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.”