Two Run Farm - New Orleans / by MEAT ME

How often are you in a restaurant and find out that their meat is from a local farm? While I was in New Orleans I found many restaurants that were serving meat from local farmers. One of those farmers is Charlie Munford of Two Run Farm's. He delivers to a lot of restaurants in Louisiana and Mississippi. I had the luck of finding Charlie on Twitter while I was out running around town and couldn't think of a better way to end my trip than by finding out where it all started.

With the cost of raising animals being so expensive I wanted to find out just how hard it was to be a local farmer and deliver your meat fresh to local restaurants. Even if some of these restaurants are 250 miles of you. To actually stop and think about what a piece of meat has to go through before it ends up on a plate kind of blows me away.

I got a chance to come by and meet Charlie and find out what it was like to run a farm and one of the only USDA approved processing plants in the southern midwest. After a nice 2 hour drive from New Orleans I found myself in the middle of nowhere with the hard working Charlie Munford.

MEAT ME: So where are we exactly?

Charlie Munford: This is a…

MEAT ME: Well you can’t tell me exactly, but… Are we at a special, secret location?

Charlie Munford: Laughs) Not really. We are here at the processor that we work with. We have a really close relationship because I do so much custom butchering. We bring animals in from the farm and they do the slaughter once a week on Monday. Then early Tuesday morning we get here and do all the processing. The calves are aged either 9 days or 16 days and are hanging in the cooler already from the previous week. The lambs are processed the day after slaughter. We just cool the carcasses down and go ahead and butcher them up custom to each chef’s specifications. We have a several different orders going out today.

MEAT ME: So what type of animals do you process here?

Charlie Munford: Beef and Lamb. We have worked with our customers on improving the calves and lambs more and more trying to get a good carcass that yields well. We are looking for an animal that is fat but is also pasture fed up until the day they get here. They wake up in the pasture and come straight here.

MEAT ME: So is this classified as a custom exempt butcher shop?

Charlie Munford: Yes this is a slaughter and processing plant.

MEAT ME: So how does that work?  Is there an inspector here? Is it inspected once a week? How does it work?

Charlie Munford: Yes. Pete is always here. If there is not somebody here, they are gone for lunch. They’re here pretty much everyday that this place is running. If we run overtime we have to pay their overtime.

MEAT ME: Really?

Charlie Munford: They are only covered during the day so if they have to stay because we are running overtime, it’s on us.

MEAT ME: In the scale of production in the United States where would you say you guys fall? Medium. Large. Small?

Charlie Munford: We are super, super, super, small. The vast majority of meat - I would say 97% - was slaughtered at a plant that kills over a quarter million calves or lambs a year. I don’t even know.

Most animals come from the commodities stream. They come off farms (like across the road) and they get shipped to a sale barn, then sold to stocker operation where they take calves and put a few more pounds on them, then they are sold into a feedlot.

We intercept that process, we raise our own and buy from local farmers that would otherwise be shipping their calves to a commodities feedlot and we finish them on a pasture. We do feed them a little bit of grain. We try to focus on non-GMO (genetically modified) grain like oats and rice bran. We feed them a little bit of grain so we get a good carcass so the chefs are happy. They are pasture-fed and free-range until they are ready for processing. We feed them by hand right out of a bucket, same with the lambs. We have to work really hard to be consistent and relatively uniform so people know they will get exactly what they expect when they buy from us.

Our custom butchering adds an extra service besides making it a better product. We are customizing the way these animals are being butchered for an individual customer. They get a more sustainable product and a better tasting product. We take extra steps, and of course that costs a little more.

MEAT ME: Now, is this considered certified organic?

Charlie Munford: No, its just as close as we can get it. The USDA created the organic certification so that big agriculture could get involved. It can happen in a place like California where you might have certified organic grain, certified organic hay, certified organic pasture, and organic certification program that is paid for by the state… and so forth. But in a place like this we just don’t have access to organic hay. It’s not certified because it would cost each farmer $10,000 to get that hay certified. Every other piece in that puzzle would have to be certified organic too. Realistically, what we are doing is better and beyond that certification process and our customers recognize that and they are happy with it.

Honestly, even our most progressive customers have moved past “Certified Organic” because they see organic in Wal-Mart and they are like, “Wait a minute…” (laughs) “If Wal-Mart can do it then what’s really going on here?” Obviously Wal-Mart is doing everything on a huge scale and that’s not really what it’s all about. People got into organic to support small local farmers and get a healthier product.

So I don’t give them any antibiotics. I don’t give them any growth hormones. As far as that goes our process is pretty much organic.

MEAT ME: So how has the whole pink slime thing affected you?

Charlie Munford: I haven’t heard anyone say anything about it. I know a lot of our customers that eat at the restaurants have heard about it on the news. They are even more excited about what we do than they would have been already. They are already pretty excited about us. I think that’s pretty cool.

I am really excited about our growth because financially, it is really hard. You have to measure everything very carefully because the big guys do that. Every dollar we spend we have to be really careful. It’s really exciting to know that people would rather buy locally grown sustainable products.

MEAT ME: How much more expensive is your food then say a restaurant that sources commodities?

Charlie Munford: I couldn’t say because we are not really comparing apples to apples. Our beef is dry aged and it shrinks. We are not charging for the extra water that’s in the commodities package.

MEAT ME: How much more expensive is your food then say a restaurant that sources commodities?

Charlie Munford: I couldn’t say because we are not really comparing apples to apples our beef is dry aged and it shrinks. We are not charging for the extra water that’s in the commodities package.

MEAT ME: So you guys aren’t charging the before aging price? You are actually weighing it after you age it?

Charlie Munford: We have to because we are customizing each carcass. Part will go to one restaurant and another section will go to another, so it is overall more expensive. I can tell you that it’s more expensive than commodity prices but on the other hand there are some meats that I think are ridiculously priced and some others are cheaper. I just do it based on cost of production and I don’t cut any corners.

MEAT ME: So where are we?

Charlie Munford: This is the cooler where we do our dry aging. We cool down the carcass and do our dry aging in here. We are actually opening up a specialty dry aging cooler on the other side so we can control our humidity more precisely. The carcasses from here to here (pointing) are off the cows that were killed yesterday. These others are dry aging for another week and will be processed next week.

MEAT ME: Now the fat on these other carcasses looks a little different. Does the dry ageing shrink the fat on them?

Charlie Munford: The fat is a little different from calf to calf. That is part of why we have been able to make a good reputation for ourselves - I hand-pick the calves that we bring in. As you can see, this one here has much more fat than this one. That’s still pretty good. If I raised all of my own calves we would have a lot of variation. That’s why I go to other farms and ask for their top 3% and I’ll pay a little extra. Then I’ll take them and put them in my pasture and they eat nice grass and gain weight pretty quickly. We get them up to a certain weight and handled a certain way. My land manager, Tyrone, picks them out while I am down in New Orleans working with the customers. He’s up there keeping it going. This could not have existed before cell phones.

The lambs get handled the same way but we only cool them down for 24 hours. We don’t worry about aging lamb.

MEAT ME: So what is the deal with the lamb’s head inside the rib cage?

Charlie Munford: With the lamb’s head, sometimes we use the tongue or we use the cheek. The first thing I do is double check to make sure it is a baby lamb by the teeth. The teeth are really narrow at the bottom and then they widen. What I am looking for when I select a lamb is the heaviest baby lamb from hair sheep. That’s a really specific requirement. I like hair sheep because their meat isn’t nearly as musky. It’s a lot sweeter. Baby lambs are tenderer and taste better. We want them to be fairly big and hair sheep by nature are fairly small, half or less than the size of a commodity lamb. People are already paying extra so I want them to be happy.

We have worked with these lambs a lot. I have been working with them for over 6 years and my family has been doing it forever.

MEAT ME: Is this a family business? How long have you guys been around?

Charlie Munford: It is to some extent. Skipping one generation, my grandfather grew up on a farm. Two Run is actually the family name that came from his childhood farm. He ran this place in Vaughan it till he got too old and I started to run it. Out of college I took over and tried everything under the sun. I grew about 45 different varieties of vegetables, flowers, turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, mules and pigs. I kind of settled on what I could do best and try and make a go of it.

MEAT ME: It is a really nice set up.

Charlie Munford: It’s a great match because he does the Hallal slaughter which is just beef, lamb, goats and chicken for human consumption. I don’t do goats or chicken. Combining our specialty niches has allowed us to work very close together. We are a small-scale operation and that allows us to focus on doing it right - down to the smallest detail.

MEAT ME: What is Hallal?

Rasheed (butcher): Hallal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher. When the animal is slaughtered it is cut through the underside of the throat. Both arteries are severed but you can not cut the spinal cord because the heart has to be able to pump all of the blood out of the animal. The brain tells the heart it needs more blood so the heart starts kicking and it pumps all of the blood out of the animal. By the time we get ready to dress it out (skin it and clean it) there is no blood left there are no impurities in it from the shock of being slaughtered.

MEAT ME: So where are we headed now?

Charlie Munford: To Jackson, Mississippi. We have two small deliveries to make. We are going to drop off a rib eye section to an Italian Restaurant called Bravo. They use a lot of steaks and middles. They have a great reputation and Dan Blumenthal is the head chef over there. Table 100 is a fairly new restaurant we are doing a custom ground beef for them. All Two Run Farm. We take pride in going that extra step in bringing them something custom.

MEAT ME: So what is a typical weekly schedule for you guys?

Charlie Munford: We basically do a slaughter every Monday. Tyrone picks out all the animals on Saturday and delivers them on Sunday. We get up here early on Tuesday morning for processing day. We try to get as much done as we can in one day and make Wednesday our delivery day for everybody. Sometimes we have some special deliveries on Thursday. That’s our weekly schedule at the bare minimum.

We are trying to be as convenient as the large commodity businesses but still stay local, sustainable, and totally customized. You kind of have one and 7/8 hand tied behind your back. This business is really challenging and that is why you don’t see a lot of us. We are working really hard; my dream is for this to be really transformational. I think there is a huge gap in most cities between restaurants and small farms that are sustainable because it’s really inconvenient to buy from these small farms compared to the big commodity distributors. There is nothing in the middle. You don’t really have an option. If you run a restaurant, you can’t buy a whole calf. Some do, but it’s rare. 95% of the fine dining restaurants aren’t geared up financially to purchase that way. We are trying to make it convenient for those customers who want to buy local and sustainable.

Even if restaurants wanted to participate, there aren’t enough local farmers to supply them with good quality beef. For beef to even be served to the public it has to be federally inspected. In Louisiana, beef can be state processed but it still has to be good quality. Sourcing great quality beef is a big challenge for a restaurant to undertake; even for a large restaurant group or chain.

My biggest customer is John Besh. When I met John, I told him what I was trying to do, that I had experience doing it and that I was going to be reliable year round, delivering every week. I told him if he made a commitment to me, I would make a commitment to them and try to improve every week. Their response was. “That is awesome! We have been trying to do this for years!” It was just so difficult for them to bridge the gap between farmers and their needs. It requires a lot of specialization, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of legwork. That’s where I come in.

MEAT ME: What is the difference in slaughter styles between Hallal and the regular small farm slaughter?

Charlie Munford: A normal slaughter house they use a bolt gun that shoots them in the head. Hallal is the traditional Islamic way of slaughter. They cut the throat with a sharp knife and it bleeds out. I think its better. I think it is more humane; it was always the traditional method. As soon as they loose their blood pressure they black out and the bleeding out makes it taste better. The heart pumps the blood out which is different then the bold system where the blood kind of stays in there and clots up. It makes a better tasting lamb too.

MEAT ME: What is the difference in slaughter styles between Hallal and the regular small farm slaughter?

Charlie Munford: In a non-Islamic slaughter house they use a bolt gun that shoots them in the head. Halal is the traditional Islamic way of slaughter. They cut the throat with a sharp knife and it bleeds out. I think it’s better. I think it is more humane; it was always the traditional method. As soon as the animals lose their blood pressure they black out and the bleeding out also makes the meat taste better. The heart pumps the blood out which is different than the bolt system where the blood kind of stays in there and clots up. It makes a better tasting lamb too.

MEAT ME: So it is an Islamic style of slaughter?

Charlie Munford: Yes and kosher is done the same way. They have the same rules but there are a few differences. I am not sure if they turn them towards the east. In the Islamic Halal slaughter, the butcher turns the animal towards Mecca, says “God is Great!” 3 times and then slits the throat with a really sharp knife. The only other way the method differs from kosher is that there is no Rabbi present. In Halal, any Muslim is authorized to do the slaughter.  I am not Muslim. I’m not really religious and my customers don’t mind. They just care that the animals are humanely slaughtered and that we take good care of them. I don’t market it as Halal meat. I just say it is pasture raised and locally grown. Those guys take a lot of pride in their method of Halal which I am very happy with. I am glad someone is praying over our meat. It can’t hurt. It’s a good thing and I have reverence for the life of our animals.

MEAT ME: So where did we just stop? And what did they order from you exactly?

Charlie Munford: They are called Table 100.

They ordered a custom ground beef - a secret recipe! We have worked with them over the past couple of months trying to make it the perfect burger. I am very happy that they have placed it as a standing order and I just fill it every week.

MEAT ME: Do you work with most of the places you source to, in terms of getting them exactly what they want?

Charlie Munford: Yes. This is exactly what I do.

MEAT ME: When customers come in to the restaurants, how do they know that the restaurant is sourcing directly from you guys?

Charlie Munford: They tell their wait staff. I have met some of the wait staff and I talk to them about what I do sometimes. They put some information on their menu and talk about it on their web sites. It is an opportunity for them to get credit for buying locally.  People appreciate restaurants that support local farmers especially when they are spending a lot of money for their food. Typically they see a big bump in business when they put us on the menu. If something doesn’t sell well, the restaurant usually comes back to us and we work with them on it. We try to get something that works well, and sells well. That is how we try to keep our customers happy.

Next time I sit down and eat a steak I will really appreciate all of the hard work that goes into making just one piece of steak. I would like to Thank Charlie for having me out to Two Run Farm's and sharing his life with me. I really do appreciate it.

If you are looking to find out more about Two Run Farms you can find them at:
Twitter: @tworunfarm

Photographed and written by Sean Rice, Edited by Aaron Black (Meat Inc.)

He's tasty and he knows it,
aka Sean Rice