Since the coronavirus pandemic started in America, empty grocery store shelves have become very common. As shoppers stack their carts with eggs, milk, and meat, some may have not thought twice about the farmers who produce the food. In northern California, the Heffernans are committed to consistently providing the finest quality meats only from the animals they raise as a family on their ranch, Five Marys Farm.
Mary and her family raise all-natural beef, pork, and lamb on their ranch in Fort Jones, California. “We ship our dry-aged beef, pastured pork, and heritage lamb all over the U.S. to all 50 states. We sell by the cut, and customers love our premium dry-aged steaks, chops – even our ground beef has a following that people say they can't buy at the grocery store anymore.
Walk us through a day in the life. What does your day-to-day look like?
Every day is different on the ranch. We care for our animals mostly ourselves as a family with very little outside help. We pride ourselves in excellent care, feed, and over all well-being for all of the animals on the ranch. My husband Brian is up at 4:40 a.m. daily and starts morning chores before daylight. The girls and I help him drive the feed truck, move the sheep and cattle between pastures as part of our rotational grazing, and work together to get everything done on a busy ranch. I usually work in our Farm Shop during the day preparing and shipping orders and managing our website, inventory, and social media where we share our story to grow our brand. Brian ends his day with a headlamp on most days; there are never enough hours of daylight to get it all done!
What did you grow up doing that led you to where you are now?
I went to The College of William & Mary and majored in Biological Psychology with hopes of going to medical school to be a Pediatric Oncologist. I volunteered extensively with the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford and Packard Children’s Hospital. I loved everything about the medical field and working with kids.
I bought a little house in Williamsburg while I was in college, with the help of my parents, fixed it up, and rented it out to six roommates to help cover expenses. I didn’t realize it then, but I loved entrepreneurial endeavors anywhere I could find them.
After college, I moved back to the Bay Area to study for the MCAT and started tutoring local students. I leased a storefront in my downtown at 22 years old, with a wing-and-a-prayer hope I could build a business to help pay my way through medical school if/when I was admitted. I realized that I loved small business and wanted to continue fueling my passion as an entrepreneur in starting new businesses instead to diving into medical school.
I found a way to continue my love of unusual equestrian sports by learning to play polo trading work for lessons and traveled all over playing competitively after a few years. I was working on opening my third business when I met a tall, dark and handsome guy at a playhouse auction…
You and your family have been on the farm for years, and then you hosted retreats and opened a restaurant. How are you growing the business now?
Brian and I believe in the motto "Go big or go home" and we love big ideas and are always growing our brand and working on the next big thing. We opened our restaurant in our small town two years ago, rehabbing the old town watering hole into Five Marys Burgerhouse. We are working on building our own USDA butchery and building a Five Marys Test Kitchen to share our favorite recipes using our own ranch raised meats with our customers each week on Instagram. I also have a cookbook coming out in September called "Ranch Raised Cookbook: Homegrown Recipes from Our Family to Yours."
Has ranching been different during the time of COVID-19?
We've been busier than ever before since early March when COVID-19 started causing disturbances in the normal food distribution system. Our regular customers were anxious to fill their freezers with Five Marys meats, and so many new customers realized how easy it actually is to buy directly from a farmer or rancher when they can ship it to your doorstep as easily as an Amazon package.
I was interviewed by POLITICO about the rising interest in buying meats directly from the rancher – I stated how it’s great for farmers and ranchers, and how we all hope it continues after this is over. I do believe it will on some level.
Five Marys Farms typically ships about 15,000 pounds of beef, pork, and lamb per month, but that amount has jumped to more than 35,000 pounds in the last two weeks. And the farm has received orders from both returning customers and a flood of new ones. The outbreak has proven that the public can support family farms that choose to diversify how products are sold, and it’s possible more farms will start shipping instead of relying on farmers’ markets and other channels.
Tell us why you still chose Lucchese as the boot while working in the farm every day.
I got my first pair of Lucchese boots at a bull sale in Tehama County right after I got married. They were so comfortable as soon as I tried on my first pair, and I was hooked. Once we moved to a ranch a few years later, I bought a few more pairs for riding and ranching, and of course some fancy pairs for a night on the town. I wear an 11 with a narrow foot, and Lucchese are the only boots I've found that are comfortable to work in all day long.
Tell us about your Lucchese boot collection today.
I have a treasured collection of Lucchese boots and have started to share with my girls. I bought my daughter the Kasey Musgraves "Follow Your Arrow" white sparkly boots for her 8th birthday (lucky for my girls, they have huge feet and wear women's size boots early!), and I've collected some vintage pairs along the way, too. My current everyday favorites are the Darlene taller western boot in tan. I love the corded scrolls and stitch pattern on them!
What is it like working together as a family in the field during this time?
We love working together as a family, that's the reason we started ranching as first-generation ranchers just 6 years ago. The girls are a huge help in our operation. We all love the feeling of ending a hard day of work with a meal shared together – and usually a well-earned cocktail for me and Brian!
You’ve taught seminars on start small businesses. What is the best way we can support small businesses today?
Going directly to the source and buying from small farms, ranches, and any small business is a great way to support them but also to get a great product without middlemen. More and more small producers are shipping their products directly to customers doorsteps and making it as easy as possible to buy direct. We share a directory of farms and ranches all over the U.S. and Canada who are in my M5 Entrepreneurs course and who are shipping their products.