When they were their early 20s, Lynsey and Jason Kramer, owners of Yonder Way Farm in Fayetteville, grappled with health issues normally associated with people decades older.
“At 22 I was insulin-resistant, pre-diabetic and struggling with fertility issues,” Lynsey said. “At 23 Jason was a Houston firefighter; we couldn’t afford a life-insurance policy because the required physical revealed he had ‘the bloodwork of a 70-year-old.’”
The couple, who had met and married as undergrads at Sam Houston State University, vowed to change their lifestyles beginning with their diets. Over time, their quest for pasture-raised meat and organic vegetables and fruits, purchased as close to the source as possible, led them to a new life.
“We weren’t farmers—and we didn’t set out to be,” said Lynsey, who was reared in Arlington. “Our journey to better health took us to a place we didn’t expect.”
The Unexpected Destination
The first stop was 100 acres near Brenham owned by Jason’s aunt and uncle. Knowing the Kramers were
searching for a life closer to the land, the older couple asked the young family to come live on the property with them and help take care of it. In 2006, the Kramers did just that. They fixed fences shredded pastures and tackled the ever-present “to do” list when Jason wasn’t on duty at the fire station in Houston.
“During this time we were frustrated by how difficult it was to find the type of food we wanted to eat,” Lynsey said. “One day Jason said, ‘We have 100 acres here. Why aren’t we just growing our own?’”
They planted gardens and acquired some chickens, both layers and broilers, and eventually a few cows and hogs.
“We knew nothing, except that animal agriculture is a big responsibility—if you mess up, a living creature can die,” Lynsey said. “We went slowly, took our responsibilities seriously and paid close attention to Mother Nature because she’s an excellent teacher.”
In addition to Mother Nature, they periodically turned to YouTube. For instance, they learned to butcher chickens by watching a video of an Amish family completing the task.
“It was our first batch of broilers—there were 50 of them ready to process for our freezer, so we put the girls to bed, sat down at the computer and took notes,” Lynsey said laughing at the memory. “Like everything else, it gets easier once you do it.” (These days all of the meat is processed at a state-inspected facility.)
As they gained knowledge, confidence and proficiency, Jason had another idea.
“He suggested we expand what we were doing for our family by providing wholesome meat and eggs to other families,” Lynsey said. “We’re both entrepreneurs at heart and prefer the risk and independence of self-employment, so it had a distinct appeal.”
The idea incubated.
When Jason’s uncle died and his aunt chose to move, the idea of having their own farm hatched. The Kramers considered staying on the Washington County property but were drawn to Fayette County.
“When we began our property search, we only looked in Fayette County,” Lynsey said. “Something about it called us.”
In 2011, the big-city firefighter, the former professional photographer and their brood of four beautiful blonde chicks, ranging in age from seven years to six months, arrived at their unexpected destination. They purchased a 36-acre farm just outside Fayetteville and named it Yonder Way.
“We arrived with a passion for farming the way the Lord designed,” Lynsey said. “By being good stewards of the land and raising animals free of confinement in a natural environment, our goal is to re-establish the almost-lost art of grass farming.”
The Business of Protein
From the outset, Yonder Way Farm has been a livestock farm. In fact, the chickens and the eggs (as well as the pork and the beef) came first. Well, they came before the customers.
“When the farm started social media didn’t exist,” Lynsey said. “We networked the old-fashioned way.”
They targeted potential clients in Houston and Austin at gyms, yoga studios, health food stores, naturopaths and alternative medicine providers and other places of business where the clients were already tuned into their health.
“We offered a product people couldn’t easily find, and we connected on a personal level that inspired them to support our business,” Lynsey said.
Not content to hope for sales at farmers’ markets or other outlets, the Kramers established a delivery service for their urban and suburban customers. On designated days Jason and the girls deliver to specific locations, and the farm’s clients can pick up their orders.
“Yonder Way Farm was the original curbside delivery service,” Lynsey said. “It’s convenient for our customers, and it allows us to maintain that connection between what we do and what they eat.”
The connection is important. Some of their customers have been with them for the past 12 years and are now ordering food for their children who are at college or in their first adult jobs.
“In our business model we need to feed 300 families a month,” Lynsey said. “In the scheme of American food systems, it’s a tiny niche, but one that is very important to us.”
Social media has expanded the connection and increased demand. With a newly upgraded website, the Kramers are preparing to ship nationally.
“Thanks to social media, people have heard our story and are hungry for what we do,” Lynsey said. “Philosophically it’s been a bit of a leap because Jason and I are so focused locally, but they feel connected to our farm and want to support us, so we need to feed them.”
Plus, the world has changed.
“We never imagined a time when people wouldn’t want to go to the grocery store themselves,” Lynsey said referring to the explosion of delivery services. “As a society our relationship to our food and where it comes from just gets further removed and more confused. We simplify it for our customers.”
From a customer’s perspective, Yonder Way Farm offers maximum flexibility.
Instead of requiring customers to order a quarter or more of a steer or hog, the Kramers offer retail cuts. Customers mix and match ribs, roasts, steaks, sausage, bacon, whole chickens, chicken pieces and eggs in each order. For delivery there is a $50 minimum. There is no minimum order for farm pick-up.
In addition, Yonder Way Farm’s product list includes lard, rendered beef tallow, organ meats and a variety of bone broths. They also provide access to a variety of products including olive oil, sourdough bread and preserved fermented foods from like-minded area farms.
“Our approach to farming is different than that of large commercial farms,” Lynsey said. “Part of our business is helping customers understand the difference—and how that translates into what they’re putting in their mouths.”
Land, Livestock and Life
The Kramers selected Red Angus cattle as the source for their Yonder Way Farm beef, Mangalitsa, a heritage breed, as the source of their pork and a Cornish-Rock cross as the source for their poultry. They rely on Production Reds and Hylines to produce eggs. All the animals are raised on pasture, so their primary food source is grass as well as forbs or, in the case of the hogs, acorns.
“We rotate our animals so the land is enriched by their manure, but it also gets to rest and recover in between,” Lynsey said.
All livestock feed is non-GMO. None contains soy or corn.
“So many people have allergies to soy and corn; our customers asked us to avoid it in our feed,” Lynsey said. “It took some doing, but we pulled it off.”
The family only uses antibiotics if necessary to treat an animal’s illness. Treated animals are taken out of the farm’s production.
“In our opinion, withholding treatment to a sick animal is inhumane, so we treat as necessary and then keep them segregated,” Lynsey said. “Of course, because of the way our stock is raised, we have very few health problems.”
They also keep their herds closed. All animals in their care are bred and raised on the farm or on leased land. They partner with Mark Stang from Schulenburg and run 300 cows on 4,000 acres of leased land. A closed herd allows them to control the genetics, prevent diseases from being introduced from outside, and control every aspect of the animals’ care.
When the Kramers became full-time farmers, they constituted the entire workforce. Today, they have four full-time employees as well as their daughters who have grown alongside Yonder Way Farm.
“One of the best things about our life is that we’re all in it together,” Lynsey said noting their girls are homeschooled. “When it comes to jobs, we all do whatever needs to be done, but it’s been amazing to watch our older daughters find their skills and talents on the farm.”
Their oldest, who is 14, gravitates to the administrative and customer service side of the business and can often be found waiting on customers, writing thank you notes or working in the farm store. Their second daughter, 11, chooses to work outdoors alongside Jason, preferably with the animals. The youngest, 9and 7, pitch in where they can.
“The farm is our classroom,” Lynsey said. “It’s a place of life lessons. On a farm, sometimes you give it your all, but it’s still not enough. It’s humbling, but you have to get up, brush off and do it again.”
Challenges abound. Animals get sick. The weather turns fierce. Consumers tastes change.
She continued, “Farming, as my favorite saying goes, is a profession of hope. We’re blessed to cultivate our life in an environment of hope.”
Living Life Out on Yonder Way Farm
by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Mendoza Photography