When my parents bought Sonoma Direct in 2005, I felt more like an innocent bystander than a CEO. The meat business was far from any vision I had of a better tomorrow. I had imagined myself less as a meat maven than as an expat playwright, bringing theatre into a new golden age in my hometown.
Mom and Dad had bought the business from a Dutch man with a metronomic sense of profit and expenses. Meat was the measure of exchange, but it could have been anything. Cheap, imported meat came in by the truckload and was exported as smaller, more expensive pieces of meat.
The carrier boats arriving with our meat from New Zealand could be carrying the work of 1,000 ranchers with unknowable standards and beliefs. Well, who were our producers?
We sold thousands of pounds of Veal Marengo. But what array of scraps went into Veal Marengo, exactly?
Our orders were delivered via a trucking company and container ships to hotels in cities far, far away. So who were our customers?
For a numbers person who happened to be in the meat business, it may have worked. But for a playwright who happened into the meat business, it was a tragedy without a story.
I realized, about six months into my new job, that I was surrounded by fields filled with lamb. So I went in search of it. To get to lamb, you have to go through ranchers, and so I began to meet them.
The first rancher I met was Joe Pozzi. I presented Joe with a hazy plan: Lamb raised in Sonoma County gets processed in Sonoma County and then sold in Sonoma County. Not bought elsewhere, shipped from elsewhere, and shipped elsewhere again.
Joe and I have been working out the details since. And that feels, at last, like the beginning of a story, not just a tragedy.
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