It’s not a stretch to say that, for me, biting into my first Montana-grown, locally-butchered pork chop was like a religious experience.
Jennifer Knoetgen knows that feeling better than pretty much anyone. An accountant by trade but a homesteader by choice, she started Mountain Meat Shares as a passion project. It wasn’t long before it became something bigger.
Now, Jennifer serves families in the Missoula area with boxes of local chicken, beef, and pork on a subscription basis. Her customers are well-fed, have a smaller carbon footprint, and know where their meat comes from.
On the Mountain Meat Shares website, Jennifer says that one of her most basic beliefs is that “farm animals, while their ultimate fate might well be your table, should live their lives peacefully, with their needs met, and their days spent outdoors as much as possible.”
What more could you possibly want from your dinner?
Here’s Jennifer herself to tell you more about how she moves the world.
BB: You’re a farmer. Was that an unexpected part of your career path or were you always heading that direction?
JK: I think I would call myself a homesteader since the food we grow here at our place in Arlee, Montana is mostly for our own household and not for commercial purposes. I grew up next to my grandparents’ farm and spent my days taking care of animals and always knowing where my food came from.
I developed a deep satisfaction of caring for animals by learning from the practices of animal husbandry from my grandparents.
[They] were Slovenian immigrants and grew nearly all of the food we ate. By the time I came along, they were retired from dairy farming, but we still had a few pigs each year, raised calves for resale, had our own milk, butter, vegetables and fruit, eggs, chicken, and beef. The farm was tidy, the animals clean and happy. I learned that their daily care came first, and it was hard work, but even as a kid, it felt satisfying. We didn’t waste and butchered all of our own animals. When I think back, I have been slaughtering meat chickens since I was probably eight years old!
BB: What led you to create Mountain Meat Shares?
JK: When friends and visitors to my farm saw how happy and healthy our meat animals were, they just intuitively wanted to have a part of it. I couldn’t commercially produce that kind of volume, and so sourcing the animals from farmers I trust and have a relationship with was a way for me to deliver that food to others.
BB: Mountain Meat Shares is a CSA. What does that mean?
JK: CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. In most cases, it means a customer is making an investment in and taking a risk with the farmer in the upcoming growing season.
There are a variety of ways a CSA can be configured. I would say MMS is like a CSA in that we are sourcing whole animals from the farmers and the customer isn’t choosing specific cuts or varieties as you would buy at a grocery.
BB: Do you think CSAs are the future of food?
JK: Not likely. There is too much demand by the larger population for choice, convenience, and price. But I do think that the changes and awareness that small, local farms bring will influence customer behavior and future demands of the large food systems.
BB: What differences would people notice if they replaced their mass-produced meat with locally-grown products?
JK: Taste! Animals [raised] outdoors as much as possible, on pasture under the sun, absorb the nutrients from our soil, stretch their muscles the way they were designed to, and just taste better.
If you live in the Missoula area, subscribe to Mountain Meat Shares here.
BB: What can we all do to reduce our carbon footprint with our food?
JK: Don’t waste! So much energy, water, transportation, land use and carbon goes into our food, and as households, we throw so much of it away. I’m planning a blog post about this soon because I think I’m hardwired to despise waste and wasting food — at all levels of production, distribution, and consumption– just doesn’t make sense.
BB: What’s it like to turn a passion project into a business?
JK: Fun and exciting. It’s invigorating to take something I’m passionate about — local food — and bring it to the marketplace to actually help families make the farm-to-table connection.
BB: What’s your favorite part of entrepreneurship?
JK: Making all of the decisions myself. Be they good or bad, they’re all mine!
BB: You’re a horsewoman. Is that what you like to do with your free time?
JK: Yes! I have been involved with horses my whole life and they are a challenge but I also have a deeply satisfying relationship with them.
Riding is one of the ways I connect to the wilderness and take in the seasons and the wildlife that surrounds us.
Although I have had many limitations to my involvement with horses over the years, it’s something I just can’t not do.
BB: What inspires you?
JK: People working hard outside of the box.
I have little tolerance for excuses and following the herd, so when I meet people making efforts to better their lives, in whatever way that might be for them, I am inspired.
BB: What makes you feel like a badass?
JK: Bucking the norms and working hard and being resourceful.
BB: What’s your dream trivia category?
JK: Substitute ingredients.
JK: On occasion, if a dessert calls for just a small amount of heavy cream, I’ll use half and half. Certainly walnuts in pesto instead of pine nuts.
BB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JK: Thank you for inviting me!
Contact Jennifer at 406.880.3083 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Micah Larsen is a persuasion scientist and consultant. Her job is to teach people how to use subtle persuasion in their emails, conversations, and campaigns to get others to say “yes.”
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