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Farm to consumer made easierFarm to consumer made easier

Partner shops work to create great buying and dining experiences.

Kevin Schulz

November 7, 2023

5 Min Read
Jess and Tony Heiden with their children Kail, Jora, Emma and Archer
FAMILY STORY: Jess and Tony Heiden are proud to be raising their children Kail (left), Jora, Emma and Archer on their farm near Rushford, Minn. The young Heidens represent the eighth generation on the Heiden Century Farms. Courtesy of Heiden family

Selling quality meat products isn’t new to Jess and Tony Heiden, as Heiden Century Farms has been supplying family and friends with Black Angus beef quarters and halves for decades.

Starting in about 2015, the Heidens have refined their meat sales by selling individual cuts at farmers markets, as well as continuing to sell to family and friends. With the new sales outreach came Hart Country Meats, paying homage to Hart Township in Winona County, the location of Heiden Century Farms in southeastern Minnesota.

“The retail side has been growing since then [2015],” Jess says.

COVID timing a coincidence

Then 2020 came, and with COVID seemingly shutting down a lot of the world, Jess says she “really dived into Hart Country Meats as a focus of selling meat.” She doesn’t see COVID as a reason for the growth of Hart Country Meats. “It was just a coincidental timing, … We’ve been selling the quarters and halves, and then start selling by the pound. Hart Country gave us another channel of selling our meat.”

From attending farmers markets and meeting word-of-mouth sales demand, Hart Country Meats added an online presence to make it easier for customers to find the Heidens’ meat products. That also made it tough for the Heidens to meet the demand as well as maintain their family and their farming operation.

The Heidens, along with Tony’s folks, Kerry and Faye Heiden, grow corn and forages for their Black Angus cow-calf herd. Emma, Jess and Tony’s oldest daughter, also raises a few Red Angus. An occasional group of feeder pigs is also raised outdoors for the family’s use. In addition to Emma, who is a freshman at South Dakota State University, the Heidens keep busy with son Kail, a high school junior; son Archer, an eighth grader; and daughter Jora, a third grader, all in the Rushford-Peterson School District. They represent the eighth generation of Heidens on the farm.

As with any farm family, the Heidens often feel short on time running the farm and keeping up with family activities, but they didn’t want to let any part of the operation go, especially as Hart Country Meats gains strength.

“Being a small farm, there are only so many hours in a day,” Tony says, “and Jess does a great job running Hart Country Meats — but she’s still only one person to do all of this.”

They found help from another southern Minnesota family with rich agricultural ties to help sell Hart Country product to an even broader audience.


Enter The Meatery, an e-commerce site started by the Drager families from the Minnesota Lake and St. Clair areas in south-central Minnesota.

Mackenzie Drager says the families “always talked about starting something together, but when the pandemic hit, a lot of people were saying ‘There’s a meat shortage.’ While being producers ourselves, we knew that that was really far from the truth. There was just a supply-chain issue.”

Seeing that producers couldn’t get their market animals to slaughter at the proper times, “that’s kind of where The Meatery started … how can we cut out the middleman?” Drager says. “How can we get really good meats from here in the Midwest directly to the consumer, so that they wouldn’t have to wait for it in grocery stores and you can actually know where it’s coming from?”

In addition to Hart Country Meats, consumers visiting The Meatery website get to meet a collection of beef, pork and chicken producers and meat markets throughout Minnesota. Some of these entities, such as Hart Country Meats, have their own websites, while others do not — but the offerings from each can be found through The Meatery’s website.

“They [The Meatery] bring a level of expertise and quality to help us as a small farm, get our product out,” Tony Heiden says.

It's all in the details

The Meatery team provides each of the partner shops with the materials they need to ship meat products properly and safely across the country. Each partner shop ships its product directly to the consumer, often including a note of thanks and appreciation — as well as possibly a recipe with the ordered product.

“We’re trying to help small meat shops and producers be able to expand their offerings beyond their reach,” says Bill Drager, Mackenzie’s uncle. “But then on the online portion, where we’ve made a significant effort to try to foster a community of ‘Meathusiasts,’” connecting good food with good people.

In addition to providing the shipping materials, The Meatery team, consisting of the families of brothers Bruce and Bill Drager, carefully selects its partners. Jess Heiden credits Bruce and Bill’s wives — Jodie and Colette, respectively — as being integral to the success of The Meatery and Hart Country Meats.

“We’re really setting them [The Meatery partners] up for success,” Mackenzie says. “We taste-test everything and ensure a number of standards are met. Packaging is a big one. Producer products must travel well nationwide. We really pay attention to these details, because we want the customers to have a great experience.”

Back on the farm, the Heidens have worked to improve their beef product, starting from the ground up.

“I think the help from the Heftys [Seed Co.] has translated into the quality of our meat,” Tony Heiden says, “all the way from what we do with our soil, through our feed, to the flavor of the cattle. It’s amazing how that has come full circle.”

With the upcoming holidays, The Meatery and the partner shops anticipate offering special packages. Visit themeaterymn.com for more information.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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