Iverstine Family Farms has done a lot with a little.
Starting on 65 acres in Kentwood, La., the farm was a project created by Galen Iverstine and his father to start an environmentally-conscious agriculture business that would contribute to the local economy. Since 2010, it has doubled in size and been a mainstay of the Red Stick Farmers Market, selling its grass-fed beef, pastured pork and poultry every Saturday.
But when Iverstine Farms Butcher opens later this month at 4765 Perkins Road, consumers will be able to purchase the farm’s locally-sourced, sustainably-raised meats six days a week.
The butcher’s shop is just an extension of a philosophy with deep roots.
Iverstine first became interested in sustainable farming techniques while researching a class project as a political science senior at LSU. As he researched the wasteful and destructive impacts of large-scale industrial farms, he became convinced of the value and financial viability of small, locally focused, sustainably produced livestock.
He interned at a small farm in New Boston, New Hampshire, where he learned the technical side of the trade, but said inspiration for his school of farming derives from Joel Salatin, an agricultural maverick who runs Polyface Farm in Virginia.
Salatin pioneered many of the techniques used at Iverstine Family Farms and has been a leader of a movement of farms focused on efficiency, animal welfare and environmental responsibility. Iverstine still goes to visit Polyface a few times a year, he said.
Like Salatin, Iverstine doesn’t believe in having his meats certified organic by government regulators.
“I’m not going to pay for a label,” Iverstine said. “I believe when you slap an ‘organic’ or other label on there, that shuts down the conversation. But I’m an open book. If someone wants to see our process for themselves, they’re welcome to come down to the farm anytime.”
Talking to Iverstine, Salatin’s philosophical influence also shows up in the form of some of his trademark phrases. Iverstine says allowing pigs to roam freely in the farm’s forests “lets the pig be a pig,” while Salatin talks about “fully honoring the pigness of the pig.”
But Iverstine has had to adapt the methods he learned in New Hampshire and Virginia to Louisiana’s unique climate and soil makeup. Caring for the soil, he said, is an especially important, often overlooked factor in sustainable farming.
“Our primary goal [in cattle grazing] is always to build a healthy topsoil,” Iverstine said.
Cattle grazing is carefully controlled, with cows never grazing the same land more than once a year. This prevents pasture land from being over-grazed, and allows for the even distribution of fertilizer in the form of manure.
Cow herds are followed by chickens, who pick through the manure, eating fly larvae and parasites that would otherwise disturb the cattle. This cuts down on the dewormers, fly sprays and other undesirable pesticides, Iverstine said.
“It’s all about harnessing and leveraging what animals do naturally,” Iverstine said. “We’re constantly cycling nutrients this way.”
This kind of elegant solution—using the animals to solve their own problems while eliminating waste and—is common both at the farm and the butcher shop. It’s one of the reasons Iverstine and butcher Jordan Ramirez haven’t had any trouble fitting a retail space, cooler, cutting room and smokehouse into a cozy 1600 square feet.
They won’t just be selling butchered meat, either. In addition to the beef, pork and poultry the farm already produces, Iverstine will add lamb to the lineup this fall and the butcher shop will put out deli-sliced meats, sausage, beef jerky, ham and bacon, as well as sandwiches and other takeout lunch options.
“To produce all these things, you don’t need much stuff. We’ll be cooking stuff besides just bacon in the smokehouse, and we’re always looking at what else we can do,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said one of his jobs has been figuring out how to use cuts of meat and animal parts that are often overlooked in favor of what he calls “grocery store cuts — your pork chops and ribeyes.” In keeping with the Iverstine Farm philosophy of efficiency, the butcher shop adheres to a nose-to-tail mantra and tries to use every part of the animal.
That means making some unconventional products for a butcher shop. Ramirez plans on processing extra pieces like organs and chicken feet into dog treats, while fat could be rendered into candles or cooking lard, he said.
While Iverstine said he expects some customers to be put off at first by hearing about animal parts that are usually left on the cutting room floor, he hopes that that squeamishness will dissipate over time.
“A lot of what’ll happen in our shop is education,” Iverstine said.
He said the shop is working with graphic designers to find ways to communicate with customers about their farming and butchering practices.
For now, a tall window allows customers to peek from the retail space into the cutting room, where the carcasses will be broken down. For Iverstine Farms Butcher, it’s a typically efficient solution.
Photo by Emily Brauner.