Staring down the length of the wooden tables, golden light gleaming from stringed-bulbs overhead, I delight in the warmth of the barn. A fire is crackling and genuine smiles are shared across the room, along with laughter—so much laughter. A somewhat atypical family, the faces around the table are Belcampo Meat Co.’s Oakland-based team that has gathered for a weekend meeting of the minds. Family dinner is what they call it, as the main course is brought out and we pass our plates down the line where Anya fills them with generous portions of mouth-watering beef stew alongside mezzi paccheri pasta. Since her youth she has loved feeding people and tonight is no exception.
Slow-Food activist Anya Fernald is co-founder and CEO of Belcampo Meat Co., a vertically integrated artisanal meat company that boasts being the only establishment in the U.S. operating on such a large scale with a commitment to humane, ethical raising of animals and organic, sustainable agriculture. The farm consists of 18,000 sprawling acres in Northern California with its own processing facility, and several butcher shop and restaurant locations dispersed throughout California. Gazing out the window at Mt. Shasta, the very mountain that she scaled just a few months ago, Fernald expresses that she is always looking for a new challenge and this process of setting a new precedent for agribusiness nationwide has been just that. Intrigued by her pioneering spirit, I ask what drives her and she responds, “There’s a chance to make a really big mark in an area I’m deeply passionate about: food that tastes better, is healthier, and is socially and environmentally responsible. I know a lot of attempts have been made in this space but… I want it to actually be about whole food and getting people to enjoy the sensual aspect of cutting meat and cooking it for their families, and spending two hours over dinner on a Thursday.”
Belcampo has been well-received in California, and Fernald’s dream doesn’t stop there. She hopes to acquire land on the East Coast as early as this year and replicate the same model. While doing all she can—with a brilliant team—to show the world that sustainable agriculture is possible and profitable, she recognizes that conventional agriculture cannot change overnight.
“My dream is not that people would go out and do vertically integrated meat operations… well at least not right away,” she chuckles aloud, “but that more investments in sustainable agriculture are more strategic in terms of much bigger plays and longer-term investments. You look at the rural infrastructure now and it’s mediocre. If you want a super premium product that’s going to command the type of prices that make this kind of farming affordable, you have to really rebuild that structure.”