The co-founder of US Wellness Meats is the 2019 Missouri Livestock Symposium Person of the Year.
Lifelong Lewis County farmer and businessman John Wood earns the honor for lifelong work to raise cattle on grass and market specialty meats says University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Zac Erwin. His work makes a significant economic impact on the state, Erwin says.
Erwin serves on the committee for the symposium set for Dec. 6-7 at William Matthew Middle School in Kirksville. It is the largest agriculture-based trade show in the Midwest, he says.
In 2000, Wood’s family and three other families formed Grassland Beef LLC to finish cattle on grass and market specialty meats. Doing business as US Wellness Meats, the company sells grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, 1950s-style pork, pastured poultry, butter, cheese, organic snacks, wild-caught seafood, raw honey, and gourmet rabbit.
All operations except animal slaughtering are under one roof in Canton, a town of 2,300 in northeastern Missouri. In 2014, the company built a 4,400-pallet commercial cold storage facility with additional floor space dedicated to pick and pack shipping, USDA meat fabrication, and a retail store. The pick and pack room is one of the most worker-friendly facilities in North America for shipping frozen meats, Erwin says.
Erwin says Wood places emphasis on worker safety, comfort, and efficiency at the facility. “In similar facilities, workers assemble the frozen packages for customer orders while working in the freezer itself,” he says. “At Grassland Beef, workers build packages in a packing room separated by glass walls from the freezer. The 50-degree temperature difference in the packing room lets employees work longer in a safer and more comfortable environment.”
Workers at the Canton facility pack 1,300 to 1,800 orders for customers in 50 states each week. Third-party custom pick and pack services add 500 or more orders weekly. FedEx trailers take orders to Lambert Airport at St. Louis for overnight air service or to Quincy, Illinois, for ground service. The Canton facility includes a bright and airy retail store, Erwin says.
“Three of the original families still raise beef for Grassland Beef LLC, and customer demand has grown annually for 20 years, requiring the company to expand its supplier list,” he says.
Erwin says Wood’s leadership at Grassland Beef helped it become an economic leader in Missouri agriculture.
“The 40 employees have a seven-times multiplier impact of over $9 million per year in the local economy,” Erwin says. “Add in the payments to local livestock farmers for grass-fed cattle, lamb and pork, and impacts from the company’s promotion of value-added products from Western’s Smokehouse in Greentop, Brown’s Smokehouse in Elsberry and Frickenschmidt Foods in Lockwood. The result is over $10 million per year.”
Wood graduated from Iowa State University in 1975 with a degree in farm operations and a minor in agricultural business. He co-managed McRoberts Farms, a diversified crop, cattle feeding, and finishing operation, for 25 years.
Wood’s previous honors include the Governor’s Award for Agricultural Achievement in Missouri, the Terry Gompert Pioneer Award from the Grassfed Exchange and the Weston A. Price Pioneer Award. He is a past president of Lewis County Farm Bureau and a former member of the Lewis County Extension Council. He represented Lewis County in the 1990s on the Missouri Soil and Water Commission and is a 40-year member of the advisory board of MU Greenley Research Center in Knox County.,
Wood gives back to agriculture and his community, Erwin says. Grassland Beef provides tours for numerous school classes, 4-H and FFA chapters, and adult groups such as the Green Hills Farm Project. “He encourages area ag youth to bring their talents back to the rural community to raise their families, and carry the torch to the next generation,” he says.
For more information about the Missouri Livestock Symposium, go to www.missourilivestock.com.