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A cow poses for a picture.

You may never have heard of Ferry Farms, but if you’ve ever had a burger in the cafe­teria, you’ve eaten their products. The local Litch­field farm, spanning nearly 2,000 acres, sup­plies ground beef and fresh butter to Bon Appetit as part of its local food mission. But Ferry Farms is not just your average beef and dairy sup­plier: the farm is rev­o­lu­tion­izing modern farming while trea­suring its rich history. 

Fourth gen­er­ation owners Scott and Ali Ferry run the farm along with their fourteen employees. Ali is a 2007 Hillsdale graduate and Scott is a Michigan State alumnus. Both are from Hillsdale County and have lived here most of their lives. 

“We’ve always known each other. Our fam­ilies are friends so we ended up recon­necting,” Scott said. “I grew up right here on the farm my whole life.” 

The couple now has three children — the fifth gen­er­ation — who are ages 9, 7, and 4, according to Ali. 

“The oldest just loves animals. Our son in the middle loves farming. He wants to drive all the equipment and be in the fields,” Ali said. “And our youngest child just loves every­thing, she’s a spitfire.”

Sus­tainable farming and envi­ron­mental awareness are top pri­or­ities for the Ferrys. Their farming process is a har­mo­nious cycle: they plant feed for their live­stock, use the cows’ manure as fer­tilizer for future feed, and then repeat the loop. 

The first step, according to Scott, is planting “cover crops” to cover the ground, which reduces nitrate pol­lution, pre­vents phos­phorus from getting into streams, and creates a root system to bring nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface. Like the engine of a vehicle, these crops slowly warm up and prepare the soil for the spring planting months. 

“Every­thing we grow we can feed back to our animals and our live­stock,” Scott said. 

Growing their own feed allows the Ferrys to control the entire supply chain and know exactly what their animals eat, which affects the quality and taste of meat.

In the farm’s ware­house, they store shelf-stable goods, including snack sticks, jerky products, and char­cu­terie products, which are up for sale in local retail loca­tions as well as parts of Chicago and Florida. 

“What’s really nice about these is they’re all clean labels,” Scott said. “So you’re not going to have a lot of addi­tional ingre­dients or added-on things, no preser­v­a­tives or MSG, they’re gluten-free and there are no antibi­otics or hor­mones. It’s clean. And we are raising the animal right from birth so we are in control of the entire supply line. We can keep that quality there.” 

On the beef and dairy side of the oper­ation, the Ferrys own 600 dairy cows, 250 beef cows, and 550 young growing stock. A new calf is born almost everyday. Rows upon rows of cows greet vis­itors to the farm, each with their own space to relax and eat. Like humans, Scott said, cows need a healthy diet, sleep, space to move, and a low-stress atmosphere.

The Ferrys keep their live­stock healthy by mon­i­toring the cows for sickness before symptoms even show. They are the first farm in Michigan to use Smartbow technology’s com­plete system to monitor their cows. Each cow is equipped with an ear tag that mon­itors location, chewing habits, and ovu­lation and sends the data to Scott’s com­puter, often allowing him to address issues before calling the vet. 

These mea­sures help the Ferrys balance cost effec­tiveness while main­taining ethical treatment and envi­ron­mental respon­si­bility. The farm is MAEAP (Michigan Agri­culture Envi­ron­mental Assurance Program) and FARM (Farmers Assuring Respon­sible Man­agement) cer­tified. Both are vol­untary pro­grams that audit farming prac­tices to ensure animal welfare, cropping systems, and farm­stead footprint. 

“We take that very seri­ously. We have zero tol­erance for the mis­man­agement or mis­han­dling of an animal. Zero tol­erance,” Scott said. “Those aspects are very, very important to us and the foun­da­tions we’re trying to set for the next gen­er­ation. We want to be pro­gressive to our industry, our family, children, and com­munity and set the right foun­da­tions looking forward to make sure we’re doing things right.”

All of these factors con­tribute to the fin­ished product: antibiotic-free, tender beef, and fresh dairy without the packaged taste. Along with their retail loca­tions, the Ferrys sell products at a self-serve style store­front, where cus­tomers can pick up online orders or drop off cash using an honor system. 

While the store sells typical cuts of meat, like skirt steak and ribeye, Scott said they like to spice things up by selling novelty cuts typ­i­cally found in other coun­tries, such as picanha. 

“Our friends from Venezuela have really influ­enced us a lot in how we cut meat like South Amer­icans,” Scott said. “It’s been fun to work with the butcher closely, really right next to the knife, so we can say ‘OK, this is the muscle that we’re talking about, this is the one that we want to do, this is how we want it to cut, this is the thickness of the fat cap that we’re really looking for.’ And they get excited. It brings a purpose back into their daily activity.” 

Mul­tiple Hillsdale stu­dents have ven­tured out to tour the farm and buy their products. Senior Trevor Vogel bought ribeyes and a 21-pound standing rib roast that he aged over winter break with his housemates.

“Their farm is very nice. You can drive up and see the baby cows and kids are running around all the time,” Vogel said. “It was really nice for us because when we did the big roast we were able to custom order with Scott, which is some­thing you couldn’t do at a big super­market. He gave us a good price on it so it was a good con­nection to have.” 

Senior Andrew Shaffer visited the farm with several of his fra­ternity brothers, and said he plans to go back for more. 

“The owner was fan­tastic. He was just really friendly, a great sales­person, and out­going. He was really good about con­necting with the stu­dents too,” Shaffer said. “It’s a local com­munity thing, and it’s a really cool business to support because here’s a guy who has all of this great product that he’s selling, and frankly some of it is cheaper and better than what they sell at the store.” 

In addition to the friendly cus­tomer service, Shaffer said he could taste a dif­ference in the quality of the meat. 

“Com­pared to store-bought ground beef, it has a lot less water in it,” Shaffer said. “With store-bought beef in general they’ll inject water or serum in it to make it look bigger than it is. This ground beef tasted more like a steak than just ground beef.” 

The Ferrys value cus­tomer sat­is­faction and the ability to change with the times, espe­cially in a pandemic. 

“It’s no-contact, very COVID-friendly,” Ali said. “It got really crazy last year about this time, when people were scared to go to grocery stores and there was all of this talk about meat shortages and the packers and butchers were all backed up. And we’re no contact, so it was busy.”

Scott said in a time of uncer­tainty, Ferry Farms pro­vides a space for cus­tomers to feel safe when picking up food. 

“We were already set up so people could be in the open air, grab their gro­ceries, and leave,” Scott said. “We have lots of people that made their very first trip out into the world and they came here to get some food. We heard from so many folks that this was their first time out and they thanked us for having a space they could come to and feel com­fortable. That really gave us a lot of purpose and drive and feeling that we were doing the right thing.”