FULDA — For much of his youth, Austin Williams looked forward to going somewhere else. He grew up between Dundee and Kinbrae, his folks’ and grandparents’ farms just a mile apart.
“I was ready to go off and do something out of the area up until probably my senior year of high school,” Austin shared. “Then I started really liking being around the farm.”
He graduated from North Dakota State University in ag systems management.
Now, Austin is back on the family farm, married and working with his family. In addition, he’s helped form Fairland Farms, a business offering a variety of pork products. It’s been a longtime dream for the Williams clan, and the business has grown rapidly since the launch of its website in January.
A partner in life
Austin initially met his wife, Bekah, at a church convention in Illinois, and in 2018 they began keeping in touch via social media.
“I was in Michigan and working at that point as a medical sonographer at the University of Michigan,” Bekah said. “I’d gone to Grand Valley State University, near Grand Rapids.”
“I was living in Iowa, working for John Deere in the Des Moines region,” Austin added. “It seemed like a good time to come back as part of the family farm, and she was looking to maybe move somewhere new and decided to move to Sioux Falls.”
Bekah has now worked for Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for more than a year. In the meantime, the couple became engaged in the summer of 2020 and married in September.
"We're very ambitious, apparently,” Bekah said with a laugh. “All of last year, too, we actually started talking about starting a meat company.”
All in the family … and the feed
“We’d talked about it as a family over the past several years,” Austin added about the new business. “When I moved back, I really found a new passion with livestock. I was more in the field before and working with John Deere farm equipment and more on the crop farming side, but I bought my first group of pigs to raise and got really passionate about it — how we raise them, how we feed them.
“We raise them so differently than the norm, and that brings real goodness to the meat.”
One critical component to raising pigs — and to the ultimate success of Fairland Farms — is the hogs’ diet.
“We feed them ourselves with a smoothie-style feed,” Austin described. “I have to credit our dad (Rod Williams); he’s always looking for new ways to feed livestock and grow crops. He's the one that began pursuing this smoothie-style feed back in 2008.”
“He just officially got the patent for one ingredient in the blend,” Bekah noted.
Rod and Tyson Williams, Austin’s dad and brother, respectively, are the founders of Richfeed, a separate company that — as described in a promotional flier — provides a patented “liquid feed ration, harnessing specific ethanol byproducts that are rich in nutrients and healthful for livestock.” The feed ration “benefits the pig, the producer, the (Heron Lake BioEnergy) ethanol plant and the environment.”
Austin describes the feed as more palatable, easier to consume and faster to digest than typical dry feed, and less abrasive in a pig’s intestinal tract. As another bonus, the feed uses ethanol products “that otherwise would need to be processed through drying and extraction,” allowing for increased ethanol production.
“Heron Lake BioEnergy has worked with my dad and us for ways to make this work,” Austin said. “They want to innovate, too.”
A personal touch
While Bekah grew up just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, she’s no stranger to farming.
“I think I’ve always had a love for this country life, and just growing up and visiting the farm was so special,” she said. “Both my grandparents farmed — my dad grew up on a wheat farm out in Montana, and my mom grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan.”
One of Bekah’s primary roles in the operation of Fairland Farms — the name comes from one of the Williams’ growing farms — is making people become aware of both the company and its products.
“We made an account on Facebook and Instagram under Fairland Farms, and that’s where a lot of our business is coming from,” she explained. “We try to stay pretty active on them, as that's where people are finding things. We want people to see the faces of the people they’re getting their meat from. We’re telling a story and sharing it as an experience. It’s more meaningful, maybe, when you’re supporting a specific family.”
Shortly after Bekah and Austin were married last fall, they observed an increased demand for pork products and decided to pursue shipping their meat nationwide. Small-town lockers, though, don’t perform inspections at the level required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for shipping, so the Williamses worked with a U.S.D.A.-inspected meat processor in Olivia, Minnesota. That facility is also owned by a farm family that uses all local employees and supports local families there, Austin said.
“All our meat is hand-processed and hand-trimmed, and they even barrel-age cure our bacon and ham,” Bekah noted. “Our pork is just different, and we think the meat is more tender and more flavorful. There’s good marbling that aids in that tenderness … and we’ve had so many people come back and say, ‘This the juiciest pork I’ve ever had.’”
Austin said the smoothie-type feed consumed by their pigs helps their animals develop intramuscular fat that holds the moisture of the meat when it’s cooked. That helps explain the juiciness, he stated.
Once the meat is processed in Olivia, Fairland Farms picks it up in a freezer van and transports it back to Fulda. That’s where the pork products are packaged and ready for pick-up, local delivery or to be mailed in insulated boxes with dry ice to keep the meat fresh, along with food preparation ideas and hand-written notes for each customer.
“We wish we could hand-deliver to everyone around the U.S.,” said Austin, noting that since meat was initially ready for ordering on Feb. 6, pork products have been shipped to 24 different states.
“We’re only two people,” Bekah chimed in with a chuckle.
“But this is maybe the next closest thing to still feeling like we’re delivering it,” Austin added.
Long-distance customers also have the option of returning their box, via media mail, to Fairland Farms and then getting a discount on their next order.
Fairland Farms means family
Fairland Farms represents a way of connecting the growing of the animals, the farming of the land and the marketing of the meat together, Austin said. And, perhaps most importantly, the effort is truly a family affair.
“We wanted to do something that would encompass the entire family being involved,” Austin stated.
As Bekah continues to manage Fairland Farms’ social media presence, the website fairlandfarms.com offers a complete list of the company’s inventory. Austin said the farm is able to sell by the cut, as opposed to the whole hog, and has enough pigs so that orders will be able to be fulfilled year-round.
The ability to fulfill meat orders across the nation is something that both Bekah and Austin value, considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With how everyone has adjusted with the state we’re in — for example, where and how you pick up your groceries — we thought this kind of falls along those lines,” Bekah said. “You can order meat from us, and it will come right to your doorstep.”
“At the same time, we’re using local ingredients for our feed … and as a result helping the local economy, too,” Austin chimed in.
“We like to say we’re the faces you’ll most likely see associated with Fairland Farms, but it’s the whole family and tribe helping together that makes this all possible,” he added.