Ingenuity is the name of the game over at Firsthand Foods – a meat distribution company that aims for whole animal utilization.
Started by Tina Prevatte and Jennifer Curtis back in 2011, Firsthand serves to connect local meat producers to restaurants and specialty retailers. Jennifer has a background in environmental issues related to agriculture, while Tina has experience working in business. Together, they’ve created a model that seeks to impact the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
Firsthand comes from humble, four-wheeled beginnings. It started out as Durham’s fourth food truck and quickly took the community by storm – offering knockout sausage sandwiches like smoky polish with pimento cheese and breakfast sausage with maple butter. Tina and Jennifer used the truck as an opportunity to show locals the value in sustainably sourced meat.
From there, the duo shifted gears, ditched the wheels and scaled up the operation. Today, they provide capacity building services to 60 small farms across the region, allowing them to compete in the marketplace. Tina and Jennifer help producers raise money for grants, obtain organic certification and sell their meat to major buyers. In turn, their farmers are left with more time to devote to the animals. It’s a system that aims to encourage local production and disperse America’s concentrated meat market.
“80% of the meat that’s sold to us is from four different companies. There’s so much consolidation and vertical integration that we’ve lost touch with the small family farmers who should be producing our food,” says Jennifer.
Firsthand also helps farmers sell the less traditional cuts of meat that often go to waste. In forming relationships with innovative restaurateurs across the Triangle, Jennifer and Tina have found welcome homes for beef bones, pig ears, pork shank and the like. All Firsthand products have tracking numbers that circle back to their animals of origin, establishing unique transparency and traceability.
“Often, you’ll have a calf raised to 500 pounds in Florida then it makes its way to Georgia and they add another 200 pounds and then it goes to Pennsylvania and it ends up in a feed lot in Denver,” explains Jennifer. “Doing all that here in North Carolina, it’s a whole new system that we’re developing.”
Ultimately, Jennifer can see the Firsthand model being replicated in markets across the country, but for now she’s happy to keep the brand close to home.
“We really haven’t branched outside the Triangle because we don’t feel we’ve saturated the market here yet. There’s so much appetite for this good meat and that’s exciting for us,” she says.
Next time you’re walking through the co-op, stop by the meat section. It’s proudly adorned with Firsthand’s logo and brimming with some of the freshest cuts around.