Matt Watson is a third-generation cattle farmer in Chester, South Carolina. Alongside his wife Kelly and his father Gary, they have a 350 acre farm and rent an additional 80 acres.
Matt recounts his grandfather moving to South Carolina in 1979 and resumed farming operations. He explains the evolution of the family farm in the 1980s and 1990s from row crop farming to strictly livestock farming, due in part because of the 1980s farm crisis. Matt has been farming full time since 2008, after he graduated from college with a degree in mass communication. Watson Farms currently uses rotational pasture grazing for their cattle and pig herds, and traditional coop methods for turkeys. Kelly takes care of the farm’s egg-laying hens. They sell meat directly to consumers, which they started in 2007.
|0:00:28||Matt discusses how long he has been farming|
|0:00:44||Matt explains the history of Watson Farms|
|0:01:20||Watson Farms moved from Indiana to South Carolina|
|0:02:00||Evolution of crops and livestock at Watson Farms|
|0:02:28||End of rowcrop farming due to weather and farm crisis of the 1980s|
|0:03:29||Acreage of Watson Farms|
|0:03:43||Livestock on Watson Farms|
|0:04:12||Matt discusses going to college at Winthrop University|
|0:05:02||Why Matt decided to become a farmer|
|0:06:40||Farming organically without the label|
|0:07:39||Matt switches with Kelly. She discusses selling and distributing their meats.|
|0:08:17||Kelly explains why farmers markets don’t work for their products|
|0:09:06||The start of their direct-to-consumer business model|
|0:09:33||Difficulties in raising livestock|
|0:10:19||Kelly explains the sale barn|
|0:10:47||How the farm-to-table movement has affected Watson Farms|
|0:11:31||Working to educate the public about the farm and agricultural methods|
|0:12:37||Dealing with rainy and cold weather on pigs, cattle and hens|
|0:17:32||Government support for farmers|
|0:18:43||Aspects of farming that people don’t understand|
|0:20:51||Watson Farms’ labor force|
|0:21:32||Looking forward and the future of Watson Farms|
|0:23:24||The farm’s social media presence|
>> Louanne Hoverman: My name is Louanne Hoverman, graduate student at UNC Charlotte. Interviewing Matt Watson. Matt, how long have you been farming?
>> Matt Watson: Full-time since 2008 when I got out of college. But I grew up on the farm. And but full-time since 2008.
>> Louanne Hoverman: So you grew up on the farm.
How far back does it go?
>> Matt Watson: My dad and my granddad both were full-time farmers, basically all their life. And even back further than that my family. Had farmland but so at least, I’m at least the third generation.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, I saw on the website that the farms started in Indiana.
>> Matt Watson: That’s right.
>> Louanne Hoverman: With your grandfather?
>> Matt Watson: That’s right, yeah. So they farmed in Southern Indiana around Vincennes, little town of Vincennes and they moved down here in 1979 and 1980.
>> Louanne Hoverman: What brought them to South Carolina?
>> Matt Watson: Right, just a number of different things but my granddad originally moved down here to retire, but he didn’t end up doing that, and he ended up kept farming and talked my dad kinda into coming down here and farming with him.
They could buy ground cheaper down here. They could buy three acres for every acre they sold up there, so they had about 300 and some acres in Indian and they ended up at one time owning about 1200 acres down here and doing real crop farming until the mid 90s and then we got out of real crops and we started doing commercial turkeys and then.
It’s just a kinda evolved into other things. From there we started grass fed beef in 2007. And so, yeah.
>> Louanne Hoverman: I wanna go back to switching from row crop farming to livestock. What made them get out of the row crop farming?
>> Matt Watson: It was, weather was one factor.
The farm crisis of the 1980’s played a role in that. They survived that, but just could never get traction after that, the interest rates being so high during the 80’s there and do you know it just kind of, if forced a bankruptcy so we had to sell off a lot of the real crop land and ended up keeping this land, and at that point ended up seeing an opportunity in the commercial turkeys and my dad put up some turkey barns and just basically making it work on a smaller acreage it meant kind of switching to a livestock operation.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, how many acres do you have now?
>> Matt Watson: Got about 350 deeded acres and we rent another 80 acre farm.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Wow, that’s a lot of land. So what type of animals do you raise?
>> Matt Watson: We raise turkeys, commercial turkeys, and pasture pigs, and cattle. And then my wife does layer chickens.
>> Louanne Hoverman: What are layer chickens?
>> Matt Watson: They lay eggs.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Matt Watson: Yeah, yeah, sort of laying hens.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Versus a meat chick I say.
>> Matt Watson: Right, that’s right.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Yeah.
>> Matt Watson: Yeah.
>> Louanne Hoverman: You mentioned you went to college. Do you have any education in farming? Or did you go for something else, like science?
Like a biology or-
>> Matt Watson: Something else.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Architecture?
>> Matt Watson: Yeah. One of those would have been great. I did Journalism.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Matt Watson: So I was a Mass Communication major at Winthrop University. And my parents wanted me to get a degree and I thought it be good too, but I didn’t get an agricultural degree or anything like that but the journalism actually is into that with some public relations with our customers being that we do direct market to our customers.
>> Louanne Hoverman: So what influenced you to take up farming?
>> Matt Watson: Yeah, I didn’t always know for sure that I wanted to farm but as I was getting out of college I started to realize that, family farms were increasingly dwindling, and so I wanted to make an opportunity there if it was possible, and so the one opportunity that wasn’t there years ago was this interest in local food, and grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised meat.
And so we saw that opportunity, and have made a run with that and it’s been doing good and customer interest is still very much there and it’s done well so far.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, so the family farm went from raw crops to turkeys, when did you start with the beef cattle?
>> Matt Watson: We’ve always had beef cattle for-
>> Louanne Hoverman: Like personal consumption?
>> Matt Watson: No, we always had them and we would market them through conventional channels through the sale barns and things and basically just [INAUDIBLE] operations, but we in 2007, we started direct marketing to the customer.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, do you farm organically?
>> Matt Watson: Not per say, we’re not technically organic but we use organic methods. But, yeah, yeah, basically.
>> Louanne Hoverman: I’ve noticed that seems to be a trend with farmers. A lot of people don’t know that to get an actual organic label. There’s a lot of paperwork, and there’s a cost associated with it.
>> Matt Watson: Yeah,
>> Louanne Hoverman: And so a lot of farmers, they don’t have the label but they still use all the organic methods. So they might as well be organic.
>> Matt Watson: Yeah.
>> Louanne Hoverman: It’s just not official.
>> Matt Watson: And I’m actually not feeling real good right now for some reason. Let me, I’m gonna let my wife continue this, if possible.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay. We are switching out with Kelly Watson, Matt’s wife. Luckily we’ve gone over a lot of the history.
>> Kelly Watson: Okay. [LAUGH]
>> Louanne Hoverman: So I want to talk about selling and distribution. So you sell your product. What are the methods that you use? You did not mention direct to consumer.
Do you sell at like farmer’s markets or to restaurants?
>> Kelly Watson: We deal with a couple of restaurants but not many. Most of ours is our customers they go on our website and place their orders on the website and we have several pick up locations from let’s say Matthews all the way down to Charleston.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Wow.
>> Kelly Watson: So we do deliveries every Saturday of the month, or people could pick up here, and that’s how most of our product gets moved.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Have you tried farmer’s markets in the past?
>> Kelly Watson: We have, we did them for about four or five years. And it just The best sales cuz you’re going and sitting out all day on Saturdays or Thursdays or whenever the market is.
And you’re having to take all those products with you in coolers, and you’re bringing back most of it because by Saturday morning markets, a lot of customers aren’t ready to buy frozen meat because they’ve got list of things to do on that Saturday and that kinda thing. So we decided that we were gonna stop those and we haven’t done those in several years now just because it just didn’t work for us anymore.
>> Louanne Hoverman: That makes sense.
>> Kelly Watson: Yeah.
>> Louanne Hoverman: How did you start the director consumer method, just word of mouth?
>> Kelly Watson: Just word of mouth that is what most of ours is. We have a Facebook page and we’re putting stuff on the Facebook page and we have a YouTube page.
But most ours is just word f mouth. So we started a lot of those customers of last year are doing the farmers markets, we told them and a lot of them stuck on and then just people researching and finding us and that kind of thing.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Are there any difficulties that you have experienced in raising the livestock?
>> Kelly Watson: Goodness, no, not really. It’s pretty, I don’t want to say easy, but it’s minimal. You’ll have some that get sick, that kind of thing and we’ll treat those just so we don’t lose them. But we don’t sell them in our pasture meats business. If it’s a cow we’ll sell it to the sell bar, if it’s a pig we’ll kill it and eat it ourselves.
But we don’t sell it since it’s been medicated and that kind of thing, but yeah, overall it’s not that bad.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, Matt mentioned the sale barn, what’s the sale barn?
>> Kelly Watson: It is we like Chester life Stock Exchange is where different farmers from wherever. A lot of like the one in Chester, a lot of local farmers, but people come from all over and you can sell your cows and pigs and that kinda thing through them.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Kelly Watson: Yeah, and buy of course.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Has the recent emphasis on farm to table increased sales or have you seen an effect?
>> Kelly Watson: Yes there’s as it grows, of course, you get more people that are wanting, as I learn what they’re getting when they bought store bought me compared to what they’re getting from the farm.
Our business grows at with that. Farm to table yeah, that has a big role with it because when I see restaurants wanting to do that, then individuals are wanting to do that. So they realized, hey, that really means something, [LAUGH]
>> Louanne Hoverman: Do you guys take part in any education like teach the public why pastured meat is maybe better than some of the conventional.
>> Kelly Watson: Yeah, we’re constantly doing that on our Facebook page. We’re doing videos, we have on our YouTube page as well, we’re constantly doing videos that educate why we do what we do and raise the animals how they’re supposed to be done. And, throughout the year, we’ll have some groups come out for tours and stuff.
We’re a big part of the ag and art tour in June. So a lot of people come out that day so they can see it and we’re of course doing hay rides, educating that whole time. And throughout the year other little things that pop up we’ll do from time to time.
But a lot of our education we do from our website and our Facebook page.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, this is pretty rural area, but have you encountered any complaints about smell, noise
>> Kelly Watson: No, most people that live out here know that they are in farming country. So they know that it’s going to happen, so
>> Louanne Hoverman: This region has very volatile weather patterns, I mean, yesterday it snowed and this afternoon its 70 degrees, so does that have any effect on the animals?
>> Kelly Watson: It can, when we have days like yesterday, we take extra precautions. We took some hay back to the pigs to let them have something to kind of bed down into, gives them something dry cuz the course, the ground was wet.
[COUGH] But most animals, they’re developed to live outside.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Yeah.
>> Kelly Watson: So one day like that is not, [COUGH]. Now, I’m not saying that they like being in the snow all the time, but day to day like this, no. It wasn’t enough yesterday to matter or make a big influence or anything like that.
We do take extra precautions, like I said, with the pigs we gave them hay so they could bed down and stuff. Not much you can do with the cows, [LAUGH] and that kind of thing. And on our land hands, we keep the curtains rolled up when it’s cold, so that they have somewhere they can go inside their hoot house, and get away from the wind, and the weather, and that kind of thing, so.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, now this past winter was extremely rainy, did that have any effect on, seems like the pigs are more susceptible to strange weather.
>> Kelly Watson: Yes, we lost several groups of pigs after they were born. When they were real little just because of the water. And it would run into the houses, kind of out of our control.
And if it’s real cold, then piglets don’t do well on that. If it’s,
>> Kelly Watson: Other than that, no, it just makes a mess on the farm, [LAUGH]. Everywhere you go is muddy, but there are times where it gets a little bit rough on them, but it doesn’t normally last too long.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Yeah, I saw your YouTube video from yesterday, that Matt recorded. Where there’s this giant mud puddle next to the pigs, and the snow is coming down, and that’s the perfect representation of our winter.
>> Kelly Watson: It is.
>> Louanne Hoverman: It’s muddy-
>> Kelly Watson: And the pigs will still stay in the mud, they love it.
It can be cold, it can be hot they do it more when it’s hot and this type of weather than anytime. But yeah, they’ll still roll around in the mud and this winter several times they’d be laid out in the mud puddles, but that’s what they use to cool off.
They use the water and the mud puddles to keep them cool so they don’t get too hot. So, yeah, [LAUGH] lots of puddles around.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Now since all of your pigs and your cows are pasture raised, how do you handle droughts? Like when the grass gets really dry and just doesn’t grow very well, like in the heat of the summer.
>> Kelly Watson: Luckily, yeah, around here it doesn’t get too bad. We do go through droughts, but yeah, we plant annuals that help our grass grow, but we also have hay that we put up and silage that we put up in the fall, I guess? [LAUGH] And so if it’s necessary, in the wintertime, of course, we could do that, because there’s not much grass that grows in the wintertime.
But if we need to in a drought, we can feed that as well, so they at least have something for the cows. For the pigs, they still get grain, they get their feed every day. But the cows, we can give them that hay to supplement them and give them stuff.
They just don’t gain the weight as easy in those months.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Yeah, what kind of local cooperative organizations are you both involved with? Is there anything with the sale barn like this?
>> Kelly Watson: No, we are not I mean, I guess you can technically say, yeah, we don’t do anything with Sell Barn except if we have to sell something.
We work with Catawba Farm and Food Coalition, I think is the name of it. And they’re in Chester and its a food hub. So we work with them, and right now we’re just doing eggs through them. So they got some restaurants in Charlotte that are getting our eggs.
And there’s a place like that in Charleston that we work with, but other than that.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Kelly Watson: It’s just us. [LAUGH]
>> Louanne Hoverman: What kind of support has been available through the government, whether it’s local, state, or even federal, any?
>> Kelly Watson: There are a lot of programs out there for new farmers and young farmers.
Not that we’re old, but people that are just starting out, there are some programs out there for that. But we don’t, us personally, we don’t get anything from the government, or anything like that to run our operation.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Even though you guys are pretty young, since it’s a third generation farm, does that have any impact on support from the government?
Cuz technically the farm isn’t new-
>> Kelly Watson: Yes.
>> Louanne Hoverman: But you guys are.
>> Kelly Watson: We, I guess, technically we could get help, but we just haven’t. We haven’t gotten to that point to where we’ve needed them to do anything. Honestly, if we can [LAUGH] stay away from getting them involved in anything, then we do.
Nothing against the government, but.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, what’s an aspect of farming that most people wouldn’t understand?
>> Kelly Watson: Just the everyday work that goes into it. It’s not just a 9 to 5 job. It’s sometimes sunup to sundown. That you actually have to take care of the animals. You can’t just give them their water and expect them to be good or give them their grass.
They’ve got to be moved. We’re constantly checking on all of them. Every day we go around and check all animals, make sure, cuz anything can happen. You can have everything good one day and the next day have a herd of pigs that’s dead or something like that. But just that it is intensive work.
Everybody thinks that, you just get to be outside all day and do that. And yes, you do, and on beautiful days, it’s great. But we’re working in the rain, in the snow, 0 degree weather,100 degree weather it doesn’t matter. So just that it’s not as good as everybody thinks it is.
It is hard work, and there’s not vacations. And especially owning your own farm, you can’t just take off whenever because there are animals that have to be taken care of and all that.
>> Louanne Hoverman: It sounds like you might be able to eke out a day.
>> Kelly Watson: We can, and we’re lucky.
If we have an employee working for us at that time or half days here and there. And sometimes even our time is just, we go to the back of the farm with the kids and do something at the creek or that kind of thing. So there is time, but it is not as easy.
You don’t get paid vacation and sick days [LAUGH] and all that, so.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Even if you have a cold or the flu, the cows still need to be fed.
>> Kelly Watson: They still need to be fed and-
>> Louanne Hoverman: Go check on the pigs.
>> Kelly Watson: Yes, and all that, so, yeah, you work 365 days in a year.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, you mentioned an employee. What does your labor force consist of?
>> Kelly Watson: Meaning? [LAUGH]
>> Louanne Hoverman: Who works on the farm?
>> Kelly Watson: Right now it is my husband and myself and my father-in-law. I deal with all of our customers and orders and that end of it. And my husband and my father-in-law do the outside work.
We have had employees from time to time that help us out just to make it a little bit easier on my husband and that kind of thing. But when we have an employee he’s doing the same things we’re doing. If we’ve gotta set posts for a fence or whatever, he’s doing that same stuff, so.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Kelly Watson: Yeah, but right now it’s just the three of us.
>> Louanne Hoverman: What do you see for the future of the farm?
>> Kelly Watson: We hope that our children want to do this. Right now, we have a six-year-old and a two-year-old. And our six-year-old washes eggs with us every day.
She’s out there working with us, she loves going out. But that’s our goal is that more people will come to realize that this is the way the meat’s supposed to be raised to help us stay [LAUGH] in business. But then also, just that our children wanna continue it for generations on down.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, is there anything else that I may have not thought of?
>> Kelly Watson: You covered it pretty well. [LAUGH]
>> Louanne Hoverman: You mentioned YouTube and Facebook. Who handles the social media?
>> Kelly Watson: Me and Matthew, me, both of us.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Kelly Watson: We both kind of, he does most of the videos.
There for a while I was doing most of the videos, but he does all the editing and getting them put on Facebook and YouTube [LAUGH] cuz he’s better at that. But just our regular posts and stuff on Facebook, we both do. So with everything on our website, we’re both constantly, we just both do it.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Kelly Watson: There’s aspects that he can do and stuff that I can do [LAUGH], so it works.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Team effort.
>> Kelly Watson: Yes, team effort.
>> Louanne Hoverman: Okay, that was pretty much it.
>> Kelly Watson: All right.