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Tennessee farm specializes in locally grown products
 
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

WARTRACE, Tenn. – There’s a sixth-generation, 600-plus acre farm in Wartrace, and the owners want the public to know that Tennessee (not states in the Heartland) is home to some of the best beef in the country.
This family-owned business is called Potts Meats, headed by Chad Grubbs and his wife, Pepper. The couple are bucking the practices of the normal national market. In the usual way of doing things, Bedford County growers who run cow/calf operations would sell their calves to someone who is stocking feedlots in Texas, Nebraska or Kansas. The cattle are then trucked to the feedlots for finishing, then processed and packed and the beef is trucked back to Tennessee’s grocery stores.
“No way,” say the Grubbs. “That’s not the way things should be done. The animals should be raised and processed in the same area.”
Chad and Pepper are involved with rotational grazing utilizing perennial and annuals, all this for the sheep and cattle that roam their land. They feed their cattle a mix of Sudan grasses, millet and milo grain.
“My family’s been farming since forever,” Chad said. “In this area at that time farm kids didn’t have time to be in things like 4-H or FFA. We were too busy on the farm. I worked on the farm until I was 19. The farm wasn’t big enough for multiple generations to make a living, so I got into construction and real estate, even a coffee business for a while. Our family back then was raising specialty crops like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and tomatoes. We were also into agritourism and had farm tours and mazes.”
Longing to work on the family farm once again, Chad approached the rest of the family and talked about starting a meat processing plant with domesticated animals.
“I was told there wasn’t enough business in the area to support a meat plant. But I didn’t trust those ‘experts’ so I did it anyway,” Chad said.
Grubbs took action in the early 1970s and urged his great-grandfather, grandfather and dad to start a meat processing business. In the late 1970s, Chad’s father died so the family leased out the business. The family took back the reins of the business in 1990. Chad and Pepper purchased the company in 2000 and started processing beef (including game) in 2010.
When their son, Heath (now 25), started to show an interest in the family business, they decided it was time to get licensed (called a Grant of Inspection) by the USDA to sell meat to retailers and the public.
“Getting licensed by the USDA was tough, we took it slow,” Chad said.
The process took two years. They were licensed in August 2019. In preparing for licensure, Chad took food safety classes at Penn State University and worked at a USDA licensed plant for a while “to see how it worked.”
As part of their preparation for the change in the business, Chad enlisted the help of Bedford County Extension Agent John Teague and Wartrace veterinarian Robert “Bobbie” West to design the holding areas to smooth the movement of cattle.
They still do some custom processing (customers buy their own cow and have it processed by Potts Meats) but now they have formed a cooperative with a few select local growers. They are processing beef, pork and lamb. They also produce their own cakes, jams, jellies, sauces and seasonings (Chad’s BBQ & Rib Rub and Pepper’s Fajita Seasoning). They sell their meats to several area restaurants and at a few retail locations, including their own retail shop.
Chad and Pepper are focused on building their business to serve their local community. That is, Bedford County. They see their emphasis on local as an economic development program that will benefit the entire county.
“Local beef for local consumers,” is how Chad puts it. “Most of the time when people talk about sustainable farming they’re talking about the land and the animals. They very seldom think about the farmer. If we can’t make it sustainable for the farmer, then this way of life is going to go away.”
In keeping the supply chain local, Chad said, producing foods on Bedford County farms and selling them directly to Bedford County consumers (with fewer middlemen and a lot less transportation costs), will improve the county over time.
As they built their company, Chad and Pepper’s first goal was to develop business relationships with the best livestock growers in their vicinity. 
“My goal has always been to put Tennessee beef in the hands of Tennessee consumers,” Chad said. “States like Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and others send their feeders to states like Nebraska and Kansas and those states get the credit for raising the best beef in the world. Why send our feeders to other states? We can do it right here. Our beef here in this part of Tennessee never travels more than three miles in their lives. We’re able to keep our beef and the money right here in the county. Beef here is born and raised in Tennessee. People don’t have to go to Kroger’s to get what they need.”
As an encouragement to let others know of their business, Chad and Pepper held a Meat & Greet Farm-to-Table event recently to spread the word.
5/14/2024