystone, Iowa, a meat business with a warehouse in Naperville, Illinois (and distribution centers in various locations throughout Iowa and Illinois), and Nick’s Sticks jerky business.
At the farm, the Wallace family has chosen to narrow their focus and specialize in raising cattle and laying hens for eggs. They raise their cattle in a grass-based system because grass is what cows are actually meant to eat, making it the most sustainable option. Wallace said that their ultimate goal is to create a system that is completely self-sustaining and can function without any inputs. “I would say within ten years we will have it to where we might not need to buy an organic input,” said Wallace.
Wallace says that they aim to accomplish this goal through crop rotations, which mimic a natural system and create nitrogen naturally without supplementation. “So we’ll go five or six years to pasture or hay and then we’ll till that up and plant corn and then we’ll follow that with a cover crop, and then that cover crop gets filled in and then we plant another crop after that and then we go back to grass,” said Wallace.
Wallace compares this rotation approach to the natural system created years ago by the herds of buffalo stampeding through the prairie. “They would hit these vast prairies and pound every living grass into the dirt, and that would turn into a mud pile and they were pooping and peeing all along the way,” said Wallace, “and then the birds would come in and they’d pick through and scratch it out evenly and the grass would flourish with that.”
Based upon his own life experience and enthusiasm for grass-based systems, it is apparent that Nick Wallace firmly believes in the power of grass-fed beef. According to Wallace, grass-fed beef has many obvious benefits for both the farmer and the consumer. For the farmer, the benefit is blindingly clear; cows, which are ruminants, are much healthier when they are fed what they are meant to be eating—grass. Healthy cows mean less work for the farmer and diminish the need for antibiotics.
For the consumer, grass-fed beef is a nutritional powerhouse. According to Wallace, grass-fed beef has a very even omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (around 2:1 or 1:1), whereas corn-fed beef has a ratio that ranges between 10:1 and 20:1. It is this unbalanced omega ratio, says Wallace, that causes inflammation in the body and contributes to chronic diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders. Grass-fed beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which studies have linked to improved metabolism and a reduced risk of cancer.
Wallace certainly demonstrates a passion for the mission of Wallace farms— returning back to the agricultural basics and providing people with natural, healthy meat. The commitment of Nick Wallace and the entire Wallace family has resulted in great success for Wallace Farms, although they have experienced their share of challenges as well.
On the farm side, the Wallace family has faced the challenges that affect any traditionally-implemented farm— a large initial investment in infrastructure-related costs like fencing, waterlines, and farm equipment and high farm property prices because of the farm subsidy bias toward corn. As a result of these costs, it has taken the farm some time to become profitable. “The farm is just starting to make a little bit of money here after 5 or 6 years,” said Wallace.
The meat company and Nick’s Sticks, on the other hand, have been very profitable components of the Wallace family business. “We’re lucky enough that the meat business is what us the breadwinner and it’s what pays everybody’s salaries and keeps everybody going,” said Wallace. Although the meat business struggled initially to build a client base it grew quickly and eventually began to outgrow its infrastructure. “I needed more help. We needed bigger coolers and freezers. I needed bigger delivery trucks. We were growing so fast we were almost outgrowing ourselves,” said Wallace.
Wallace has since expanded the Wallace Farms infrastructure to keep up with the overwhelming demand for natural, sustainably-raised meats. This increased demand demonstrates that like the Wallace family, many other people are turning away from factory-farmed meats for a healthier, more sustainable alternative. Fortunately, Wallace Farms is ready and waiting to change the way people eat their meat.
As far as future goals for the farm, Nick Wallace has a few, but one goal seems particularly important and timely. “I want to change as many farmers over to this type of farming as possible so we can get agriculture back to where it should be from where it is now— that’s the goal.”