By Ashley See, CFSA Communications Coordinator & Firsthand Foods| Thursday, Mar. 7, 2019 –

How do three masters degrees, two mothers, and 30 family farms add up?

Firsthand Foods co-founders and co-CEOS, Jennifer and Tina visiting a farm

In honor of women’s history month, we’re shining the light on the co-founders and co-CEOs of Firsthand Foods, Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte Levy.

While we’ve written about how this women-owned, Durham-based business works, what we haven’t explored is how this dynamic duo came to owning and running a specialized meat business that works with local farmers and processors to allow meats to be in the hands of consumers within a few days of processing.

So let’s take a closer look.


How two women, passionate about feeding their families humanely-raised meats, are connecting NC’s pasture-based livestock producers with local food lovers, restaurants, and retailers.

by Jennifer Curtis, Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte, the founders of Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis (right) and Tina Prevatte (left), the founders of Firsthand Foods

Hi! We’re the owners of Firsthand Foods, a women-owned Durham-based meat business specializing in local, pasture-raised beef, lamb and pork. 

We run a mission-driven business that was built to help North Carolina’s pasture-based livestock producers thrive. In a world where commerce is dominated by global supply chain arrangements, small-scale producers are often denied access to market opportunities. Our aim is to change that by building out a robust market for locally sourced, humanely-raised meats while keeping our core values of transparency, equity and community at the forefront.

We first connected as business owners around a shared passion for using business as a tool for generating social and environmental good. We’re also moms, whose kids love to eat meat. When we met eight years ago, we were disheartened by the lack of local, sustainably-produced proteins available where we like to eat and shop. So we rallied around that problem and today you can find our meats at numerous area restaurants and natural foods grocery stores in the Triangle and Triad, as well as being offered by multiple home delivery services.


The biggest hurdle for livestock producers who want to sell their meats locally is what we like to call the “whole animal utilization” challenge.  A good way to lose money fast in the meat business is to slaughter an entire beef animal for the ribeyes and have no market for the ground beef. So we buy whole animals from producers so they don’t have to worry about finding a home for all the parts. The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

While sustainable production practices are essential, meat quality and consistency are equally important.  It doesn’t do much good to raise an animal with utmost care if the end result isn’t pleasing to the customer.  Producers make decisions every day that ultimately impact meat quality – forage management, sire selection and breeding, nutrition and feeding considerations.  But in the conventional meat industry, producers rarely if ever get feedback on how their management practices influence meat quality.  Their animals are shipped off to feedlots or massive slaughter facilities and never discerned from the countless other animals moving through those systems. That’s why we work closely with our producers to provide feedback on size, marbling, color, and other qualities that result in a great eating experience. We want to build their capacity as producers while we build market opportunity for their products.


The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

To work with Firsthand Foods, farmers drop their animals off at one of three cooperating USDA-inspected, Animal Welfare Approved small-scale meat slaughter plants. These family-owned businesses based in rural counties are key partners for us. They do the hard, and often under-appreciated, work of slaughter and meat fabrication. They create the meat cuts and value-added products that our customers desire. We currently purchase 8 beef, 18 hogs and 4 lambs per week and sell most of our meats fresh to restaurants, retailers, and food service accounts. It takes about 80 different wholesale customers on a weekly basis to utilize all the parts of these animals.


Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods' Facebook page.

Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods’ Facebook page.


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A few highlights from the Triangle:

From Firsthand Food's Facebook page

Steak from Firsthand Food Farmers at Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill. From Firsthand Food’s Facebook page

  • Pork neck bones and feet are the basis for ramen broth at Dashi,
  • Beef shoulder goes into burgers at Bull City Burger and Brewery,
  • Top round becomes roast beef at Lucky’s Deli,
  • Lamb’s necks become a braised dish at Garland Restaurant,
  • Pig ears are featured at Pizzeria Toro,
  • Ribeyes are dry-aged at The Durham Hotel, and
  • Beef cheeks find a home at The Eddy.

And of course, without our retail partners, we’d be hard-pressed to sell all of our sausages, ground beef and ground lamb.  Indeed, on the average, about 60 percent of an animal ends up as a ground product!


Our Evolving Ethic – Eat Less, Pay More

Our goal as business owners is to help build a supply chain for local meat that creates healthy delicious products, compensates everyone fairly, takes care of the planet, and reinvests in our community.

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm Photo from Firsthand Food's website.

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm Photo from Firsthand Food’s website.

One of the challenges to growing the market for local, pasture-raised meats is that the cost to the consumer is often twice that of confinement-raised meat products. Compared to indoor houses and crowded feedlots, local pasture-raised production is less efficient, takes more time and is best managed on a smaller scale. But its these more responsible production systems that a growing number of consumers are demanding – humane conditions for animals, a fair price to the farmer, eliminating routine use of antibiotics and added hormones, building soil quality and protecting natural resources.


In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million in to our local food system.

In our journey into the local meat industry, we’ve gravitated toward an “Eat Less, Pay More” ethic.  It’s a cultural shift toward eating less meat overall so that we can afford “the good stuff.”  If we all eat less meat, we reduce the demand for mass-production.  And if we accept a higher per pound price for what we do purchase, we can pay farmers fairly for the work involved in raising animals humanely.  We’re proud to report that a full 75 percent of the revenues we generate every year go back to the farmers and family-run meat processors in our supply chain.  In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million into our local food system.

One way to make the “eat less, pay more” philosophy a practical reality is to consider using pasture-raised meats as flavor-enhancing ingredients rather than center-of-the-plate features. We’re in the process of developing recipe cards (see two below; also available in cooperating retailers and on our website) that feature our products as accompaniments, alongside hearty portions of beans and vegetables. A favorite is Lentejas, a Spanish lentil soup that features our chorizo sausage. And a recent addition to our collection is an Indian chili that features garbanzo beans and ground lamb. Of course, there will always be special occasions worthy of splurging on your favorite steak or roast but week-to-week, it makes sense for meat to play a smaller role.

We invite you to try our pasture-raised meats and “eat less, pay more” philosophy. We’ve noticed that it has moved us in alignment with our core values. Eating less and paying more makes it easier for us to honor the hard work and sacrifice involved all along the supply chain – the land, the animal, the farmer, the processor, the distributor, the restaurant, and the grocery store all make it possible for us to enjoy good local meats.


Less is More Recipes

FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas



by Kathleen Soriano-Taylor | Jul. 22, 2016 – 

Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall Barbeque in Asheville, NC. Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, NC
Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Buxton Hall Barbecue’s food philosophy is printed on all of their menus: “Pasture Raised Pigs, Seasonal Produce, Local Products.” Talk to their head chef and pit master, Elliott Moss, and he’ll say it plain and simple, “If it’s not pasture-raised, we don’t serve it.”

When Elliott opened Buxton Hall last August, he fulfilled a life-long dream to have his very own barbecue joint. One year later, both he and his restaurant have made national news, gracing the pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Bon Appètit, doing what they do best: smoking mouth-watering barbecue, making the recipes of Elliott’s childhood famous.

Growing up in Florence, South Carolina, Elliott would help his parents build cinder-pits and cook up whole hogs for the block. His grandfather’s farm was still in business back then, and he has vivid memories of the realities of farm life. “I used to get chased by all kinds of animals, especially this one rooster. But one of my first crazy memories was a [slaughter]. I can still hear that pig squealing.”

Buxton’s number one standard is a pasture-raised pig. Between the higher quality of meat for the customer and higher quality of life for the pig, there’s no question.

Buxton’s number one standard is a pasture-raised pig. Between the higher quality of meat for the customer and higher quality of life for the pig, there’s no question. “I hope that we can make a difference with the pig industry, at least in our little part of the world,” Elliott says. “There are a lot of folks using pasture-raised pigs now that weren’t before and a lot of small farms. My grandparents wouldn’t feed me commodity pork, so I don’t want to feed that to [our customers]. I just remember a time when there were pigs running around, and that’s almost gone.”

Buxton Hall Barbecue uses the whole hog and only pasture-raised meats. Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

In a recent interview with Asheville food-writer, Stu Helm, Elliott admitted that he had once been delivered commodity hogs, despite being reassured that they were pasture-raised. “We had two racks that we hang our hogs on; we had those nasty pigs on one side and Larry [Crocker]’s pasture-raised pigs on the other. I had every single employee come in and look [at the difference]. I had them touch the pastured pigs and feel their feet. And then they turned around and saw the other pigs. Some of them were crying. The pigs were bruised like they had been hit by a baseball bat; their feet were so soft like a baby’s butt because they’d never even walked.” He refused to serve them in the restaurant and ended up donating them instead.


CFSA has been bringing the farm to the table for 37 years, and with your help, we can continue to support farmers across the Carolinas as we build a healthy and resilient food system. Join us!


Larry Crocker of Vandele Farm. Photo by Johnny Autry.

To see the kinds of free-roaming pigs Elliott grew up with, head down the road to Vandele Farms, one of Buxton Hall’s main farmers. Kathleen and Larry Crocker’s bucolic property lies just down the mountain from Asheville. A horse farm for thirty years, they were encouraged by their niece and nephew, Dawn and Mike Smith of Big Oak Farm, to raise pigs alongside Big Oaks’ cattle during the 2008 recession. The idea was that together, they could take on the niche market of pasture-raised meat.

Larry Crocker of Vandele Farm. Photo by Johnny Autry.

As we walk over to see a sow with her litter of playful piglets, Kathleen Crocker mentions seeing her racing down the hill just the other night. The pigs of Vandele Farms, a cross of Berkshire and Yorkshire breeds, are accustomed to an active lifestyle. They have several pastures, all equipped with water and a main center for feed, encouraging them to walk to the lower pasture to get their meals. Here in the corner of the property, the pigs have all congregated in a shaded pool.

Vandele is a relatively small operation of about 250 pigs, all raised by Larry and a long-time intern. His wife, Kathleen, is the one who processes them, alongside two helpers. They recalled some horror stories from when they would outsource the processing. “One time we sent three pigs and got back four heads! With that kind of large operation, they just mass process. It’s virtually impossible to get your product back,” she says. Even worse, they couldn’t guarantee a timeline or the requested cuts to local chefs. If the processor got it wrong, there was nothing they could do.

They initially started out with a meat handler’s license, as most of their business was selling “hanging pig,” or whole hogs, which require scant processing. Coincidentally, Larry had started converting one of their horse stables into a canning facility for his wife, and it just took off from there. “I tore up the walls, poured concrete on the ground, and it just kept growing! Next thing I knew I was going out to sales, buying equipment. All those panels on the walls come from Ingles coolers,” he smiles. Their frugal and patient transformation proved worth it: their fully equipped state-inspected facility cost only about one-third of the cost of a new building. Noting his rail system, he says, “It took five years, just waiting for the right tracks. Every piece has a story.” Finding success this way, they are now gearing up to be a small processor for other small farms, providing a much-needed service.


For every pig that he sells, he needs to ensure that another piglet will be born, requiring foresight and planning, especially as they prepare to grow the business.

When Buxton Hall officially opened, it was clear Elliott would need more than just the occasional pig. “Elliott probably buys 75% of what ten sows can do. If [Buxton] continues to grow like it does… we’re going to need maybe 20 sows to fare before they need them,” Larry notes, as he discusses the challenges of raising hogs for a restaurant that relies on his consistent product. For every pig that he sells, he needs to ensure that another piglet will be born, requiring foresight and planning, especially as they prepare to grow the business. They hope to have 500 pigs on their farm in the coming year.

The Chef and the Farmers. Photo by Johnny Autry

The Chef and the Farmers
Photo by Johnny Autry

Elliott and the Crockers have many things in common, but foremost, they emphasize the importance of community. The Crockers met Elliott through Matt Helms of the Chop Shop and Casey McKissick of Foothills Meats, whom they had met by chance, at a class at AB Tech. Helms and McKissick were immensely helpful in getting their operation going, from being loyal customers to being present for the state inspection of Vandele’s processing facility. It was McKissick who recommended Vandele as a hog vendor for Elliott when he began to smoke pigs for events like Mike Moore’s Blind Pig Suppers. Working together, Elliott has helped Larry know what kind of hog he’s expecting. “To be successful in this business, you’ve got to have a niche,” Larry says. “But it also means working closely with your customer to find out what they really want.”

They hold a lot of stock in the food mentality of the region, noting that Asheville is a hot spot of chefs and customers looking to find good quality products grown with good karma. Instead of finding competition between businesses, they’ve only come across people in the community who want to support each other. Remarking upon McKissick’s role in their success, Larry notes, “Anybody we ever asked for help, they jumped in, and not one person ever turned us down.”


Buxton Hall Barbecue is located at 32 Banks Avenue in Asheville’s recently developed South Slope area. There, Head Chef Elliott Moss cooks up all-wood, whole-hog barbecue alongside reinvented Southern classics and Lowcountry fare from his childhood days in South Carolina. Visit their website or give them a call at 828-232-7216.

Vandele Farms on Cedar Creek is located at 530 Cedar Creek Road in Lake Lure. You can find their hogs at several retail locations in Asheville and Hendersonville, including the Chop Shop and Foothills Meats. Their farm is available for events, and they are also now processing meats for other farms. Visit their website or contact them at 828-429-9312.