Home Place Pastures

Home Place Pastures, A Celebration of Mississippi Culture

Sandra Yerges

From a distance, a rhythmic beat of a drum reverberates through the rural countryside of Como, Mississippi. This sound is followed by the footsteps of a crowd excitedly processing toward an evening of live blues music. With stomachs full from a meal of locally produced meat, these members of the community participate in a mix of the fife and drum line and second line parades. This historical combination of African and New Orleans traditions lives on in this community and is showcased each year at Home Place Pastures to keep the musical and culinary traditions of the region alive and thriving.

As a fifth-generation farmer, Owner Marshall Bartlett always had a close connection with the Mississippi land he farms today. Before he established Home Place Pastures, however, the property looked different. His parents were row crop farmers, strictly focusing on commodities like cotton, corn, and soybeans. When Marshall introduced pigs to the operation ten years ago and subsequently added lambs, beef, and hens to the farm, it represented a big shift away from the style of agriculture that Marshall and his siblings grew up with.

To maintain regenerative practices, Marshall prioritizes both the animals’ feed and the soil in which it is grown. By feeding the pastured pigs farm-grown, non-GMO corn, he substitutes conventional fertilizers with the resulting manure. The pigs and laying hens are moved across pastures where their manure fertilizes rich grasses for the cattle. The farm manages these species in a way that allows them to benefit from each other in more of a closed-loop system rather than input-intensive, row crop agriculture. Not only are these choices sustainable, but they also introduce products that are unique to others in the market.

In a time where greenwashing from large companies is rampant, Marshall stressed the importance of standing out.

“We are very small, and it’s very difficult to compete in the meat world, which is why the Value-Added Producer Grant and a lot of the opportunities out there exist,” he explained. From his point of view, these financial outlets are accessible “to help small farms be more competitive and reach end consumers more effectively.”

For Home Place Pastures, the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) was more than just a one-time experience. Starting with their first VAPG in 2016, they have now received access to this governmental funding four times. With each program corresponding to a different offering of theirs, they have been able to invest in many parts of the business over the years.

While sourcing their meat products from both their own farm and others within the area, the company has also needed to find a way to cut down on processing costs. The VAPG has been able to accomplish this for them, and its effects remain close to the farm. Unlike most other small farms in this industry, Home Place Pastures has recently expanded their USDA-inspected processing facility that is used to make their products customer ready.

Marketing was another focus of the grant experience for Home Place Pastures, especially in driving customers to their e-commerce platform and farm store. Those within the region have access to shipping options through the Home Place Pastures website and promotions, such as “Free Ground Beef for Life.” Without the VAPG, these online opportunities may have gone unnoticed.

Outside of the website traffic the company receives, many visitors make their way onto the farm to enjoy the experiences hosted on the property. Whether it is a tour of the farm, a Friday evening steak dinner, or on-site lodging, individuals can involve themselves in more than just Home Place Pastures’ products.

Fall is also a busy season for Home Place Pastures as the company focuses on large events that connect the farm, food, and families together. One event that draws a crowd of all ages is the Oyster Roast. To enjoy the outdoors during the fall season, the gathering includes a band, hayrides, farm tours, and a bonfire. Of course, this event would not be complete without the Louisiana-sourced oysters and meat spread prepared by a visiting chef and the farm, respectively.

Even though the Oyster Roast may seem like a substantial undertaking, its scale does not compare to Home Place Pastures’ “biggest production:” their Boucherie event. Everything from their hill country second line tradition to live blues music is celebrated at this weekend get-together. With a cooking contest including unconventional animal cuts in addition to the entertainment, this event mixes resourcefulness and heritage that is passed on through generations. When referring to this reflection of local culture, Marshall said, “It’s a big point of pride for us to be able to put that on every year.”

Exciting events like these deserve recognition, and the VAPG was a great start in transforming the creation of a single marketing message into returning community support.

“We wouldn’t be where we were without this grant—it’s just a fact,” Marshall emphasized.

Because he has been through the VAPG process multiple times, Marshall has developed a broad understanding of the impact this grant can have on small-scale businesses. “Farmers are never compensated as well for their time as we are applying for this grant,” he expressed.

That is why he cautioned any producer interested in the grant to ensure they are working with trustworthy outside entities during the application process. Although grant writers can be a helpful resource when constructing grant materials, it is important to recognize which individuals are there to help and which are there to retain a large profit. Since many academic institutions have extension offices that work through VAPG-related matters, Marshall encourages prospective applicants to seek assistance from these organizations.

After years of paving the way for the community to embrace their southern culture and enjoy sustainably produced food, Home Place Pastures desires to see similar business models in the agricultural industry while consulting external opportunities like the VAPG. Marshall shared, “We hope that Home Place can be an example that this is a scalable and replicable enterprise.”

If you want to learn more about Home Place Pastures or support them by buying their products, visit their website at homeplacepastures.com.