Subscribe

After one year, Marin Sun Farms thriving in Petaluma

Lead butcher Rafa Lopez cuts New York steaks at Marin Sun Farms in Petaluma on Monday, June 8, 2015.(SCOTT MANCHESTER/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

ERIC GNECKOW, ARGUS-COURIER STAFF

Marin Sun Farms is charting a path for the future in the second year of operation at its Petaluma slaughterhouse, positioned to serve what founder and CEO David Evans said is an increasing consumer diet for premium meat from specific areas or producers.

Granted an organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in March, the Bay Area’s only slaughterhouse for beef and hogs provides a key link between ranchers and consumers in a region that has helped champion the modern concept of pasture-raised livestock, Evans said.

As the company settles in to its second year at the facility, the CEO spoke of the opportunity of consumer-facing brands that give a sense of transparency and history to those who would prefer to purchase meat from local suppliers. Opportunities range from brands representing individual farms to a broader concept incorporating multiple organic ranchers along the North Coast. Whether under private labels provided for customers or an in-house effort by Marin Sun Farms, those brands are set to play an increasingly important role at supermarkets and beyond in the years to come, he said.

“We’re facilitating diverse options in the marketplace” he said. “We’re moving away from a completely homogeneous food system where we’re buying food that’s not branded. Consumers are demanding that, because they want information about what they’re putting into their body.”

Marin Sun Farms employs 50 individuals at its Petaluma slaughterhouse on North Petaluma Boulevard. The facility slaughters cattle, hogs, sheep and goats, while also providing butchering services for whole carcasses and distribution to buyers in the Bay Area and Southern California. The organic certification allows Marin Sun Farms to process organic livestock for sale as organic meat.

The company also has a butcher shop in Oakland and a combination butcher shop and restaurant in Marin County’s Point Reyes Station.

Evans describes the operation as the latest business model in four generations of family ranching, which each generation has steered in the context of changing times.

“I wanted to find a way to bring value back to our family ranch and to create sustainability in the long term,” said Evans, who also raises livestock around Point Reyes in Marin County.

The facility plays a key role in supporting the bottom line of North Coast ranchers, a region notable for its cluster of smaller operators, said Tim Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“If they don’t have an outlet, they’d be hauling these cattle three-to-four hours away,” he said. “They don’t really have the resources to do that.”

He described the recently granted organic certification as a “huge boost” for the region’s ranchers, allowing those operators to seize on a growing market with the simplified logistics of slaughtering their animals locally.

“There’s a lot going on for smaller producers. They need to find a way to make money,” he said.

As the organic certification of meat hinges not only on the slaughterhouse but also on the animals, Evans said his facility also stood to serve the organic-certified dairy ranchers already in place throughout the region.

“Our doors are open for livestock owners who want to diversify into meat,” he said.

He also emphasized the significance of being able to communicate to consumers that the meat they are buying — from the pasture grass to the slaughter and butchering of the animal — was the product of a regional system.

“That is the exciting thing for me. It connects people to the natural landscape,” Evans said.

Leveraging that connection has helped several prominent Petaluma agricultural companies to stand out amid larger competition. Petaluma Poultry, which helped pioneer the modern concept of free-range and organic chicken with its Rocky and Rosie brands, launched new branding in October 2014 that further emphasizes its local roots.

“Especially with Gen-X and Gen-Y, they want to know where their food is coming from and how those animals are being treated,” said Mike Leventini, general manager.

Evans said he was excited to be operating in Petaluma, and traced his family’s history in the city back more than 150 years. He described it as a natural center for agricultural entrepreneurship, where feed mills tower over a robust downtown.

“Petaluma as a city has really hung on to its agricultural roots,” he said.

It is also a place where consumers have shown an appetite for premium meat from regional producers, said Travis Miller, meat and seafood manager for Petaluma Market.

“People like the heritage side of it,” he said. “It’s selling a lot better than I expected it would.”

(Contact Eric Gneckow at eric.gneckow@arguscourier.com.)