“We decided to do it ourselves,” Mary Heffernan said at the 2019 Montana Farm Bureau Convention in Billings, Montana on November 13. This phrase sums up Heffernan’s speech and the entire concept of her family’s operation, Five Marys Farms.
After opening several successful small businesses in the San Francisco Bay area, Mary and Brian Heffernan, along with their four daughters (all named Mary after grandmothers and aunts from both sides of their family), chose to relocate to the Sharps Gulch Ranch in northern California to start Five Marys Farms. The family lives and breathes farming and ranching, and, according to Heffernan, likes doing things the hard way.
“We quickly realized we’d have to jump in full time to do it right and sell our other businesses, leaving our old life and everything we’ve worked so hard to build behind us,” Heffernan said.
Between a herd of Navajo Churro sheep, Angus cattle and Berkshire hogs, the Heffernans knew they needed to think outside of the box to create a successful operation. So, they got creative.
Five Marys Farms is not your typical livestock operation. Between harvesting their own animals; serving Five Marys meat and single-barrel aged Five Marys Whiskey at the Five Marys Burgerhouse; inviting guests to stay at the Five Marys Guesthouse via AirBnB and Camp Five Marys (a weekend retreat catered to showing consumers the Five Marys way of life); shipping Five Marys meat overnight to customers; and the Five Marys Farm Store equipped with products raised on the ranch, the Heffernans have their hands full.
“How?” you ask. “How do the Heffernans do it all and do it successfully?” The key to Five Marys success is all in the marketing.
“I try to educate our audience on what goes into raising beef, cattle, hogs and sheep and I’m lucky to get such positive, encouraging feedback,” Heffernan said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time people comment, wow, I never knew how much work it is to raise cattle. I’m thankful for ranchers every time I take a bite of steak now.”
With an Instagram following of 116,000 loyal fans, Heffernan tells the story of agriculture daily.
“It’s a scary time for an age-old profession and lifestyle,” Heffernan said. “But what’s changing is the desire for the consumer to know exactly where their food comes from, to know and have a relationship with their rancher or their farmer.”
By showcasing the day to day operation of Five Marys Farms, the Heffernans are able to paint agriculture in a positive light, making their product all the more desirable.
“My husband, Bryan, says everyone likes to have a ‘guy.’ People love to have a personal connection to their meat guy or gal, just like their flower lady or the milk man,” Heffernan said. “They don’t necessarily want to know everything. We know everything as farmers and ranchers because it’s our profession. It’s not their profession and most don’t have time to learn all the details and nuances of raising animals. Consumers want to know that they can know — that there’s transparency and honesty and trust.”
Heffernan said consumers trust ranchers and farmers to make solid vaccination decisions, the right call on feed quality and that animals are harvested humanly. All of which can be shown through social media.
“We can find that connection with people all over the country and really all over the world,” Heffernan said. “I can choose what content and how much I want to share to tell our story, to show thoughtfully to the average consumer just what goes into raising beef, cattle and other animals day in and day out, and to educate them along the way. If they buy my product, that’s an added bonus.”
Heffernan said her audience wants three things: entertainment, education and inspiration. Which is exactly what can be found on the Five Marys Farms website or Instagram page. She said it’s extra work, but there’s a huge opportunity right now to build a relationship with customers and find the market in direct to consumer sales.
“Times are changing and we’re all in this together,” Heffernan said. “We aren’t changing ag: we’re growing and finding opportunity in unexpected and new places. By raising animals conventionally, but marketing a little unconventionally, there is a way to find more profitability without leaving the ranch.”
Heffernan encouraged attendees of the 2019 Montana Farm Bureau Convention to share their agricultural story in hopes to create transparency within the market, an idea which has proved to be successful for Five Marys Farms. However, Heffernan’s speech can be boiled down to one simple statement which is boldly written on the Five Marys Farms website, “We believe that food should tell a story, and are thrilled to share ours with you.”BACK