Jaemor Farms’ peach paparazzi is hanging up the camera for a new project with more of a Texas angle.
Caroline Lewallen, the marketer behind the Hall County farm’s popular social media accounts and the #peachpaparazzi hashtag, is leaving the business at the end of January to focus on a direct-to-consumer beef business she and her husband, Kyle, started in 2017. The first cattle arrived on the farm in 2019.
Texga Farms — a mashup representing Kyle’s home of Austin, Texas, and Caroline’s native Georgia — operates from 40 acres of pasture in Habersham County near Clarkesville.
The fledgling beef farm is bucking the trend in the United States, where the number of farmers and share of farmland has been falling for years even while productivity on large farms continues to increase.
Georgia had almost 7,000 fewer farms in 2017 than it did in 2002, according to the USDA. Meanwhile, the average farm size has increased by about 20 acres.
“This has been happening since the ’50s,” Nathan Eason, White County extension coordinator, told The Times in 2019. “One farm used to feed 10 families, now the average farm feeds 300-400 families.”
Lewallen said startup costs have been the biggest challenge for Texga Farms, even with family in the business and connections to practiced hands in the farming community.
“Starting something and having to buy the land and equipment and then buy the feed and the animals, all of that — the startup cost isn’t necessarily friendly,” Lewallen said on Tuesday, Jan. 28. “But when it’s something you want to do and believe in, we figured out how to make that happen.”
It’s a natural fit for the couple; the daughter of Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Caroline grew up working her father’s cattle farm in Jackson County, while Kyle Lewallen owned and operated a food truck at Texas A&M, where they met.
At the peak of their season, the couple manage about 30 cattle on the farm and hope to grow to 50. Once they’ve been weaned, the cows, all steers, are purchased from local farmers in Lula and Clermont as well as from Black’s farm in Jefferson.
They arrive at Texga Farms at about 500 to 600 pounds and gain about another half-ton on the farm before they’re sent to slaughter.
For now, the farmers aren’t breeding their own cattle.
“We decided not to purchase the mama cows and instead buy from growers who have an established herd,” Lewallen said. “Maybe one day we can do that.”
The cows graze on grass and have access to grain on the farm but aren’t fed one or the other exclusively.
It might be that you’ve had some beef from the farm already — the Lewallens’ product has been used at 2 Dog restaurant in Gainesville and it’s on the menu at Harvest Habersham in Clarkesville.
Selling to restaurants has been both a way to move their product and get their name out, and all of it has been part of a learning curve for the family.
“Growing up, what we would do is feed out and sell a whole animal or a half of an animal, so you’re looking at somewhere between 300 and 600 pounds of meat in one purchase,” Lewallen said. “A lot of people don’t have freezer space for that. In our first wave of sales, we sold 30-pound beef boxes.”
But even the 30-pounders were an ambitious buy for most customers, she noted, and they’ve offered up smaller quantities for sale at a time.
“A challenge is something he enjoys,” Lewallen said of her husband, “so we went back to the drawing board and said, ‘All right, how do we service these customers?’”
The farm broke its box down and currently offers packs of ground beef in 5-pound increments, burger patties, filets, New York strips and ribeyes.
Buying a 30-pound box at $9.99 per pound will land you sirloins, roasts, tenderloins, strips, ribeyes, stew meat, burger patties and ground beef. The per-pound price bottoms out on the website at $6.99 per pound for a comfortable 240 pounds of red meat.
The offerings could change depending on where Texga Farms settles in the market and where it finds its niche.
The farm is getting quality right in its first year, according to Tate O’Rouke.
O’Rouke and her husband were celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary earlier in January, and rather than trying to find childcare to go out to dinner on a Wednesday night, they opted for a steak dinner at home.
They went with a couple of New York strips from the Lewallen farm and were impressed.
“My husband is a very good cook, but you can’t cover up — if the quality of the meat isn’t there, it’s not going to be a very good steak,” O’Rouke said.
The steaks came thick-cut, vacuum-packed and frozen. Thawed overnight in the fridge, the steaks went into a hot cast-iron with not much seasoning and were served with creamed spinach, balsamic-cooked mushrooms and a bottle of red wine.
“They were delicious,” O’Rouke said. “We want to support a friend and a local, but we wouldn’t continue to purchase it if it wasn’t a good product.”
In the year ahead, the farm will focus on getting its beef into more local restaurants — always pitching the “local beef tastes better” angle.
Meanwhile, some social media research suggests there are at least 100,000 people within a half-hour of the farm who are interested in locally sourced food.
“We’re small right now but really believe in using those tools, and quite frankly believe a lot of farmers ought to be doing that, they just may not know how,” Lewallen said. “We feel like we have a little bit of a leg up in that area.”
In the future, the couple could lean on Kyle’s cooking experience — maybe some smoked brisket or a branded barbecue rub — but definitely in the works is a campaign of videos focusing on best methods of cooking beef.
The first year in business for the Lewallens has been a “learning year” for the family, Caroline said.
With a lot on the line and as she leaves Jaemor behind, it’s also been a year of faith.
“We’ve slowly been really gearing up for this for about three years. We just feel like the door was opened to do it now, and when the Lord tells you do something, you do it,” she said. “You just have to step on faith and trust that this is the path he wants us to walk on, and if anything the food will be good on the way.”