a healthy market
Pisciotta raises beef and poultry for customers who know their
food and their farmer
|Russ Pisciotta bags an
order for a couple shopping at The City Market in Kansas City.
Russ sells pasture-raised chicken, farm fresh eggs, honey and all-natural
beef. All of his products are raised without the use of hormones
or antibiotics. Russ sells direct to consumers at the open-air
morning at The City Market in Kansas City and health-conscious shoppers
pack the aisles. Among row after row of produce vendors, flower sellers
and other producers hawking their goods, a line forms in front of a
There, Russ Pisciotta
greets familiar customers and educates first-time shoppers about his
products and methods. Every few minutes Russ disappears behind clear
plastic slats hanging in the door of his trailer and re-emerges with
an armful of frozen meat. Russ swipes the customer’s VISA
in a cordless credit card machine linked to his bank via satellite
and another sale is made.
The fancy credit
card machine is about the only high technology involved in Pisciotta
Farms food. Russ sells beef and chicken, eggs and honey that he raises
using organic methods on a small farm near Kidder, 60 miles north of
Kansas City. No hormones, antibiotics or any other chemicals are used.
And there are no impersonal online sales for Russ, either. He sells
his products almost exclusively at Kansas’s
City’s downtown farmers’ market, where he can meet customers
face-to-face and explain the benefits of all-natural farming.
carries a spool of electric fence line through his pasture on
his small farm near Kidder, Mo. Russ
raises beef, chicken, eggs and honey employing organic farming
methods that do not include the use of growth hormones or antibiotics.
I’m trying to do is produce the best product I can, and then
market directly to my customers,” Russ says. “That way it gives
the customers a chance to talk to the people who raise the food and know
where it comes from and how it’s raised.”
and laying hens are raised on pasture in enclosures that he moves every
day. His cattle, too, are fed on lush pastures, rich in legumes and other
protein-packed forage; their diets supplemented with grain. The honey
he sells is not pasteurized so the enzymes believed to combat allergies
Only the prohibitive
cost of certified organic feeds keeps Russ from producing a true organic
product. But by using organic methods, Russ hopes to tap into a segment
of the food-buying public that is hungry for wholesome, natural foods
produced close to home.
“I hear from a lot of customers. I know
there’s a growing demand
for this,” Russ says. “They’re
looking to buy their product from a local farmer. They’re looking
for a better product.”
It’s hard to
say what consumers crave more: wholesome food or a connection to the
farm that was lost generations ago, experts say.
of the products are great, but it’s the personal touch
they also like,” says Sarah Gehring, with the Missouri
Department of Agriculture’s
AgriMissouri program. “A lot of consumers like to hear
the stories and see the pictures of the farms and really get
to know that person and develop a relationship with them.”
Macher, who for 24 years has chronicled the success of value-added
farming in his monthly publication Small
Farm Today, says the desire
for natural foods and a longing for a connection to the farm are inseparable.
scatters gravel to aid his laying hens’ digestion in an enclosure
he moves around his pasture. Both laying hens and meat chickens
are raised on pasture, where they can eat grass and bugs, which
add protein to their diet. Russ calls his mobile hen house the “Coop
deVille: The Cadillac of chicken coops.” Russ also raises
turkey, including a heritage variety.
the consumer buys organic, he’s not just buying organic food.
He’s buying into the whole concept,” Macher says. “He
believes in local production. He believes in knowing the
farmer who’s producing
But Macher says that
selling homegrown food to health-conscious consumers requires more
than just a booth at the local farmers’ market.
just do it the way Grandpa did it,” Macher says. “You
have to bone up on marketing and salesmanship. You have
to have a business plan. You have to have a mission statement.”
didn’t have a business plan, but he does have a mission and
a simple one, clearly stated on his marketing materials: “To
grow healthy, natural foods using agricultural methods
beneficial to the land for sale to local consumers
and eateries at affordable prices.”
updates prices on a hand-written sign he uses when selling meat
and poultry at The City Market in Kansas City.
the enthusiastic comments of regulars who wait their
turn to buy his products, Russ is achieving his mission
and satisfying consumers’ hunger
for homegrown, healthy food.
“He has the
best eggs, beef, chicken and honey,” says Betty
Jo Simon of Overland Park, Kan., who stocks her
freezer each time she sees Russ at The City Market. “And
he’s a nice guy.”
Russ, 43, grew up
in the food industry. For three generations,
his family operated the Pisciotta Fruit and Vegetable
Company, a wholesale food supplier in Kansas
City. When it came time to go to college, Russ left the
food business and studied resource conservation
and wildlife biology at the University of Montana.
After trapping bears for six years he came home
and joined the family business.
When his father
sold the business Russ sold real estate for a few years and bought
a small farm in Caldwell County and, eventually, began to
pursue a lifelong dream of farming.
Initially, Russ assumed
he would produce organic vegetables but instead began raising cattle.
He also took up beekeeping, fulfilling another lifelong fascination.
From the beginning, Russ adopted sustainable farming methods, which
protected his land from harm.
|Wearing a protective
head covering, Russ checks his bee hives. Raw honey is one of Pisciotta
Farms’ biggest sellers as unpasturized local honey contains
enzymes believed to help combat allergies.
Today, Russ grazes
about two dozen steers on a 50-acre pasture. A single strand of electric
fence line corrals the herd into a 1- to 2-acre paddock. The cattle
are moved nearly every day to prevent overgrazing. Once moved, the
return to the spot for at least 30 days.
gives the legumes a chance to recover,
rest and regrow,” Russ
says. “It helps get everything
grazed evenly. It helps disperse the
manure evenly and helps take care of
When Russ began raising
chickens he created a mobile shelter
from an old hay wagon chassis. A wheeled
chicken coop provides a place for his
hens to lay eggs. Both shelters are moved every
day to provide fresh forage for the birds and
to prevent excessive accumulation of droppings.
Although Russ puts
out feed for the chickens, their diet also includes fresh grasses and
legumes, along with insects, another source of protein. The more natural
diet makes for a healthier chicken, Russ says.
just like us,” the Farmers’ Electric Cooperative
member says. “When we eat
more green vegetables, we’re
healthier. It’s the same
with those birds.”
moves a portable shelter, which houses chickens raised for meat
sales. Russ moves the shelter each day.
a couple hundred chickens at
a time, not the tens of thousands
most commercial poultry houses contain.
Unlike those chickens, Russ’ birds are
free to move around their compound.
That, too, produces a healthier and tastier bird, he says.
“Doing it this
way is the only way to make a good tasting, healthy bird,” Russ
insists. “They get to
move around so their muscles
actually have a firm consistency.
They have more flavor. They
have a more robust taste than
used to in the store.”
Russ says his cattle produce
a healthier, better-tasting
beef. Russ finishes his steers
on pasture instead of sending them
to a feedlot. His cattle live a
few weeks longer and the beef is
aged a few days more than most meat, two
factors that lead to tastier beef, he says.
are not lost on customers, who increasingly look for foods raised using
very concerned about the methods by which the food comes to market,” says
Stan Slaughter of Lee’s
Summit. An environmental educator who helps organize an annual exposition
of Kansas City-area farmers, Slaughter is a frequent customer of
Pisciotta Farms products — and, coincidently,
Russ’ ninth grade
science teacher. He says
for consumers to be aware
of how their food is
eggs from the "Coop deVille." The eggs will be cleaned
and packaged for sale at The City Market in Kansas City. Typically,
Russ sells out of eggs by mid-morning each Saturday.
good ways and there’s
bad ways,” he
you care at all about
what you become, you’ll
pay attention. Because
you are what you eat.
You really are.”
Farms products cost
more than some store-bought
food, though less than most
organic meat offered at health
food stores. Whole chickens
cost $2.95 a pound, while
whole birds pre-cut into
pieces are priced a bit higher.
Ground beef, his biggest seller,
retails for $3.20 a pound — though he occasionally
runs sales or volume
discounts. He also offers turkey and a full line of beef products, including
steaks, roasts and ribs.
reflect the labor intensive nature of his methods. They also include
the cost of transporting chickens and cattle to distant licensed processing
plants. But the costs and effort are worth it, he says, to produce
a product that satisfies both the farmer and his customers.
importantly, Pisciotta Farms foods
satisfy a craving on
the part of consumers
for healthy food purchased
from someone they can
look in the eye.
moves a strand of electric fence wire after repositioning his
cattle to another section of pasture. He moves his cattle nearly
every day to maintain a healthy pasture.
“This is more
like farms used to be,” Russ says. “The
old farmers fed people directly, rather than going through middle men.”
that’s the model for Russ. He doesn’t have the efficiencies
of a large commercial farm, but he believes his beef and chicken offer
consumers qualities they value more than price.
“I just can’t
raise them as cheap as they can. There’s no way,” he
I can raise
what I have
For more information about Pisciotta Farms foods, log onto www.pisciottafarms.com,
call (816) 803-9001 or look for Russ each Saturday (less frequently during
winter) in stall 141 at The City
Market in Kansas City.