Farm to You, LLC – Washington
Katie Geisert has a degree in fine art and has done graphics, design, sculpture and quilting.
Her father is John Pils, whose iconic posters and sketches of St. Louis landmarks have sold in the thousands and who once owned five retail stores, providing early employment and experience for Katie.
She’s also majority owner of Farm to You, LLC, about an hour west of the St. Louis Arch in Washington, Missouri, an enterprise that combines a cafe, pig farm and fresh, locally sourced meat and produce sold in Farm to You’s market. Her husband Todd is a fifth-generation pig farmer happy to be out with their pigs who roam and play, destined to be, well, succulent pork. Todd is comfortable in front of a camera or microphone. Katie is more the back office brains.
“He’s the face of the operation,” Katie jokes. “I do all the work.”
Sort of. Todd is up early tending to the pigs and the crops he feeds those pigs, also sold in the market, about half a mile down the road from the hog farm. This includes the 40-seat Barn Yard Café, a commercial kitchen and a distribution center. Then, when the day’s done, he tells stories about his free-roaming pigs and naturally grown crops on social media. He may be old school when it comes to farming, but Todd’s modern marketing approach has been key to the business’ success. He does it the way it’s always been done, which translates quite well on social media.
Geiserts have been farming this land near the Missouri River since 1887, and hogs have been part of the family operation since 1916. As some farmers moved to mammoth facilities to provide pork for the insatiable worldwide market, the Geiserts continued using methods passed down through the family. Because of practices already in place, only a little tweaking was needed to qualify for the “natural” label. Katie entered the picture in the 1970s, and with an extensive business background including running a 69-unit retirement living facility, she effectively became manager.
The Geiserts have more than enough experience.
But they are also smart enough to know what they don’t know.
With advice and consultation from Pablo Arroyo, business and international development specialist, BDP Franklin County Extension, and BDP partner Missouri Enterprise, they applied for and obtained a USDA grant. This grant listed Katie, not Todd, as majority owner. USDA tends to look more favorably on women-owned businesses in this traditionally male-dominated field. The couple have also taken Extension programs over the years. Arroyo further helped assemble a business plan, key to obtaining loans.
Then, in a recent nomination, Arroyo wrote about the Geiserts’ achievements, evolution and innovations and how they confronted the challenges of a family business in the international agri-business world. As a result, Geisert Farms was named eastern Missouri Rural Based Small Business of the Year.
Arroyo’s energy, focus and attention to detail has definitely boosted the business, says Katie.
“He looks over the paperwork, sees things I don’t see,” she says. “He also gave us direction on where we should focus our energy — on the distribution and grocery side.” That means becoming a trusted natural food hub just outside the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Arroyo also provided customized geographical customer analysis, she says, which concluded that little money was spent in the immediate, largely rural area for premium products like theirs. So marketing in the immediate area was moot, and they turned to more metropolitan areas. But only in Missouri, not the nation — not yet.
“We believe our success will be working with partner stores” in the state, she says, catering to consumers willing to drive a little farther for natural, clearly labeled, more local products they just can’t find in their local supermarket.
“Agriculture has to be transparent,” she says. “Our store is a neighborhood store with five generations (behind it); it has a following. It all comes down to people wanting to trust you, knowing a name, knowing there’s truth and a reputation behind what is sold.
“The big box stores have deceived them (consumers) for so many years,” she adds. “They won’t care until they know you care,” which the Geiserts emphatically do, as evidenced by the images, stories and videos of happy pigs on their website and on social media. “If you share that story, let people know it’s done the natural way, and also see it’s more expensive done that way, raised on acres of corn not square feet and bagged feed, they’ll come back.”
Farm to You Market, with deli and café, is located at 5025 Old Highway 100, Washington, open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Phone is 1-84-GOTBACON (844-682-2266).
For where to buy Geisert premium pork and other products, go to toadspigs.com and click on Where to Buy! For restaurants that serve Geisert products, go to Where to Eat!
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