In a part of southern Mason County better known for fruit orchards and wind turbines, Brad Brown raises a small herd of beef cattle and tends 600 acres of cropland. Two-thirds of that ground is certified organic and devoted to raising the fodder that fattens up the deacon calves Brown buys from nearby dairy farms.
At the far end of that process is Brown Cattle Company, the on-farm retail beef store where his individual cuts, quarters and halves are growing an audience of happy carnivores. He launched that part of the business in January 2020, two short months before the pandemic plunged the routine act of grocery shopping into a vat of gooey anxiety.
“COVID actually did us a favor,” Brown said, recalling how customers almost immediately started seeking out smaller-scale, local food sources.
…liiiike the one he’d just launched.
And that wasn’t the first time he’d stretched way out onto an entrepreneurial limb. Prior to cattle it was pigs — a deep investment in contract-finishing swine.
“I sold the pig barns to focus on organic production. I wanted to be a hippie retailer — it pays better!” said the young cattleman known for hitting the ‘snark’ key now and then. “My dad was always telling me, ‘Profit’s not a four-letter word.’”
Prior to that was college and buying into the farm he’d grown up on and took over when he was still in high school.
“I kinda started from scratch,” he recalls. “I grew up on a family farm but I had to buy everything back and when I did it was, um, ‘non-operational.’”
All the farmer-level hard work somehow didn’t pinch his appreciation for and involvement in Farm Bureau.
“Soon as I graduated from MSU in 2003 Chuck Schade grabs me and says, ‘Why don’t you sign up for Farm Bureau?’ So I did.”
Brown then walked through his own organizational pedigree, but in a recollective tone that’s part satisfaction and part did-I-really-do-all-this humility.
“I was on the state Young Farmer committee from 2006 to 2009, graduated from ProFILE, went to Argentina in 2018 with the Ag Leadership Exchange…”
It wasn’t until after all that that Brown recalled he’d also been county president before. Since that earlier stint in the mid-2000s, though, there’s been a shift with the Mason County Farm Bureau — a shift toward ambitious leaders actively cultivating a more engaged membership.
“We’ve got more younger people on the board,” he said, and their ideas and programs will remain a priority under the resurgent Brown administration.
“The fish fry is a big thing — I’m kinda taking over the reins on that,” he said about the annual late-winter membership gathering that’s quickly become a marquee Mason County event. “We get some really good fellowship on the Farm Bureau side of that, and hopefully sign up a few new members out of it.
“We’re also gonna get back to Farm-to-Fork again,” he added, lauding the successful community-engagement and ag-awareness program launched by his predecessor, former president Seth Earl.
New on the roster of local activities is an upcoming syrup-tapping day, an idea hatched by energetic Young Farmer chair Meg Cooper, the agriscience and FFA instructor at nearby West Shore Community College.
“Mostly I want to keep our participation numbers good,” Brown said. “Over the last several years we’ve had a really good board and member participation in our events and activities.
“We have to keep things moving that way.”