By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University 

Let’s have a steak dinner at the beautiful Savoy at 21c restaurant in downtown Kansas City. Where did this Black Angus beef come from? It was brought here directly from a farm in the Flint Hills of rural Kansas.

Sara and Jay Shivers are the owners and operators of Salt Creek Farm in Greenwood County where Sara grew up. She is the daughter of Don and Jan Stephens who run cattle at Rafter S Ranch.

Sara went to K-State. She earned a master’s degree at the University of North Texas where she met her husband Jay, a country boy who was getting a master’s in urban planning. They lived in the Dallas area and Sara worked in non-profit management.

Sara had always wanted to come back to the ranch to help her father. She shared that desire with her husband.

“We knew we wanted to move to Kansas, but urban planning jobs are few and far between,” Sara said. “On our honeymoon, we day-dreamed about selling beef direct to consumers.”

When their first daughter was born, Sara was home on maternity leave and spotted a posting for a job opening for a city planner in El Dorado, Kansas. She passed it on to Jay and he applied.

“Within five weeks, he accepted the job and we bought a house sight unseen in Kansas,” Sara said. A couple of years later, they built a house on Salt Creek near her parents on the ranch.

Sara now partners with her father in ranch operations. The ranch is south of Eureka and north of the rural community of Severy, population 205 people. Now, that’s rural.

“My dad told me we needed a better way to market our beef,” Sara said. While she and Jay were in Dallas, they had observed that urban consumers were becoming increasingly interested in where their food came from.

Back in Kansas, the Shivers launched Salt Creek Farm in 2017 to market cuts of home-raised beef, heritage chicken and lamb directly to consumers. The beef is purchased from the ranch, processed locally, and dry-aged.

Sara assumed they would sell to individuals. When her cousin in Kansas City asked for beef to serve at his brewery, she gave it a try. Soon other restaurants became customers to which Sara would deliver.

Then COVID-19 hit. “I was halfway through my deliveries in KC when the shutdown orders were issued,” Sara said. “Chefs were calling to cancel orders left and right.”

Fortunately, Jay had already built the website for the business. Online consumer demand picked up quickly. “Social media has been a game-changer,” Sara said. “At the height of the pandemic, I posted online that we had restocked our meat supplies and we sold out a whole beef in 13 minutes.”

Today, Salt Creek Farm sells to consumers across the nation plus two dozen restaurants in the Kansas City area. In addition to individual cuts or bundles of beef, chicken and lamb, Salt Creek Farms offers a Farm Club Subscription Box through which subscribers can receive a customized mix of meat cuts every month.

In fall 2022, Salt Creek Farm opened a retail outlet in Eureka. Jay started beekeeping as a hobby and is now offering local honey also.

“I have been blown away by our local support,” Sara said. She and Jay are also busy with eight- and five-year-old daughters, Stella and Margot.

“I love being able to provide high quality beef to consumers and to showcase my dad’s hard work through the years,” Sara said. “I enjoy the connection with our customers, answering questions about how and why we raise beef.”

Salt Creek Farm has literally shipped products across the U.S., from New Hampshire to Hawaii.  “One customer in Louisiana told me, ‘I didn’t know beef could taste like this,’” Sara said.

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It’s time to leave our steak dinner, sourced from Salt Creek Farm. We commend Sara and Jay Shivers for making a difference with direct marketing of their products. Such entrepreneurship is all too rare, but this is well done.

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