A Head for organics at Smokin' Oaks Organic Farms

“The best thing at the Nashville Farmers’ Market is that the shoppers and NFM staff really appreciate the farmer. We are used to getting bullied by the big companies, so it's nice hear that people care where their food comes from and how it’s raised.”

“The best thing at the Nashville Farmers’ Market is that the shoppers and NFM staff really appreciate the farmer. We are used to getting bullied by the big companies, so it's nice hear that people care where their food comes from and how it’s raised.”

We met up with Justin Head from Smokin’ Oaks Organic Farms — a beef and pork farm that Justin and his wife Lindsey operate just an hour north of Nashville in Cedar Hill. Raising livestock goes back in Justin’s family at least three generations.

How did you get into the meat business?
I always enjoyed raising livestock and I have always loved meat. My grandad was in the meat business for many years so I grew up raising animals and selling meat. I’ve always enjoyed it. 

What are your guiding principles?
We went organic in 2015. As farmers, we typically raise our animals with care only to see them abused and shot full of drugs by big companies. We want to raise animals from birth to maturity with care and want people to know they can get a good, clean product from us

We feed our livestock grains because we feel strongly that grain-fed tastes better. And we do this the right way through a ration of grain and hay in order to give the animal the right nutrition. We feed a mix of grain and hay that equals 3% of body weight, which allows the animal to digest food and gives good flavor to the meat. Of course this type of practice is hugely different compared to what you’d see at a commercial feedlot.

Organic means always out on open pasture, always fed an organic diet and never given antibiotics or hormones or steroids, and we’re audited many times a year to make sure we are following all organic rules. Organic is always non-GMO, pesticide-free, open pasture and antibiotic-free. 

All organic practices are the way things nature intended. 

Describe a typical day on your farm.
First thing is to feed and check livestock. Then who knows? That's the beauty of farming — each day is different! 

We’re not proposing a séance or anything like that … but if your great-grandfathers were to visit you today, what similarities might they notice between your operation now and theirs from a century ago?
If my great-grandfathers were to visit our farm today they would see a lot of modern equipment, but that’s about the only change. That’s the thing with organic: it takes farming practices back 100 years — and it works!

What chores do your kids do?
The kids help feed and bottle-feed the calves. They really enjoy the newborn calves and piglets.

Justin is a year-round vendor at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, where you can find him in Farm Shed 1.

Justin is a year-round vendor at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, where you can find him in Farm Shed 1.

What is dry aging for beef?
Without getting scientific, dry aging allows the natural process of the enzymes to break down muscle tissue, giving the meat maximum tenderness and flavor.

Do you have some favorite meals at home?
Hard to say — too many to choose from! But maybe smoked Boston butt on the pork side and sirloin stir fry (in the winter) on the beef side. 

What’s on your horizon?
We sell beef and pork for now. We want to be a full organic protein stop, so we’re thinking about adding chicken, eggs, turkey and maybe even bison. People want high-quality organic meat.

What do you most enjoy about selling at NFM?
I enjoy the diverse group of people at the market. The shoppers here are educated about the food they buy. And they like to talk farming. The best thing is that the shoppers and NFM staff really appreciate the farmer. We are used to getting bullied by the big companies, so it's nice hear that people care where their food comes from and how it’s raised. 

This interview was reprinted in Robertson County’s The Connection.

David Gonnerman