Many people associate farming with an older generation, and they’re not wrong: the average age of an American famer is 57. But Sonoma County has many opportunities for younger people to become involved in agriculture and launch their own brand.
Jamie Mickelson, 26, has been involved in the agriculture industry her whole life. From her first opportunity to raise and show beef cattle in 4-H when she was 9 to working for the family business, Kunde Family Winery, as a marketing assistant right out of college, her involvement in the agriculture industry is extensive.
Recently, Mickelson has ventured into the world of entrepreneurship and created her own branded product.
Her brand, Sonoma Mountain Beef Company, just reached the shelves of Sonoma Market and Glen Ellen Village Market in October and is also for sale at Kunde Family Winery. Currently her products include ground beef, smoked summer sausage and all beef hot dogs, but she hopes to expand into nine cuts of meat in the near future.
Her branded beef emphasizes that it is a local product from start to finish. The cattle are born and raised, finished and processed in Sonoma County. While she recognizes there are other branded beef products out there, she feels her brand is unique and offers products consumers want.
“I am a firm believer in buying, selling and supporting local,” said Mickelson. “It is extremely important for our community to know where their food comes from.”
Mickelson has been involved in the beef industry her entire life, helping out with her family’s business, Sonoma Mountain Herefords. Sonoma Mountain Herefords raises seedstock Hereford cattle for their genetics, and Mickelson has decided to take this further by using high quality genetics to make a premium end product.
Sonoma Mountain Beef Company utilizes Hereford genetics, although not all the cattle are purebred. To meet her program requirements, the cattle must have a white face, an indicator they have Hereford genes in their background. Mickelson sources all the calves locally from producers she had existing relationships with, knowing that she will be able to produce a high-caliber product this way.
“I know these cattle produce a superior product, and I want to pair that quality with giving the consumer the knowledge to know where their food is coming from,” said Mickelson.
After purchasing her cattle, Mickelson puts the cattle on pasture until they reach her desired target weight. She then finishes the cattle on a 90 day program feeding a mix of grain, oat hay and grass hay. She said this ensures the end products will offer a combination of healthy protein, full flavor and juicy tenderness. The cattle are raised naturally with no growth hormones or antibiotics.
Mickelson’s interest in branded beef stemmed from her time working for the Cal Poly cattle herd and feedlot operation while she was obtaining her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Agricultural Business. During her time at Cal Poly, she completed her thesis in meat marketing which gave her the confidence and push she needed to start her own business.
“I thought, how great would it be if I could cultivate both aspects of cattle production with my own herd and develop my own business,” said Mickelson.
One of Mickelson’s biggest challenges is time. Her program now has over 50 head of cattle in it and she is continuing to develop her marketing plan, but she still holds her position with Kunde Family Winery. Additionally, she manages the family’s show cattle which she works with year-round. She is balancing responsibilities with both companies and learning as she goes along. Mickelson said both her parents have been instrumental giving her advice and having someone to bounce her ideas off.
For her future, Mickelson hopes to develop a consumer based club. The idea, similar to a wine club, would allow her to distribute her products to a wider audience and specifically reach people interested in locally sourced products. Mickelson also wants to develop more accounts with local restaurateurs and catering companies.
Mickelson is far from the only young entrepreneur to launch an agriculture brand in Sonoma County. Many other industries provide opportunities for younger generation to develop their own brand including the county’s number one industry, wine. Ned Hill and Matt Stornetta recently launched Sonoma Collection, producing three different wines under their District 3 brand. Mark Flowers will be bottling his first 2014 vintage under the Mark Edwards brand in the near future.
Sonoma County is full of unique and artisan products that stem from a community which supports local agriculture and products. From beef to wine, Sonoma County’s diverse landscape provides many opportunities for new agricultural products.
For more information visit www.sonomamountainbeef.com.