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Name: Heather Sandford

Business: The Piggery , Wholesale pastured pork products

Industry: Food & Beverage 

Location: Ithica, New York, U.S. 

Reason for starting: It’s funny where life brings you. My husband and I graduated from Cornell University with Engineering and Science degrees. Fast forward a few years later and we found ourselves working in professional fields in San Francisco. We were becoming interested in sustainable housing and farming when I stumbled across a listing on Craigslist for a whole pig, direct from the farm. I laughingly told my husband about the listing later. But my husband didn’t think it was so silly and we were soon experimenting in our apartment with making sausage, pates and more from pigs…. This serendipitous listing on craigslist led us to start farming in Upstate New York, close to our Alma Mater outside of Ithaca. We wanted to help make local, pasture raised meats more accessible to our community and the surrounding region. Our vision was to handcraft fresh meats and familiar, value added products (like meats and sausages) direct from our farm’s butcher shop. After our 6th week at the farmers market, we had a line 40 people deep before the opening bell. The business has been growing ever since…

Related: Read about another food & beverage entrepreneur here.

How do you define success? I define success as being able to create a business where: a. customers have access to affordable, tasty, local pastured raised meats, b. New York State family farms are paid a fair wage for raising animals with respect and honor in a natural, pasture based farming system, c. our crew is paid not minimum wage, but a living wage, and d. the business can be profitable and replicated in other regions in the US.

Biggest Success: Can I choose two? My first choice is building a local meats butcher shop and grocer in our community. It has been awesome to make local meats, farm fresh goods so accessible! My second choice is building a USDA inspected butcher shop/meat production facility. This is a very difficult licensing level to achieve and I’m very proud we could build this plant to start wholesaling our goods regionally. 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? As a butcher and farmer, I work everyday in a traditionally male dominated industry. There are times when I notice that men in the industry perhaps are surprised that I’m an equal partner in this business, and not just the farmer or butcher’s wife. My top challenge is to get the men in the industry to address me as an equal and not always just address my husband/business partner when we’re in a meeting. I’ve had a lot of success in overcoming this stereotype by just putting my head down and doing good work. If I don’t think about it or let it bother me, my male counterparts quickly notice that I know what the heck I’m going and we start working together. I really think times are changing and there are not as many barriers as there used to be for woman entrepreneurs. 

Related: Getting Federal Contracts Into Women’s Hands

After 3-4 years in business, we realized that to build a long term, sustainable business, we would have to increase production significantly to overcome the fixed costs associated with this type of business. We originally hoped we could do this work on a small scale, but after almost going out of business several times, we realized we would have to grow. We knew we really wanted to stay in Ithaca because there was such a great community here and we LOVE our crew (we have very little turnover), but we struggled with the lack of industrial space and utilities available in Ithaca. We started looking for space in Syracuse, but were thankful that with the help and guidance of Tompkins County Area Development and the Southern Tier Regional Development Council, we were able to find a way to expand our current space and stay in Ithaca. 

Who is your most important role model? Julia Childs – a lot of people told her no, thankfully she didn’t listen 🙂 

Twitter   @thepiggery

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Edited by The Story Exchange