The future of agriculture is based on the principles of sustainability: sustaining generations of farmers and their land and maintaining an economical and environmentally sound business. Easier said than done! Today, many farmers are in their sixties. The growth of cities is turning productive farm land into suburban living and economic threats like trade issues and competition, locally and globally, are challenging those basic principles. To survive, means to change regardless of location!
Jim Gilles, III, 31, is an excellent example of a change agent in agriculture. He is also a fellow Kentuckian, neighbor and University of Kentucky graduate. A fifth-generation farmer, Jim decided to come back to the family farm and start a new enterprise on the traditional grain and beef family farm following college. Building on the reputation of the Gilles Farm beef quality that had been established by his father and recognizing the desire of Owensboro area residents to buy quality locally raised beef, Hill View Farms Meats was established. Now in its sixth year of business, the entity has grown from selling at the seasonal Owensboro Farmers Market to a retail and online store offering pork, chicken, dairy products and a variety of Kentucky Proud products along with pasture-raised beef. All the additional products offered are either raised on the Gilles farm or procured from local farmers. Based on the reviews and success of Hill View Farms Meats, folks are “tasting the difference”!
Why the “taste difference” of Hill View Farms Meats? It starts with the Gilles family commitment to sustainable practices. Animal welfare is a top priority for the 220 herd of Black Angus. It starts with the selection of genetics during the breeding process to ensure maternal instincts, good temperament and longevity during their life cycle to the desired marbling and meat quality of the finished product. Like us, the beef cows’ comfort and health needs are most important. The availability of high-quality grasses in Kentucky along with hay and grain feed during the winter months provide for the nutritional needs of the animals. Growth hormones and antibiotics are never used during the cow’s life cycle. Like us, if a cow is sick enough to require an antibiotic, it is given for the comfort of the animal but their meat is never used for the Hill View Farms products.
The advancement of technology not only benefits the animal welfare of the Gilles Farm beef production but also its grain production operation. For over 25 years, the farm has grown crops by using a no-till practice. No-till limits soil erosion by not having to plow up the dirt every year and helps with water conservation. Jim and his family understand the environmental concerns often associated with animal protein production and take their environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously. Greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and manure management outcomes are an integral part of their overall farm management practices.
With the challenges facing agriculture today, why did Jim come back to the farm? As he stated, “I want to be the change for the future. Since most of the farmers today are in their late 60s, someone has to take over for them to continue to provide food and other resources for our country and beyond. Things change daily or even hourly for that matter, so there is never a dull moment. The meat business was just one of those things that came about because of need in the area. We recognized the trend and decided to give it a try…and now it has grown to a thriving business.”
Agriculture, like any business, has changed significantly over the course of many years. As Jim noted being “the change” for an industry that is seen as somewhat simple but is actually quite complicated can be a challenge as the demand for continuing education and improved farming practices grows by “leaps and bounds every year.” Today’s “farmers have to be, agronomists, veterinarians, accountants, marketers, biologists, meteorologists, foremen, welders and plumbers,” Jim says. “We have to constantly be on our ‘A’ game because just like any other business things can change in a matter of days.”
It is family farm operations like the Gilles Farms and Hill View Farms Meats that are committed to preserving their land for future generations while producing food in a sustainable manner to meet consumer expectations. “Doing well by doing good.”