Farm first in state to be certified naturally grown
It's a family affair at Schenker Family Farms near McCune, Kan., and one that has not gone unnoticed.
Kevin and Cherie Thomas-Schenker are fifth generation farmers who raise beef, pork and lamb and market it direct to the consumer, delivering and shipping coast to coast. In addition, the Schenkers offer a variety of all-natural preserves, pickles, relishes and raw clover honey.
The farm just became the first in Kansas to be awarded the Certified Naturally Grown designation for livestock.
"Many local farmers understand the importance of a good quality, all-natural product. I feel very fortunate that we are the first farm in Kansas to earn this designation," Kevin Schenker, owner said.
The CNG Standards and growing requirements are no less strict than the USDA National Organic Program rules. The primary difference between Certified Naturally Grown and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic program is cost to farmers.
The CNG Standards prohibit the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides on the farm and within a 20 feet buffer zone surrounding it. Although the antibiotics are prohibited in animals processed for consumption under the CNG label, vaccines are required to maintain the good health of the animals.
The standards emphasize a more sustainable form of agriculture which is much safer for the environment and for humans.
The cost of the new USDA program--both in terms of money and paperwork requirements--is too much for many small farmers to afford. This is even more true for farmers that grow a wide range of crops all at once. The paperwork takes more time for multi-crop farmers than large agribusiness mono-crop farms.
Certified Naturally Grown was created as a grassroots alternative to the USDA Organic program. It was created by small farmers, for small farmers, and is being run by the same group of farmers that created, nurtured and grew the Organic label to such phenomenal public recognition and acceptance over many decades.
"Our family has followed the organic guidelines for our livestock for years. This designation just reinforces the importance of what we do and how we operate," said Cherie Schenker, co-owner.
Schenker Family Farms just released a new catalog to promote its Certified Naturally Grown products across the U.S.
"People have always valued farm fresh, all-natural products and the immense flavor those products have to offer. We have the good fortune of being a part of that rapidly growing market," Schenker said.
It has not been an easy process for the Schenkers. It took years of working two jobs for them to save up enough money to begin renovations on the family farm to begin the process, not to mention obtain the appropriate state and federal licensing. Although the farm is their first love, the Schenkers still have regular jobs off the farm, at least for now. Cherie has been an instructor at Penn Valley Community College since 1999 and Kevin is an officer in the Kansas Army National Guard. In addition, the two stay busy with their four children and are very active in their church and community.
"The organic and certified natural market is a rapidly growing market, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart. It seems like there is always another expense related to expansion and meeting customer needs," said C. Schenker. "We are continually improving our facilities to help meet our customers' demands and the needs related to livestock production and handling," K. Schenker said.
In addition to shipping products coast to coast, Schenker Family Farms also offers home and office delivery in most metropolitan areas in Kansas and Missouri.
"We have learned the hard way that two people cannot do everything by themselves--there simply are not enough hours in the day," Schenker said. "Our farm hands and our family are life savers. Our business would not be where it is without them."
Schenker Farms hires area youth in the Spring and Summer to assist with various types of farm work. Last year, they hired two people. This year, they hope to hire three or four.
With their business growing, they plan to bring in additional family members and friends to help keep up with the demand for beef, pork and lamb. "Eventually, we will reach a point that we are limited by the acres we own in raising animals. Some of our family members are willing to step up to the plate and follow our farming practices and high animal husbandry standards to help supply our customers' demand," said C. Schenker.