Whenever he meets a potential customer, Aaron Edman’s opening line is: “Do you like bacon?” The owner of Bacon Acres Ranch, based in Nelson, Missouri, says the common response is typically preceded by a big smile and an enthusiastic “Heck yes, I like bacon.” This was a common refrain when Edman was handing out samples of his company’s bacon during the 2016 Ozarks Bacon Fest in Springfield, Missouri this past fall.
It was in 2013 when he realized that demand for not only bacon, but also pork, could support a business. Edman says the genesis of the company followed his decision to buy a couple of pigs, basically to create a backyard-based supply of pork and specifically, bacon, for his family. “It was basically to keep us from having to go to the store to buy it,” he says. Besides that, “we like knowing where our food comes from.” It wasn’t long after buying several individual heads that it made sense to take the next step and Edman invested in a boar and what he thought was a gilt, only to discover the gilt was already pregnant when he brought her home. After that litter of piglets was born, Edman discovered there was a business opportunity in breeding heritage hogs.
After doing extensive research to learn feeding practices and production methods, the hobby began evolving into a small business.
“It’s kind of just morphed,” Edman says. “Right now we have 13 breeding sows and a boar and that has developed in a three-year period.” The boar used for breeding currently is a Mulefoot, he says, which are crossed with Large Black gilts and sows.
Working in 180-day production cycles, Edman estimates he will grow and process up to about 120 head in the coming year.
“If my orders pick up, I have the capacity to go to 300 head,” he says. With the business still developing, profits will grow with sales, but for now, he says, “As far as making money at it, I have to sell 50 hogs to make a dime.”
Edman works with a US Dept. of Agriculture-inspected co-packer and direct sells his heritage-breed pork to customers in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. He admits that the learning curve has been challenging when it comes to establishing pricing and some of the logistics of transporting the hogs nearly four hours from the farm to the processing plant and then going back to pick up the processed meat and delivering orders directly to consumers, most of whom are in the Kansas City area.
Selling traditional bacon is an important part of Bacon Acres Ranch’s business, but Edman discovered some of the best-tasting bacon actually comes from the jowl. “It’s really not a cured meat, it’s just a spiced and flavored bacon,” which he says is basically salted pork that is comprised of more meat than fat and tastes better than any bacon he knows of, while only yielding about 2 lbs. of product per head. And despite its namesake, the company also sells whole and partial hogs, processed to order.
Bacon Acres’ animals are never raised in confinement and because the bacon is processed without adding nitrites or using any “synthetic curing processes to keep it natural,” the product and the market for it is distinctly different than the commodity bacon available at many retailers.
Edman adds that by staying competitive in pricing for all of his pork products, charging customers $550 for a whole, organically raised hog that is processed, packaged and delivered, “I don’t think we’re doing too bad.” He says each pig yields approximately 23 lbs. to 26 lbs. of bacon on average.
Meanwhile, it is the good service, reasonable price and local appeal of the product that Edman is banking on for the future. “We want people to know where their food comes from and what they are getting, from start to finish,” he says.
He points out that the quality and taste of the bacon from his hogs is the impetus for many sales, including a customer in the Kansas City area who recently ordered four whole hogs, “just because of the bacon; because he wants a certain amount of bacon.”
Edman currently works almost exclusively with individual consumers due in part to the high price he would have to charge retailers or foodservice customers and the fact that the volume they would likely demand isn’t currently feasible for him.
The pigs are raised organically and fed hydroponically grown barley seed. Edman stays busy maintaining feeding and grazing regimens for the animals in a system of pens, pastures and woodlots across seven acres.
Besides the Bacon Fest, Edman and his wife host product tastings a couple of times each year at their farm. They promote the bacon at the tastings, but also encourage people to try the other pork products.
“I don’t sell a lot of just bacon orders,” Edman says. “I just can’t afford to do that,” he says, and he doesn’t expect consumers to pay the $9.50 per lb. for Bacon Acres Ranch bacon when commodity options at grocery stores are one-third of that price. That is why he is willing to offer the whole hog at a reasonable price and deliver it free of charge to customers’ doors as far north as Kansas City and throughout eastern Kansas, northern Arkansas and Missouri. “That includes your bacon, sausage, hams — the cured meats plus the fresh meats for $550 and it’s all vacuum-packed and delivered fresh, not frozen, to your door,” Edman says.
He admits the company’s profits are razor thin, but that’s OK for now. “I’ll make money later,” Edman says. “I’m not looking to make money, I’m looking to change the way people look at the food.
“It’s just good bacon; it’s just good pork,” he says.