Where would you expect to find a Jungian psychotherapist and the economist son of a WWII German rocket scientist raising organic beef? If you guess that it can’t be far from Shepherdstown, you’re right.
Chris and Evie Lotze produce natural Black Angus beef on Roxley Farms on Old Leetown Pike near the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The farm had been owned by the Coyle family since the days of Lord Fairfax. In 2001, the Lotzes purchased 30 acres of the historic property with its 1780s farmhouse, keeping the farm’s traditional name.
The Lotzes came from Washington, D.C. to escape the city and change their lives. They had lived on a farm for a while in the 70s. “But,” said Evie, “to say we knew about farming was a stretch!” They took classes with Extension Agent Craig Yohn, and Evie noted that learning new skills keeps their brains active. “We wanted to keep our bodies vigorous and our minds alert,” said Chris, “to not only nourish our bodies but nourish our souls.”
The Lotzes had a vacation home on the Potomac near Hedgesville and fell in love with the Panhandle. They spent weekends here, and Evie says, “It was harder and harder to go back to the city.” They decided to retire and build a new life here. They met Henry Shepherd through a mutual friend and he assisted them in their search for a home. Coincidentally, Shepherd was related to the Coyle family. Unfortunate occurrences in the Coyle family led to their sale of the family farm.
For a time Chris continued to commute to the city, but a bizarre accident finalized his decision to retire. Evie had finished a book she had written on life-changing experiences, and it had just gone to the publisher. They were putting in fence posts with a tractor and auger. Unknown to them, an old fence was buried in the ground, and Chris was standing right on it. The auger hit the fence wire, which came up and wrapped around Chris’ body. “We thank God and the emergency response team,” said Evie. “The doctors said accidents like that had happened before, but nobody else had ever survived one. Every day is a gift,” said Chris.
Chris was born in Germany and came to the United States as a child when his father went to work at White Sands, New Mexico. Chris grew up to become an economist for the U.S. government, working for a time in Saudi Arabia. Evie, originally from New Mexico, is a Jungian psychotherapist specializing in psychodrama.
Tractor with kids
Goat cheese was on the Lotzes’ minds when they decided to get into farming. They had spent some time in France, where they became fans of goat cheese, and they believed it had a great potential in the U.S. market. “We took a long vacation to Newfoundland and visited goat cheese places,” said Evie. On that trip, they visited a large goat operation and decided it was not for them. They learned that goats have to be milked twice daily and that making the cheese is exacting, requiring precise timing and temperature.
Since the Lotzes wanted to consider themselves at least semi-retired, they were not anxious to get into something that would tie them to the farm. “If we want to go somewhere, our son can take care of this operation,” said Evie, explaining that their son lives on the adjoining 45 acres and that the cattle use their combined acreage.
Chris commented that their beef business was first made possible by Wes Ware, an auctioneer with the Winchester Cattle Exchange. Ware’s family had once lived in the farmhouse now occupied by the Lotzes’ son, and he used to run cattle there. “He has been a wonderful resource,” said Chris. “He came by one day and said he wanted to help us because he wanted to see the property kept as a farm.” Chris explained that Ware was in a position to notify them when naturally-raised cattle were available at auction.
The Lotzes raise grass-fed, corn finished, Black Angus beef without growth hormones or antibiotics in pastures that are not treated with pesticides. They want to educate consumers to the benefits of eating grass-fed beef and eventually move to purely grass-fed and finished beef.
Chris emphasized that grass-fed cattle are high in omega-3 fatty acids the “good” fatty acids. “Omega-3 fatty acids are why people eat fish,” he said, “and I want them to know they can get them from grass-fed beef.” He explained that grass-feeding takes longer than conventional methods because cattle grow more slowly. The Lotzes’ cattle are only finished on corn for 6-8 weeks and take more than 30 months to finish.
Evie noted that they’ve learned that there is now a New Zealand breed genetically bred for finishing on grass. They hope to be able to interbreed them with their own herd in the future.
Before they began marketing their beef, they had to decide on their target market. They started with a “focus group” of friends and friends-of-friends in D.C. They decided that they didn’t want to present an expensive, gourmet product but rather affordable, healthy meat with prices comparable to those of stores like Whole Foods.
The Lotzes began with 10 head of cattle–five for them and five for their son. Now they have 46, including one bull. In their first year of sales, they felt that selling six or seven could be considered a success. They sold 16 in that first year.
Their beef is processed by a Mennonite butcher in Maugansville. It comes back to the Lotzes cut, frozen, wrapped, and weighed, so all they have to do is price the cuts.
The Lotzes do most of their business directly marketing to consumers through a farmers’ market in Purcellville, Virginia. They sell ground beef to local health food stores, including Maggie’s, and Healthways, and take pre-orders in winter by phone and e-mail. Evie has improved sales by conducting cooking demonstrations at market. “I created a monster,” she laughed. “On weeks I don’t do a demonstration, people are disappointed. They say, ‘No samples today?'”
Chris recalled what happened when he sold a large quantity of steaks to a restaurant. He had to offer a price break because of the volume. Then, when they went to the farmers’ market, they had no steaks for their regular customers and had to send them away disappointed. From that experience, they decided not to sell in volume because they make less money for the same amount of meat. To make up the difference, they would have to increase their herd, which they do not want to do. They can keep things manageable by continuing to sell their steaks at the farmers’ market. “We don’t want to be driven by our own business,” Chris said.
Evie explained that they calculated how many cow-calf pairs their land can support to market size without resorting to use of chemicals. They have eight pastures through which they rotate their cattle. “They eat grass and fertilize the ground,” said Evie.
The Lotzes see farmers’ markets as growing in importance. Chris joined the Loudoun Cattlemen’s Association, where he is on their Direct Marketing Committee. With his background as an economist, he can see the economic benefits of direct marketing to farmers. They may put out a booklet to help farmers.
The Lotzes hope to build a shop on the farm some time in the future.