There’s been a meat processing business at the Potts family farm in Wartrace for nearly half a century.
There’s been a meat processing business at the Potts family farm in Wartrace for nearly half a century. The company is currently owned and operated by Chad Grubbs and his wife, Pepper.
Their son, 22-year-old Heath, is also an integral part of the family operation. “Heath started cutting meat with me when he was 15,” Chad said.
Potts Meats currently employs 11, including the family members. Chad is the fourth generation of the Potts family to run the meat business.
“My family’s been farming since forever,” he said in a recent interview.
Chad’s great-grandfather moved across Bedford County in the early 1950s, from his place on Pickle Road in Pleasant Grove. Three generations of the family (Chad’s great-grandfather, grandfather and dad) jointly opened a meat processing business in the early 1970s.
After the sudden death of Chad’s father in the late ‘70s, the family leased out the business but the family took back the reins in 1990.
For the next 20 years, the family processed game. Chad and his wife purchased the company in 2000 and started processing beef again in 2010. Until 2017, Chad and his wife continued with game processing and custom beef processing. (Custom processing is when people purchase a live cow and pay the processor to slaughter and butcher the meat.)
When Chad and Pepper’s son, Heath, started to show an interest in the family business, they decided it was time to get licensed (called a Grant of Inspection) by the USDA to sell meat to retailers and the public.
Getting licensed by the USDA “… was tough. We took it slow,” Chad said.
The process took two years. They were licensed in August 2019. In preparing for licensure, Chad took Food Safety classes at Penn State and worked at a USDA licensed plant for a while “to see how it worked.”
As part of their preparation for the change in the business, Chad enlisted the help of Bedford County Extension Agent John Teague and Wartrace veterinarian Robert “Bobbie” West to design the holding areas to smooth the movement of cattle.
They still do some custom processing (customers buy their own cow and have it processed by Potts Meats) but now they have formed a cooperative with a few select local growers. They are processing beef, pork and lamb. They also produce their own cakes, jams, jellies, sauces and seasonings (Chad’s BBQ & Rib Rub and Pepper’s Fajita Seasoning.) They sell their meats to several area restaurants and at a few retail locations, including their own retail shop at 320 Potts Road in Wartrace where you can buy a few steaks or some ground beef.
The Potts’ Meats shop is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon (sometimes longer on Saturdays). The phone number is (931) 389-9450.
Local business model
Chad and Pepper are focused on building their business to serve their local community: Bedford County. They see their emphasis on local as an economic development program that will benefit the whole county.
“Local beef for local consumers,” is how Chad puts it. A buzzword today in agriculture is “sustainable farming.”
It is normally used in discussions about farming practices that are environmentally friendly.
One aspect of it that doesn’t get as much attention is practices that will allow farmers to continue to make a living.
“Most of the time when people talk about sustainable farming they’re talking about the land and the animals,” Chad said. “They very seldom think about the farmer. If we can’t make it sustainable for the farmer, then this way of life is going to go away.”
In keeping the supply chain local, Chad said, producing foods on Bedford County farms and selling them directly to Bedford County consumers, with fewer middlemen and a lot less transportation costs, the county will over time be improved.
“What will happen,” he said, “is you’ll come into Bedford County and look around and see that the farm country looks a lot nicer” and the locally owned businesses “will also look a lot better.”
“Our goal,” Chad said, “is to purchase more beef from local growers so they can expand and grow their companies.”
Chad wants Bedford County to become a beef exporter. “Instead of our money going away we’ll draw in money,” he said.
Quality, the local flavors
As they built their company, Chad and Pepper’s first goal was to develop business relationships with the best livestock growers around.
“We looked for people who were bringing in consistently good meats. Those are the people we approached about supplying us,” said Chad.
One of Potts’ Meats primary suppliers of beef is Garrison Valley Farms (co-owned by Whit Lee of Bell Buckle and the Curl family of Wartrace.
The Lees have continuously farmed the same land since 1879. The Curl Family has raised crops and cattle in the Garrison Valley since 1896.) Another of Pott’s largest suppliers is Meadow View Farm, a 4th generation cattle operation in Wartrace owned by the DaCosta family.
Other growers that supply Potts Meats also have long and successful track records in middle Tennessee: •Blue Wells Farms of Lebanon has raised pork for more than 100 years.
Other growers supplying Potts Meats are:
Competing with government
Potts Meats is bucking the practices of the normal national market. In the usual way of doing things, Bedford County growers who run cow/calf operations sell their calves to someone who is stocking feedlots in Texas, Nebraska or Kansas.
The cattle are trucked to the feedlots for finishing, then processed and packed and the beef is trucked back to Tennessee’s grocery stores.
“The economic and environmental impact is huge,” Chad said. “Also, in the normal supply chain,” Chad explained, “the beef is packaged three or four times. When it goes through us it gets packaged once. We tell people the longest trip these cattle are going to take is when you take it home.”
Yet even after all those thousands of miles in trucks, and after the wholesalers and packers and retailers all make money, how can the prices be so low in the chain grocery stores?
“They sell hamburger meat for $2.30 a pound,” Chad said. “Beef standing in the field is almost worth that much. How can that happen?”
That happens, Chad said, because in the normal market, the big packers benefit from grants and other subsidies funded with tax dollars. Those tax dollar funded programs are approved, Chad said, by politicians who are heavily invested in beef.
“If we want agriculture to continue here in Bedford County it’s going to take the support of the 50,000 people who live here,” Chad said.
“If people here want to be able to go to the farms and have a farm experience, drive through the countryside and see farmland, the key to it all is in the hands of the consumer.”