Battle Creek Beef off to nice start on historic land

Associate Editor

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (Sept. 29, 2015) — Susie Hance-Wells’ family’s new business represents just another pivot in the pastoral narrative of Taney Place Farm.
The farm’s roots go back to the 1700s and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney who authored the Dred Scott Decision in 1859 and helped plunge the country into civil war.
He was born and raised on the farm, which overlooks the Patuxent River.
Taney Place Farm has survived the transformations of Southern Maryland’s agriculture industry over the last century, and now it finds itself serving a new trend — educated, health-conscious consumers willing to pay a premium to know exactly what is — and is not — in their meat.
Enter Battle Creek Beef.
“We wanted to produce a product that people would feel comfortable purchasing,” said Susie Hance-Wells, who also serves as president of the Calvert County Farm Bureau. “When you go to a store today, you don’t know what you’re buying.”
Battle Creek Beef has been in business for a few months, selling natural Angus beef.
The cows are grazed on the farm’s pastures, using rotational grazing, and are grass-fed and grain-finished with a ground corn ration and alfalfa hay in their last 60 to 90 days to create marbling, Susie Hance-Wells said.
No growth hormones or medicated feeds are used in their raising.
Customers can purchase custom cuts, packages or a quarter beef, mostly at a local farmers’ market.
But Taney Place Farm was traditionally known for tobacco.
The Hance family purchased the farm in the early 1800s and continued its tobacco tradition.
That ended for the Hances — and most Maryland farmers — in the 1990s when the state bought out the tobacco industry.
Metro labor costs were also skyrocketing, so Susie Hance-Wells and her husband, Walter Wells, took advantage of the booming horse boarding industry.
At one point they had 35 occupied stalls and an indoor arena.
It was a lucrative investment.
“I thought we had died and gone to Heaven,” Walter Wells said. “For 15 years we had a waiting list.”
The Great Recession throttled the horse industry, and the family finally got out entirely of the boarding business in May.
But their 26-year-old son, Charlie, had been working a desk job for a Dominion gas plant, imagining a life back on the family farm.
“I’m not an indoor, sit-at-a-desk kind of worker,” he said.
The family had raised cattle up until two decades ago, and Charlie thought the family might be able to take advantage of the local food movement sweeping across the Washington region and the nation.
Taney Place Farm’s fields were already fenced, it had automatic waters and feeders, and its cattle barns were up.
Battle Creek Beef seemed like the logical next direction.
At first, the family thought their product would sell quickly.
And it did when customers saw it, for instance, at a farmers’ market they use in neighboring St. Mary’s County.
They figured they needed to sell no fewer than four beef cows a month to support everyone, Susie Hance-Wells said.
They’re selling about two so far.
The company has to improve its marketing, she said.
“The buyers are there. The money is there,” she said. “We know we’ve got a good product. We know we’ve got it reasonably priced.”
To start, the Battle Creek Beef probably needs a new brochure and a more personal customer service approach, Susie Hance-Wells said.
They’ll soon be raising hogs, and she said they’ll also sell eggs so customers can get more of what they need from Battle Creek.
To truly succeed in the future, the farm needs to establish its own bloodlines to achieve consistency of marbling and taste in the meat — a process that could take five to 10 years, she said.
But there’s inherent value to locally raised food and a farm with a deep and storied history.
“The idea of what a farmer does is very appealing to them,” she said.