If a farm-to-table beef vending machine is going to successfully tap into a hungry market, Tim Haer is well placed to rise to the challenge, he said.
“Kansas City — at one point — had the largest stockyard in the nation, and we were known as Cowtown USA,” noted the startup worker-turned-herdsman at the Green Grass Cattle Company. “So if that’s successful — and it’s not successful here — that would be a surprise.”
Green Grass Cattle Company – a family-owned purveyor of prime Black Angus beef in Weston, Missouri – recently launched Kansas City’s first farm-to-table vending machine, located off the Front Range Coffeehouse and Provisions in Waldo at 400 E Viale Gregorio.
In its first week of operation, Haer said, it has already had to refill the vending machine three times. If he gets people talking, he sees it as a win.
“Regardless of whether the vending machine is successful in the long run, the goal behind it is to generate awareness and elicit critical thinking about where our food comes from,” he explained. “We want to have a sustainable and profitable business, but it has become my goal to actually bridge that gap – create a closer connection to where our food comes from – and challenge people to think critically about it. … It wasn’t that long ago that everyone had gardens and everyone had some connection to agriculture, and we’ve just gotten so far away from that.
Green Grass – whose motto is ‘farmed, not sourced’ – also sells its produce at its Mercantile Store in Weston and online.
Click here to purchase Green Grass Cattle Company beef.
Haer, a sixth-generation cattle rancher and producer (and former director of business development at Overland Park-based Daupler), first got the idea about six months ago when he read a magazine article about popularity of vending machines around the world for uses other than snacks and drinks. So he said he started looking into it nationwide.
“There are a handful of vending machines in the United States,” he continued. “There weren’t any in Kansas City. And what I’m finding out — and I haven’t confirmed it yet — is a reporter from St. Louis who called and believes it may be the first and only true farm-to-table vending machine in the United States. Because the other vending machines that do what I’m doing are meat and poultry stores. They’re not actually herding the cattle, so it’s kind of unique about that.
Haer plans to stock the vending machine based on consumer demand, he said. To start, he filled it with the family beef hot dogs, bacon cheeseburger bratwurst, jalapeno cheddar summer sausage, boneless short rib, KC strips, center cut sirloin medallions and strips and tenderloin fillets.
“The first product to sell out was summer sausage, followed by bratwurst,” he added. “Less than 36 hours later, they were gone.”
The cuts of beef are frozen when stored in the refrigerated vending machine, he noted, and are turned off every three days. The vending machine stores them at 34 degrees and won’t allow a customer to buy anything if the machine malfunctions and the temperature goes above 38 degrees.
Click here to follow Green Grass Cattle Company on Instagram.
Haer includes his name and number on the front of the vending machine, he said, encouraging people to contact him if they have any questions, especially about how cattle are raised.
“My first goal is to take care of livestock, and that’s part of our message to customers,” she shared. “We don’t do things the easy way. … I love cows. So it wouldn’t bother me if someone called me and said, “Hey, what’s the food ration?” Are they grass fed? Or are they grain-fed?’ I love answering these questions and I love, not necessarily educating people, just sharing more information about what I know.
The vending machine has found a home at the Western- and Mountain-themed Front Range Coffeehouse and Provisions, Haer explained, through Green Grass’s partnership with Sandlot Goods, one of Startland News’ Kansas City startups to watch in 2023 and the creator of the farm hats and merchandise. Made in KC – which shares owners with Front Range – also has an ownership stake in Sandlot.
“We are thrilled to partner with Tim and Green Grass Cattle Co and bring this unique offering outside of our neighborhood cafe and bar,” said Keith Bradley, co-owner of Made in KC, in a press release. “What Tim offers ties in well with our Front Range concept, where we aim to serve more than your daily cup of coffee and provide you with an experience worth sharing with your friends and neighbors.”
The Haer family has always raised cattle and grown corn and soybeans, first in Craig, Missouri, and now in Weston. Until two years ago, it was always a side hustle. Tim’s father, Gary, decided to retire from the biodiesel industry and full-time farming, asking Tim – who was then working for the govtech company (and another Kansas City startup to watch ) Daupler – to join him. Tim’s mum, Mary, and sister, Megan, also work on the farm and run his Mercantile Store.
“I don’t think I could ever go back,” Haer said of leaving the tech world. “Even on really, really raw days, like today, when I woke up and looked out and there was snow on the ground. And I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, today is going to be a really hard day feeding the cattle.’ I’d rather have 100 days like that than be in the office for eight hours. There is something about agriculture. It’s just good for the soul.”
It was also about two years ago, Haer recalled, that the family decided to focus locally and sell the meat directly to the consumer instead of as a commodity. It started when they brought in 30 of their cows for processing and graded them. Eighteen were classified as first, which is the highest mark.
“Only 4 percent of Angus cattle receive that grade,” he said. “So we knew we had something special about our genetics and how we fed them and how we raised them.”
Once her father realized how much the grocery stores were charging versus what he was getting in terms of commodity prices, he noted, they decided to take the leap. They started with their Mercantile Store and online, and now they’ve added the vending machine.
“I want other farmers, other ranchers to take a look at this and hopefully inspire them to think differently about how they can market their products and apply some innovation in an industry that is older than the states themselves. United,” Haer said. . “If the agricultural industry isn’t just a corporate conglomerate — if it’s still family farms in 50 years — I think we need to start looking at some of these things.”