Berry College has a long and rich history of self-sufficiency, particularly as it relates to agriculture.
“That’s sort of been the wheelhouse for Berry. Our animal science program and agriculture operations programs are still very strong here,” said Dean of Student Work Rufus Massey. “Animal science is still the largest major at Berry.”
When Massey was tasked with developing the student enterprise program, The Berry Farms Angus Beef program was the first student-managed enterprise developed back in 2009. Today 16 different businesses have been created, almost half of them related to agriculture. He said Berry had 260 declared animal science majors at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
Savannah Norman, a junior from Rockmart, is an animal science major and became the general manager of the Angus Beef enterprise in March.
“I worked for a beef unit here on campus, and they asked me to start working for the Angus Beef enterprise in the summer of my freshman year, and I’ve been working ever since,” she said.
“Here at Berry we get a lot of hands-on experience that you can’t really find anywhere else,” Norman said. “Especially animal science students can get hands-on, applicable work in their field that you can’t find in just any college.”
The enterprise held one of its big public retail sales Saturday.
“We try to market toward locals, people in the community,” Norman said. “We do have a lot of Berry alumni that come buy our beef. We have an email list and (the names of) people that came to sales previously.”
She said she would really like to see the time when Berry’s Angus beef is the first choice of people in the Rome and Northwest Georgia area for their red meat.
Customers don’t have to wait for one of the special sales to purchase the Angus beef; it’s available through their office at the Rollins Center as long as customers call in advance to make certain the cuts of beef they want are available.
“Our ribeyes definitely go first, the steaks are really popular,” Norman said.
She pointed out that students involved in the enterprise recently performed ultrasound tests on the steers to tell how much marbling — streaks of fat — they have, learning how the meat might grade after it’s processed.
“Right now we’re all grading high choice, so that’s really good and we’re really proud of that,” Norman said.
In addition to the ribeyes, the student enterprise also offers short ribs, liver, brisket, cubed steak, several varieties of roast, 85-percent-lean ground beef and other custom cuts.
“Right now we’re really pushing whole, half or quarter sales. We’ll sell a whole steer, a half steer or a quarter of a steer for a set price and take it to the processors for someone,” Norman said.
The college guarantees the beef to be 100 percent naturally fed, with no added ingredients such as hormones or steroids in their feed supply.
Norman said the enterprise does not have many commercial accounts that are consistent.
“There’s a barbecue place that’s going to open soon that has talked to us about using our brisket in Rome, and then there’s Bella Roma, we’ve had beef there before,” she said.
Jeremy Duke, Mellow Mushroom owner and partner at the new Moe’s Original Bar B Que, 101 W. First St., said his partner Tyson Dube read about the student enterprise and wanted to get involved.
He contacted the student group about using some of their brisket at the new restaurant.
“I think that’s what we’re going to do,” Duke said.
Moe’s Original Bar B Que is slated to open in early February.
The retailing model seems to be working, according to data produced by Massey.
“The Berry Farms Angus Beef typically generates between $85,000 and $100,000 in gross annual revenue,” Massey said.
Massey said he is extremely proud of the more than 1,000 students who have participated in the student-managed enterprises and transitioned to a professional life thanks to their experience.
Norman explained that she hopes to work in cattle production after she graduates.
“One day I hope to have my own beef cattle operation,” she said.
Her experience with managing the farm operation has helped her learn how to cope with real-life crisis situations.
“That’s a big part of farming,” Norman said.“There are times when we can’t get feed when we need it, or we just had the recent drought and that was something we had to deal with here that hurt us as well as all cattle producers across the Southeast. On the retail beef side, processing dates are hard to get, you have to line them up with sales.”
Berry currently uses Blankenship Farms Meat Processing in Calhoun, Tennessee, and Farm Fresh Processing in Blairsville.
Norman also said the way the students run The Berry Farms Angus Beef enterprise is a little bit different than the way many cattle operations are handled.
“Traditionally in the cow-calf operation you sell calves. Here we keep our steers and we sell the beef, and I think it’s a good alternative, maybe something I would do in the future,” she said.
The program started out the school year with 36 steers and is now at 33. Norman is not sure how many mother cows are in the Angus herd because they are handled separately from the retail beef enterprise.