Stacey and John Grabski were mainly beef farmers before they had the idea to open a store on their property. Angus and Herefords were bred onsite and sold by whole or halves to customers. The farm was also home to horses that the Grabskis showed in Western Pleasure.
The two were originally Pennsylvania natives before they married and moved north. When they settled in the Finger Lakes region, they weren’t sure how long they would live in the area.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to stay. But honestly, the Finger Lakes are awesome. The winters are great — especially compared to what we grew up with,” said Stacey.
Their farm, Big Mamou Organic Farm located in Branchport, NY, has transformed into an organic food destination, with a large farm store, animals, produce, and a certified 20-C kitchen onsite.
Big Mamou Organic Farm started by selling the farm’s organically raised, grass-fed beef and eggs. In the past, they have also raised and sold meat chickens, hogs and lamb. Currently they specialize in hay, haylage, an assortment of organic and chemical free produce, grass-fed beef, chicken and certified organic soy-free eggs.
The Grabskis started The Farm Store at Big Mamou Organic Farm with the idea that they could create a centralized store featuring local organic fed meats for local customers to benefit in a diverse selection.
“I think there’s a real need to bring a central location in,” said John. Branchport is located in the Finger Lakes, a region that contains many farms both large and small. John and Stacey believe that if farmers join together, they could possibly form a brand and sell their goods together. Then their products could reach larger markets.
“This store is a little mini version of that concept,” said Stacey.
“The farm store isn’t going to reach that big of a size,” said John. “But it’s a start in the right direction.”
Open on Saturdays, the store carries meat and produce raised on Big Mamou Farm and local organic farms in the surrounding area. The meat sold at the shop includes lamb, mutton, bison, beef, chicken, pork, rose veal and rabbit.
“The Finger Lakes is a large organic region,” Stacey said. “We’re lucky that on this big hill we have so many neighbors that are farmers and organic farmers.”
The store also carries locally made maple syrup and other locally made products.
“Stacey does business with a whole host of different neighbors that each have a specialized product, yet may not have a good venue to sell it,” said John.
“Maybe they don’t have the time to sell it, or time to market it directly to the customer,” added Stacey. This is where The Farm Store at Big Mamou helps bring local organic fed meats together in one location.
Products that are not raised at Big Mamou are purchased from local organic farms. Stacey buys the animals and they are processed by USDA-certified butchers and processors. The Grabskis try to use processors who are relatively close by. “We don’t want the animals on the trailer for too long,” said John.
Chickens, bison and rabbits that Stacey either raises herself or purchases from a neighboring farm go to special processors who are certified for those specific animals.
“The people who process my chickens do so first thing in the morning so they can keep everything separate from conventional chickens,” Stacey explained. “I go there really early and then wait for them [to be processed]. It’s worth it.”
Stacey chooses what to stock in the farm store by asking her customers what they are looking for and by what she is currently raising on the farm. Some farmers have even reached out to them with specific products.
“Like the woman who raises our rabbits. She actually got in touch with me,” Stacey said. “She was going to start raising rabbits on grass and organic feed and asked if I was interested.”
Customer feedback not only helps decide what should be raised on the farm but also how it is stocked in the farm store. When the Grabskis originally began selling their beef, they sold in wholes or halves but soon switched to (smaller) individual cuts.
“Some people just wanted maybe 10 pounds of hamburger,” John explained.
Even now, the store sells by the quarter and by the cut. “People don’t always have a big freezer or want to buy an entire quarter,” Stacey said.
Customers were also the driving force behind Big Mamou’s decision to have all of their eggs soy-free. Stacey had so many customers asking for soy-free eggs and chicken that she set up a preordering program. The customers would put in their orders ahead of time and Stacey could plan her feed accordingly. Eventually there were so many requests that she switched all her chickens over to soy-free organic feed.
This is one unique aspect to farm store. By keeping the business small and locally sourced, the Grabskis are able to cater to people with allergies and special diets.
“It’s really great to meet these people. I’ve really learned a lot,” said Stacey.
The customers of The Farm Store at Big Mamou come from far and wide, with specific tastes and needs.
“All the strange items that you wouldn’t think people would want, they want,” Stacey explained. “They want hearts, kidneys, tongues and oxtails. Especially if they are organic.”
This desire for offal fits in with Stacey’s views. When processing the animals, Stacey wants to use as much of the animal as possible.
“I always save everything. So we have the bones and in our onsite 20-C kitchen, we make bone broth that’s organic. That’s a product that is popular in our store,” Stacey said.
The lengths customers will go through to buy from the store is always unexpected for the Grabskis. “The surprise is the desire and need for organic and grass-fed meat. The people who are really doing it for health reasons are willing to drive here. We have customers come from Canandaigua, Geneva, even Rochester.”
Customers with summer homes in the Finger Lakes like to shop at the store too. “People who come from California to summer here, shop here.
Outside of regular customers, Big Mamou works with local restaurants in the area to provide goods for regular menu items and special events. They participate in local “Meat Your Farmer” and “Meat and Greet” events in the Finger Lakes area. These events pair up meat and other goods sold at the store with local customers, restaurants and chefs.
With the addition of The Cookhouse at Big Mamou, a certified 20-C kitchen, the Grabskis are able to host dinners, special events, and community classes. Some classes included how to make your own yogurt and how to make your own corned beef. These events bring more potential customers in to sample all the goods available at the farm store.
Future plans for The Farm Store at Big Mamou include adding on to the store and expanding their offerings at both the store and The Cookhouse. The Grabskis are also looking into incorporating permaculture on the farm.
“We’re just constantly growing,” said John.