By Helen Cordes
Photography by Andy Sams
When Chuck Schmidt hollers for his young charges on a recent afternoon, the placid Angus and Herefords moo back and start ambling toward him in a languid procession. The line of contented cattle brings a satisfied smile to Chuck’s sunburned profile—each animal carries the lineage of cows that for over 50 years have grazed these same hills surrounding the 1888 Schmidt family home nestled on the Pedernales River.
“What’s special about us is that we have a closed herd,” says Chuck, who owns Fredericksburg Grassfed Beef along with his wife, Teppi, and Trish and Lonnie Marquardt, Chuck’s sister and brother-in-law. “That means we don’t buy outside cattle to stock our herd, except for the occasional bull. And that means we know everything about where the meat comes from.” This focus on quality control is paramount to the owners and a happy reward for customers who make a beeline for the beef every Saturday morning at the SFC Farmers’ Market–Downtown.
The four owners would love to subsist on their business—one of the first ranches in the area to offer grassfed beef—but the current sad economic state for a small agricultural operation keeps that notion a future goal. To supplement, Chuck is a distribution manager for a power tool company, and Teppi teaches at Fredericksburg Christian School. Lonnie does real estate sales and appraisal, and Trish is a nursing manager at the VA hospital. But when it comes to the beef business, it’s all-hands-on-deck for the family—the Schmidts’ teen daughters, Caitlin and Sarah, aptly handle farmers market setup and sales with the help of younger brother Charles. “They’ve been coming to the market with me since they were little,” says Teppi, “and they barely need me except for the driving.”
Ranching and farming run thick in the Schmidts’ blood, so when Chuck and Trish’s father was ready to retire from the ranch, the opportunity for them to take over was a no-brainer—as was the decision to adhere to the long-standing business ethos of raising healthy animals on a palette of nutritious, flavor-boosting grasses, avoiding the use of antibiotics and hormones and keeping the focus on the well-being of the animal. “We believe that happy animals make better beef,” says Teppi.
Though the demands of working a ranch after coming home from a day job could certainly test the mettle of many, it’s not even at the top of the challenge list for the Schmidts and Marquardts. “The drought that started in 2006 isn’t over,” says Lonnie. “We only got 10 percent of the rain we usually get in the fall.” When the grasses languish, alfalfa must be bought for the cattle. Expenses continue to climb with the inflation rate—including the beef processing that eats up a third of the income. “We have the beef finished at a USDA-inspected facility near here, and they have a lot of expensive regulation that’s part of their cost,” says Chuck.
Rising before the sun to pack the trailer for the long farmers market haul is no picnic either, and divining the buyer’s mind is sometimes trying. “A while back, we had a lot of roasts cut for the winter market, thinking that people would want them,” Chuck recalls. “But they didn’t, so we had to turn those into different cuts.”
Plus, “everybody wants steaks!” Lonnie says with a rueful grin. But there are only around seven pounds of tenderloin—the most sought-after cut—per animal, and it’s sometimes a task to educate the customers to the grassfed wonders of the cuts beyond. At the market, Teppi shares simple cooking tips with customers hesitant to try tenderloin alternatives.
Teppi notes that some customers are getting more adventurous, though, and she hopes it’s a trend that’ll help them sell more of the entire animal. “One guy told me he intended to cook every cut from tail to tongue,” Teppi says, “so we’re bringing everything he wants to try.” Another health-conscious customer requests all of their marrow bones to make a supercharged stock, and a college student buys up every package of meaty soup bones they bring to market. “It’s a terrific buy, because we leave on a lot of meat,” says Chuck. “One lady called me and said, ‘I think you gave me the wrong cut because of all the meat that’s on the soup bones.’”
Another revenue-raising tactic ahead is selling sausage-stick snacks, with added pork from wild boar. “We’ll offer them with and without cheese,” Teppi says. She’s busy with the labeling and approval process and hot on the trail for the right local, hormone-free cheese. And the bounty from the pecan grove on the home site may soon be headed for the market, as well.
As the business slowly builds, the four owners feel they’re making a difference with food that’s healthier for people and the planet. “We’re trying to be good stewards of the land by careful grazing rotation,” Lonnie notes. “And it’s a real treat to meet our customers face-to-face,” adds Teppi. “They know we’re all in this together.”
Find Fredericksburg Grassfed Beef at the SFC Farmers’ Market–Downtown on Saturdays and at the seasonal Fredericksburg Farmers Market.
Fredericksburg Grassfed Beef