Toths’ business spiking up despite uncertain times
BLACKSTONE, Va. — Despite a downturn in some farming businesses due to COVID-19, C&L Farm in Nottoway County has strived.
“It hasn’t affected us really,” says Lathan Toth of C&L Farm. “We’ve really picked up on business.”
His wife, Carolynn, says, “One of the toughest things is to keep everything rolling at the right pace.”
In addition to raising their own animals for sale, the Toths hold a state custom permit to process meat.
“We have had numerous people coming in and buying animals for their families,” Carolynn says. “We’ve got other people, who also raise [livestock] looking for someone to process [them].”
During the early weeks of the pandemic, people were scared and wondered where they were going to buy their meat, and many found their farm, Carolynn says.
Years ago while selling at a farmers market in Chesterfield, Va., Carolynn saw a change in people who were purchasing eggs and other farm products from her. They were questioning where their food came from.
The more she listened, read up on food supplies, and heard how large USDA processing plants were being built, she told her husband, “I have a hunch that in the next few years people are going to start turning back toward the old ways.
“Then you’ve got people that are not educated, or they don’t know anything like this can happen,” she adds. “But it does. Now, they’re looking at things a lot differently. People are actually looking into the future and are going back to the old ways. I see more and more people trying to make their own bread, food like we used to back in the day.”
Because of that movement and the virus scare, the Toths find themselves booked into next year for processing meat.
Neither Lathan nor Carolynn anticipated their future. Before marrying Lathan in 2011, she was a reconciliation analyst for a pharmaceutical company in Richmond, Va. Before that, she worked as a manager of direct retail stock that came into stores. As a youngster, she grew up in San Mateo about 25 miles south of San Francisco; however, she regularly participated in 4-H clubs in the nearby countryside, raising rabbits and learning how to care for different kinds of animals.
Lathan grew up in the country. His family ran a dairy farm before selling the herd due to low milk prices.
With her leadership and management skills and his farming background, the Toths used those experiences to pursue their farming lifestyle. The couple first built their farm business, buying two Jersey cows and goats so Carolynn could milk them and make cheese and butter. She also sold shares in goats and cows, and they sold farm-raised animals. She attended the farmers market in Chesterfield too. And of course, there was the processing side of the business, which was taking hold.
“The further we got out, the more volume we started getting,” she says, “and the demand was just so high for everything.”
Some of their customers include those of an ethnic background. They will visit the farm, pick out their own goat, lamb or cow, ask the Toths to process the meat in chunks about palm size, and then those customers will haul the cuts home in coolers.
The meat processing side of the business has grown even more since the pandemic.
We never dreamed of doing as many cattle,” Carolynn says. “We were more into the smaller animals — the goats, the sheep and the hogs with a couple of cows here and there. Nothing huge. When we did this, we had no clue how it was going to turn out, and how it was going to accelerate the way it did. We had to compromise and continue to add on [to the facility] in places; otherwise, we would have done a whole different design. We started out thinking it was only going to be so big, and it just took off. There’s been times when it’s been kind of overwhelming, when COVID hit and we had everybody coming at us from all directions.”
She estimates that processing beef alone has quadrupled during the pandemic. That doesn’t include processing hogs and poultry. More people are raising their own chickens, rabbits, lambs, and goats and hauling them to the Toths for processing, they say.
“That’s been coming on for a long time just because of certain ethnic groups that have moved to the state,” Carolynn says, “and their primary food source is either a lamb or a goat.”
Hunters also bring in their game, such as deer, bear, geese and turkeys, for processing.
In addition to meat processing, the Toths raise cattle of their own such including pasture-fed Charolais, Herford, and black and red Angus. They also raise free-range and pasture-fed sheep, goats, hogs, rabbits, ducks, chickens and turkeys.
Additionally, they grow, cut and bale orchardgrass for hay that they feed their animals in the wintertime. When grass isn’t available, they feed some grain but only when necessary. They purchase the grain from Lathan’s brother, Bo Toth, a Nottoway County cattle farmer operating The Toth Farm.
Free-range and pasture-fed practices are important to the couple. “For one, the animal is in its natural environment,” Carolynn says. “As much as I hate to see an animal killed, I’d like to look at it, as it has had a good life for the amount of time it’s been here.”
Lathan and Carolynn rely mostly on word-of-mouth promotion from their customers. In the beginning of their venture together, she set up a Facebook page and picked up a lot of first-time customers selling at the farmers’ market in Chesterfield. Additionally, they recently established their website https://clfarm.farm which provides information about the farm, its owners, meat cut sheets, pricing, blog and farm photos.
Carolynn says customers come from places such as the Virginia cities of Richmond, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Newport News, as well as Washington, D.C., and places in between.
With all of their success in these difficult times, would they do anything differently?
“I would say we’re pretty much established now,” Carolynn says, “and it’s more trying to keep up.”
With their increase in business, the Toths are planning for the future by adding onto their processing facility. They already own one walk-in cooler and one upright commercial freezer but are installing a second walk-in cooler and a second walk-in freezer.
The plan is to continue expanding when necessary. “I’m assuming this is going to go even further.” Carolynn says of their farming business, “so we’re kind of looking into the future — where to go, what do we need?
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