CHARTER OAK, Iowa — Aaron and Deb Gress were not necessarily looking for extra work when they got back from a trip to Texas less than a year ago.
“When we got back, we ran out of our home-raised beef so we used some ground beef from the store to make hamburgers,” Aaron says. “One of our sons refused to eat, saying it didn’t look right. So we thought to ourselves, maybe we could selling better beef. That’s how we got started.”
Since starting Vintage Beef earlier this year, the family has sold meat throughout the Midwest and as far south as Texas. Customers can buy halves or quarters or may purchase steaks, roasts, burgers and other items.
All of this has happened while Aaron and Deb continue to run a commercial cow/calf herd with his father and brother and grow corn, beans, alfalfa and rye on their Crawford County farm near Charter Oak.
They also are partners in a wean-to-finish operation and have three sons, Dawson, Peyton and Teagen.
In addition to helping on the farm, Deb is an online fitness coach and part-time athletic trainer at a local high school.
When they came up with the business idea, they shared it on social media, and it did not take long to get around 50 comments from people who wanted farm-raised beef priced slightly above retail beef.
“Our cattle had sold already, so we had to find the right quality of cattle to get going,” Aaron says. “We started with 10 head, fed them out and processed them in the summer.
“We thought there was a niche there to sell cuts of beef, rather than just a half or quarter, and that’s what we did.”
The old Charter Oak train depot sits just north of their home — a previous owner used it as a place to display antiques. Aaron and Deb cleaned up the depot, and converted half of it into a place to store four large freezers.
“It really worked perfectly for what we wanted to do,” Deb says.
They created a Facebook page to promote the beef, and recently added a website, www.gressfarms.com.
Aaron says they make sure potential customers know how the cattle are raised.
“They are part of a very low-stress environment and are hormone-free,” he says. “We only use antibiotics if they are sick, and if there is a withdrawal period for the antibiotic usage, we double that before cattle are processed.”
Most of the cattle on the farm carry Angus and Limousin genetics. Aaron says six of the family’s cattle have been tagged for the beef business, and he will likely purchase calves elsewhere to round out expected needs.
Cattle are primarily fed corn and distillers, and weight between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds when finished. The animals are processed at Tiefenthaler Quality Meats in Holstein.
Available steaks include rib-eyes, T-bones, sirloin, skirt and flank. Sirloin tip and chuck roasts are in stock, as is ground beef, hamburger patties and barbecued beef.
“The ribeyes are really popular, and we sell a lot of roasts,” Deb says. “We try to offer a variety.”
All meat is shipped directly from the farm.
“We can go from this side of the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains and Texas and still offer two-day shipping, which makes it affordable for us and our customers,” Deb says. Shipping costs are usually $1 to $1.20 per pound.
They recently shipped enough cuts to represent a half-beef to Michigan.
“Most of our customers are within around 40 miles,” Aaron says.
The couple sees the potential to grow in the next few years.
“We’re looking at probably 10 to 12 steers for this coming year, and we’ll be looking to round out what we have on the farm,” Aaron says. “We don’t want to out-grow demand, but we think we’re off to a pretty good start.”