Carey Davidson sits down with Acabonac Farms founder, Stephen Skrenta
There’s a new farm in town – actually a little east of town – that’s raising grass fed cows and fostering community as well. Since good, healthy sources of food and community building are close to my heart, I sat down for a chat with Acabonac Farms founder, Stephen Skrenta for a chat.
CD: Tell me about Acabonac Farms. What do you do?
SK: We raise healthy, local, grass-fed cows and help local farmers here in the Hamptons at the same time. It’s a win-win for health conscious consumers who also care about supporting local communities.
CD: That’s right up my alley – tell me some more. How does that work?
SK: Local farmers have struggled to figure out how to make money during non-planting and growing seasons. On this type of farmland it’s hard to make a go.
In my research, I learned that farming soil needs regular regeneration and raising cattle on the land is the perfect way to achieve this. By my company renting these farms for grazing land for the cattle, I created a model that farmers can benefit from in terms of regenerating the health of the soil AND I give all the farms an opportunity to invest in the business operation on their property. The farmers receive a rent stream and can also be a partner in the cattle production on their land. We handle all the operations and provide all the cattle.
CD: What’s the most rewarding part of this work for you?
SK: The little things. We just seeded a few hundred acres of pasture. It’s so basic but going back and seeing how the grass is growing is really great – we did a great job!
I also really like our team and am inspired by how the animals are performing. It’s very rewarding to provide healthy animals without chemicals. It is a great alternative.
CD: What inspired you to start Acabonac Farms?
SK: Two years ago I was in Lucerne Switzerland about to address a board of directors about a deal. I was preparing my speech and listening to the news and someone was talking about Chipotle and how they had a problem getting good pork.
I was surprised that the company decided not to sell pork burritos as a result even though it resulted in soft earnings. I fell off my chair! I couldn’t get my head around the fact they wouldn’t sell this item because they couldn’t find the right pork.
So, I researched Chipotle. When I investigated what it meant to grow and source beef, I realized that the answer is in small local farms. That’s the only way it’ll work. So I spent time with local farmers to understand their model. If consumers are open minded enough to skip the Chipotle burrito, there must be something going on.
CD: You talk about fostering community on the East End of Long Island. Can you talk a little more about how you’re doing that?
SK: Good question. I get that a lot, “Fostering a community on the East End? How?” I’ve found that most of us want to reconnect with agriculture. Appreciating what goes in to growing your food is natural.
When people drive by the farms they want to have a conversation, they get excited. They have a lot of questions. We give tours, but I’ve found that it’s very rewarding when you let people in the community move the cattle, come up close and ask questions.
As an organization concerned about community we’re also making sure to hire local retirees and individuals who want a career in agriculture. We’re offering a local food product and preserving green spaces.
CD: What are you doing that’s different from other grass fed beef farms?
SK: One thing you see in our industry is there is a large variability in the quality of the product. In some cases, the beef may not even taste as good. Many of these other companies are involved in only three aspects of raising the animal. Those three aspects of growth are:
1. Cow calf when it is feeding on its mother
2. After the calf has been weaned and it’s growing bone and muscle
3. Finishing phase when the animal is grown and growing fat
What I have learned is that the foraging the animal needs in all the three phases is very different and most companies fail at the finishing stage. They tend to raise the cattle from 500 – 900 pounds upstate with a lower cost structure and less healthy pasture.
Instead, when the cow is ready to be fattened in last stage, we bring them here to graze in different pastures on a diet of high sugar content grasses designed to layer fat, which results in better quality meat.
CD: Where can people purchase your products?
SK: We built a great online retail structure. Customers can go on our website and order their products to be delivered. We built in all the logistics to get a perishable product right to your door.
CD: How’d you come up with the name of your company?
SK: We are based in Amaganset, East Hampton. When I started to do research on the soils out here on end of Long Island, I discovered that it is very fertile land and the Native Americans who used to work the land here knew that. Acabonac means root and we’re farming grass, the root. I believe the name helps people identify with eating local, where their roots are. It’s very fitting.