Central Grazing Co: Catalyzing land restoration by building an alternative lamb market

child stands among lambs at central grazing co
Jacqueline’s child, Liam, stands among the lambs at Central Grazing Co

Jacqueline Smith of Central Grazing Company is instigating food systems change in Northeastern Kansas and beyond. In 2023, Central Grazing will sell approximately 2,000 lambs. These lambs are sourced from Jacqueline’s farm as well as from several other regenerative sheep farms in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Idaho. The Central Grazing network of sheep farmers regenerate depleted soils through dynamic livestock management and grazing practices. Informed by how prairie ecosystems evolved, the sheep graze concentrated areas and then depart, leaving time for the seedbeds and plants to rebound with added vitality after each rotation as roots sequester carbon safely in the soil. Jacqueline has been a sheep farmer her entire adult life, first co-founding a small grass-fed sheep dairy in Northwest Missouri. This farm sourced from a dozen other small sheep milk producers to make cheese, and then sold the cheese nationally. Although they were accessing a specialty market for the sheep cheese, many of the lambs born on these artisanal dairy farms had no market for sale available except through feedlots. Eventually, Jacqueline decided she would create a solution to this problem, and she pivoted from dairy farming to producing and aggregating lambs to sell as premium meat through direct-to-consumer, online marketing.

Developing a Resilient & Holistic Business

Already a witness of the impact that sheep on pasture can have on soil health, Jacqueline created Central Grazing Company to address the lack of local markets for high animal welfare, grass-fed, and independently produced lamb meat in her region. Addressing the need for value-added markets quickly exposed deeper regional infrastructure needs, including meat processing. Jacqueline is working on a multi-phase, holistic approach to vertically integrate cut-and-wrap meat processing, and then to eventually add slaughter capacity. This work is supported by a group of regional partners and funded through the American Rescue Act, USDA grants, and at the county level. Learn more about Kaw Valley Meats and its development on the Central Grazing Co blog here

Jacqueline Smith holds lamb at Central Grazing Co
Jacqueline holding a lamb, as featured in Farmer’s Footprint

In addition to Central Grazing’s powerful mission to “regenerate grassland by producing food that benefits the planet,” their operation creates “economic value for independent, regional farmers and providing living wages for their workers.” A significant aspect of Jacqueline’s value-creation strategy is through building a brand with a transparent supply chain that thoughtfully utilizes its resources. One example is Central Grazing’s lamb leather bag product line which minimizes waste from slaughter while also creating an additional revenue source. Another is by educating consumers on how to cook every cut of lamb so that the whole animal is honored and efficiently utilized. 

Jacqueline has been in search of well-aligned funders to enable land access, growth of her flocks, and sustainable, regional processing and marketing for the products produced. Jacqueline initially contacted Iroquois Valley in 2020 to learn more about our investment process and eventually requested financing to help expand her sheep flock from Central Grazing’s network of lamb producers. Jacqueline farms at two locations – an 80-acre home farm and a 300-acre leased farm – so grazing space is not an issue. Central Grazing is also negotiating a major public/private agrivoltaic project in partnership with Douglas County, KS, and Cromwell Solar. This project’s goal is to build Kaw Valley Meats on public land. The processing facility will be powered with solar panels that the animals waiting for processing will graze under until slaughtered – creating a new model that keeps animals out of confinement for their entire lives. However, growing her operation cannot happen without additional working capital.

Central Grazing Co’s Regional Food Model
Lambs graze on pasture at Central Grazing Co
Lambs on pasture at Central Grazing Co

Iroquois Valley closed its investment with Jacqueline in the last quarter of 2022, which enabled her to unlock the additional capital needed to expand. Leading up to this deal, Jacqueline stated that “a partnership with Iroquois Valley would be catalytic in securing working capital needed to complete our fundraising for expansion.” Jacqueline’s business expertise and fundraising success are a force of nature. 

We are honored to be a part of the community of catalytic capital needed to support Jacqueline’s team and their vision. Iroquois Valley’s investment in Central Grazing has also engaged the organic certification process at Jacqueline’s home farm, which is already in perennial pasture management and without any chemical use for years now.

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