The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Jason Mauck. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Jason Mauck. Jason is a farmer in Gaston, Indiana, or thereabout. I bet you hang out at the Barking Cow from time to time.
Jason: You’ve been to the Barking Cow?
Jim: No, but Google Earth showed it. One of the few points of interest in Gaston, Indiana.
Jason: Very few.
Jim: Goodness. So why don’t we start with, tell us the story of how you got into farming. You didn’t really initially set out to be a family farmer.
Jason: My dad thought it’d be a good idea to tag along my grandpa and delivering Pioneer seed in about 1975. And he found another farm daughter and my mom and I think one thing led to the other in a gravel road or two, and here I am. But both sides of my family farmed, so it was a spot where I thought I was always going to farm. But it didn’t go as Wally Cleaver would have written it. You want me to go on from there?
Jim: Give me the 90-second tour. Kid grows up in farm country, accidental result of encounter on a dark road.
Jason: Yeah, so my mom, when I was in high school and college, corn was probably like a buck fifty and beans were $4, and we weren’t making any money. And I wasn’t the dumbest kid in school. So she wanted me to go to school and get a real job or a business job. So I went away and got a marketing degree. I went to Indianapolis, selling insurance and came back home and getting a landscape contractor. And once I got in my late 20s, my father got pancreatic cancer, and he brought me back to teach me how to do his job. And I had about four or five months with him. And 2011 was the first crop I put out, basically just replacing him of what he did on the farm. So I was like a literal life relay, from him to me.
Jim: That’s a tough story and a tough way to get into the business. But you’ve done some interesting things since, right? What are you doing on your farm now?
Jason: I have two lives, kind of Jekyll and Hyde, if you will. I’ve got the nuclear family farm where we farm about 3000 acres. And I’m here at the office with Jonathan, and we started concept canopy about five years ago, is basically just a Twitter page. And it’s let to a lot of experimentation, a lot of new ideas. I started farming multiple crops at once and now we’re getting the integrazing. We bought a meat company. So we’re trying to leave the idea of a farmer needs to stay in his lane and just produce, produce, produce.
Jason: We talked about five more bushel, five more bushel, keep fertilizing, and actually feed people. That’s what it comes down to. And when you get into that space, it really opens up your bandwidth to be able to do a lot more things than just grow something that the Chicago Board of Trade sets a price for.
Jim: Yeah, it varies by the day. You have no control over it, right?
Jim: So what are the big issues facing the classic big production farmers in a place like Indiana?
Jason: Well, I don’t think, right now, we’ve got some relatively good times anytime the economy is uncertain, and we have hyperinflation. The last time, we had a left administration times are good with Obama right after that 2009, 2010 ethanol was coming on and corn went up to 8 bucks, beans were 18. And now we went back. So, economics are good, but one thing that follows, you never outrun it. So nitrogen is doubling in price, PK is doubling, seeds going up, rents going up.
Jason: My favorite saying is a man is only as faithful as his options and as soon as the price of commodities go up, everything follows. So we’re just always ahead of the curve. And a lot of times, we’re price takers. So when it’s the other way, we’re really scratching and clawing. But right now is one of the times, economically, it’s good. We can go into other facets as far as community integration and the problems we have in that side as well.
Jim: Yup. And of course, we’re talking here about the big production farms, which are fertilizing right up to the limits, planting headrow to headrow, et cetera.
Jason: Yup, yup. My family farm is unique in that we’ve got 12,000 pigs, so we’ve got some farms that are strictly grain that is … And when nitrogen doubles in price, we just put on the pig shit and grow corn basically of pig shit. So we’ve got a little bit of a closed loop system there where we’re hedged a little bit. We’re debt free. The problem with that is we have a lot of old shit. So, tires go flat and things break and we’re welding and beating on stuff, but there’s a little bit less stress when you sleep at night in that. But generally, Mauck farms is all about production. We produce pork for Tyson and corn beans and wheat and some of our relay stuff.
Jim: Yeah, sounds interesting. When we chat a little bit pregame, you said, you’re getting tired of the hardcore production farming. What is it about it that’s putting you off your feed?
Jason: Well, just one of the reasons I got this shirt, you can’t see it, but it says farm weird. One thing that happens when you lose your father and I lost another uncle, both at 53, and they were both just hardcore farmers, you could just see him really put every ounce of energy and to getting the crop out and staying up at night, really pushing their body, and then watching them pass, you just really lose that gland where you give a rat’s ass about producing more corn. It’s just like, right now, I’ve been spraying this morning, squirting nitrogen on the ground for corn crop ahead of a rain. I’ll do it all night tonight, so washes the leaves off. I can smell it on my hands. And I just would rather just be out there with the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.
Jim: How do you do that and make a living?
Jason: Well, you got to think about it and you got to develop a market and you got to be thinking literally three or five years ahead, and you’ve got to learn how to hold your breath. The reason why we purchased Munsee Meats and constructed the team and we’ve taken on a lot of debt is we’ve got a vision that’s going to take a couple years to materialize. But when you do that, you also got to look at being diversified and have businesses that are cash cows. You’ve got to build a credit. You’ve got, for instance, not only do I farm, but I do speaking. I sell seed.
Jason: I still have a snow removal business. There’s got to be certain things to hit your bank account so that you can stretch innovation and hold your breath on those things, for things to eventually materialize and build that market.
Jim: Could be. You have an umbrella company that does some interesting things, Constant Canopy. I’ve read the website for our show here. And one of the things you talk about is the Constant Canopy cropping system. And I saw, I don’t know if it was on your site or somewhere, that you guys have the Indiana State record for maximum soybean yield per acre. That was some ridiculous number.
Jason: Yeah, that happened in 2018, and we’ve been striving. This year, we’ve got a chance of beating out on a field now. But, eventually, the first experiment was raising a cereal and a summer annual together, and I can play them off of each other. So our problem and in Indiana, is we get about 44 inches of rain on average, but mother old mama Earth is batshit nuts sometimes in May and June. And we might get 20 inches of rain. We might get seven at once, and we’re constantly fighting too much precipitation.
Jason: We’re fighting pigweed as we’ve sprayed more and more chemicals into bare dirt. The weeds have evolved and they’re just pissed off with teeth and hair underneath their arms now and you can’t kill them with Roundup. So we’ve got to use cereal and plants out there to defend the soil. So my landscaping background allowed me to look through a different lens of agriculture into where instead of trying to maximize one crop, you can throw two crops out there or three crops out there and integrate cover crops and manure into the mix. So the way that we cheated, if you will, and what’s that 1988 100-meter dash guy that won from Canada, I can’t remember his … Ben Johnson.
Jim: Ben Johnson, yeah.
Jason: I think he’s like 9.69 and they went, holy shit, but he was on roids, right?
Jim: It was juiced big time.
Jason: It was juiced. So with all this pig shit, I had devised a Gandy box, which is a cedar and I put it on a ship tank. And my grandpa thought I just lost my mind because this isn’t the way that you raise wheat, but I wasn’t after raising the best wheat, I was after actually making a trick play for soybeans. So I seeded my wheat above where I injected pig shit that really low rate. And I use that weed as basically pattern tile and solar reflection panels. So I planted my soybeans about 10 inches away from the wheat roots.
Jason: They were allowed to access that mycorrhizal fungi network and get oxygen to the roots. I could plant a little bit earlier. And then when I harvest my wheat, I pushed the soybeans down. And when I push that wheat thatched down, it reflects solar energy into the soybean canopy. So I just get a healthier, more pissed off plant that now has a lot more sunshine when it’s making all its babies. So it’s basically like giving someone some cocaine and some Viagra and say, go out and make some babies, buddy, that analogy.
Jason: But you really got to set up and think about venues that you create. And when you’re a big plant dork like myself, you do a lot of walking, you do a lot of thinking, you see your shadow a lot, and you get a good sense of first principles of how things actually work. So you start designing with that in mind. And that’s the interesting thing about getting into multi-cropping and livestock integration and that stuff of how you can set things up.
Jim: So, in short, you basically … It’s just like you still do it, you added wheat in with the soybeans.
Jason: Yup, I put it in strips. So a lot of people have tried really cropping, but they’re so concerned about the first crop yield. And this was the third year that I figured out through trial and error, the value of the wheat isn’t in strictly the contribution margin or difference in the variable cost. It’s in the inflection point or complimentariness of the soybean. So I kept increasing my row width, so that the soybeans wouldn’t compete for sunlight. And I just use the wheat for their ancillary benefits of that root mass of the water consumption when water is a liability early in the spring, and then the solar aspect.
Jason: So what we can do is, as a landscaper, a lot of people have old shrubs, and they just keep on hedge trimming it. And the plant just dies of a massive heart attack. And if you really want to manage it well, you go into the plant and you start pruning out the dead and allow sunlight to go inside that plant. It can breathe and the dew can dry off, so you can get a healthier plant. So with row crops, a lot of people don’t understand that it’s a long season. And for soybeans, they need to have more light.
Jason: And the way you can cheat the system, instead of having all soybeans out there and they’re all competing against each other and they’re only getting a marginal amount of sunlight per plant, you put a crop that will die without intervention, like a wheat or a barley in early June. So when the soybean is just coming up and it’s an adolescence and something dies right next to it, as Steve Jobs says, the greatest invention of life is death. So we can actually put multiple plant species out there and work off of each other.
Jim: Cool. Just to get a sense of it, now that you’ve been doing it for three years, what’s the ratio of the square footage of wheat versus soybean? Just trying to envision this in my head.
Jason: It’s basically on 60-inch centers, which is five feet, but I plant the rows in twin or quadros. So you create two Fibonacci sequences, if you will. So I’m really into numbers and starting as many things as possible. So your wheat will grow very rapidly in the latter part of April and early part of May, and then it’ll hit senescence, and then your soybeans will start really photosynthesizing late May. So you’ve got to figure out … Imagine you have a pit bull that’s on a leash, and it’s just going to eat your nose.
Jason: You’ve got to figure out how long you need that leash so it doesn’t bite your nose, but that still gets real close to you. That’s basically is when I started intercropping, I do it sloppy the first few years in small scale to figure out the physiological dimensions of crops to figure out how, where the inflection point is, where the complimentary point is, and you design it based on what you’re trying to do instead of the hard steel that you have in the barn.
Jim: But, just again, to help our listeners visualize of, say, 100 acres, how many acres of that would be wheat versus how many acres would be soybeans?
Jason: It’s all wheat, it’s all soybeans. They’re just right next to each other, so they’re growing, at the same time, for 80 days.
Jim: Are they literally growing on top of each other? So soybeans are growing right in the middle of the wheat where the wheat was, if you took the strip areas and measured those.
Jason: I guess that would be 50/50. And everyone, when I say that, they go, oh, how did you break a record, you double it? No, you still get that many soybeans more than mono crops by spacing it out wider. And a crop, it doesn’t matter if you plant them in 5-inch rows or 60-inch rows. The finites is what’s important. Like hemp plants we did last year on 10-foot spacings, and the hemp plants became enormous. They were like Clark W. Griswold on Christmas tree, put on top of the station wagon. So, the season is long, and each day is important. And when you think about amplified agriculture, you’ve got to wait the importance of crops in different parts of their lifecycle, amplify their ability to produce more when it’s really relevant like in reproduction.
Jim: Cool. So basically, the wheat crop, you said, is economically marginal. You don’t make much money on that. But the positive impact on keeping the soils relatively dry, reflecting the sunlight, maybe pest control, et cetera, works to actually more than make up for the lack of vary of soybeans, is that accurate?
Jason: Exactly. And then you can cut your variable costs on the wheat. So one thing is, okay, let’s say I can raise 100 bushel wheat, okay, if I do a solid. What you end up fucking yourself because you waste all your best days in a crop that isn’t senescence, so there’s like 50 days between early June and mid-July before you can get another crop established in your most valuable days. So what relay allows you to do is say, okay, I’m only going for 50 or 60 bushel wheat, so I’m going to plant one-third of the seed, and each seed is going to have more sunlight and more nutrients in that band, so I can cut my variable cost down and get genetic expression.
Jason: So that’s analogy. They’ll say Michael Jordan, someone kills him and Scottie Pippen. So Steve Kerr gets 27 shots instead of 4. Well, he’s going to average 22 points when he averaged 6. So everything, in nature, is a product of its environment. If we actually cut rows back and plant less seeds, each seed will produce more. But we’ve got to think time and space and inflection. I keep going back to that, but the wheat crop can take 20 degree mornings and be fine. It can freeze. And that grows later that day when it warms up.
Jason: So we’re just trying to capture more photosynthetic energy throughout the course of the year, which with annuals, you’ve got to use multiple annuals, or you’re just into either frost sensitive annuals or winter cereals that are going to die and go through senescence in late spring.
Jim: Ah, so basically, what you’re doing is spreading the time over which you were usefully capturing the light with photosynthesis.
Jason: Exactly. And you get the edge effect, which is that Steve Kerr getting 27 shots with two different crops. So the wheat will make leaves off the side and collect more solar energy in that spacing. And then the soybeans, when you prune it, will collect more energy. So you empower two different crops in two different seasons. A good analogy here is let’s say I’m Jason, the crazy firework salesman, alright?
Jim: I can’t believe it.
Jason: And I just feel it, from June 30th to July 4th, and then I discount the shit out of things and then I go broke and I eat ham and bean, pork and beans the rest of the year. I could open the Jason the crazy Christmas tree decorations. Now between July and Christmas, and I’m like, oh, shit, what am I going to do an October? Pumpkin spice is crazy man. And then what am I going to do? Oh, you’ve got to maximize, as you know in economics, everyone is short-sighted. And there’s a lot more value, you can create your diversity than just having a few kick ass days.
Jason: So we just look at a farm field with the finite resources, why we’re here, which is photosynthesis, and maximize that derivative. And you talk about sunlight and people think you lost your mind with Jesus. This is what a farmer’s job is.
Jim: Yeah. You’re basically a light miner, right?
Jim: Cool. That’s a very, very good, very clever. Now you’ve worked with two crops, soybeans and wheat. Have you done any experimentations with other combinations that might have these synergistic effects?
Jason: It’s been limitless. We’ve done summer crops together. There are some really cool things. I’ll tell you a little story. Four years ago, I knew corn plants would put multiple years on it if planted less of them. But I wanted to really push the pedal to see what its capability was, and my kids are five and six now. My oldest was one going on two and it was the summer we were going to potty train him. And it’s easy in the summer because they’re out there in the diapers and we’re outside. So I dug up a corn plant in a field that was right next to other corn plants.
Jason: One is about two inches tall. And I planted in my garden, I gave it about six foot and all the way around it, so we could collect as much solar energy as possible. And I told my kid, “Hey, this is your target practice. You need to pee on the corn plant.” I get the natural nitrogen, but the corn plant completely morphed. It understood that it had abundant sunlight, so it put two tillers on the side of the corn plant. And then it grew instead of 9 or 10-foot tall to compete with this other corn plant, it was just this Gary Coleman that was on steroids and only got about 5-foot tall.
Jason: And it grew two sucker plants. And then every node, which is where the leaf comes out, grew in here. So, holy shit, I’m going to have 10 ears on this thing. What happened when the ears came out, it knew it had more energy, so the leave started grow on the ears themselves. And it grew another ear on the ear, and I ended up having 31 ears from one seed.
Jason: So the problem is you run out of daddy juice or baby batter up top. So we only had enough pollen to get 12 ears to have considerable amount of grain on them. But it have 31 silks and 31 ears on that one corn plant. So, that’s the thing about genetic expression when you see things like that is, okay, we need to redesign cropping systems to get more value out of the seed, get more value out of unit niter, give more value out of our aggregate finite resources of sunlight, water, get equilibriums, think about temperature. It’s just limitless.
Jason: And then once you’ve done enough of this stuff in the CBOT, Chicago Board of Trade commodities, you’re like, well, shit, why don’t we do this with community integration, with direct market, and more value out of crops? So that’s where we’re at now is, how can we do this with raspberries and have chickens and rabbits and sheep eating between the rows to manage the perennial pastures and to take out all the inputs. My biggest passion now is these apocalyptic algorithms, if you will. We take technology and interweave it with things that work in apocalypse and create more food without inputs, just simply, you’re in a plant, you do this, you should be right here, you’re an animal, you like to eat this, we’ll put you here, but we’ll move you and that kind of stuff.
Jim: Very interesting. Have you found other field crops that work together in a synergistic way?
Jason: Yeah. I mean, just corn and soybeans, corn in general. About four years ago, when I was doing this expression with corn, a plant breeder from Hawaii, by the name of James Bates, caught my attention. He was going around talking about this 100 Club, and he was a plant breeder in Hawaii. And what he found was the plants would really shut down in the afternoon because of just the blazing heat and humidity. So he started to actually put structures out there that would block and take that direct sunlight off plants, and he found them to do better.
Jason: And he thought, well, same thought process as mine, can we put plants that have different shapes and sizes and lower the population and get an aggregate a lot more? So he started doing a really low population corn where all the leaves would collect solar energy. And now what happens is, as the sun changes, you go from May, June, July, the sun will change its position in the sky on the steepness and height, but also it changes every day.
Jason: So when you put these plants out in really low populations as a sun changes position every second of the day, its shadows are cast at different positions. So you can have crops like soybeans, their ideal temperature is 81 degrees, where corn likes at 88. So you let the corn take all the sunlight energy, convert that into multiple ears, put only a dab of nitrogen in that spot and then the soybeans all around it like to get shaded every once in a while, get a break. So I’ve messed around with that.
Jason: But quite honestly, the problem with all this stuff is you can innovate and really make something of it, but our government loves to subsidize crop insurance. And none of this stuff, there’s no box to check. So when I start doing reverse cowgirl shit, now I’ve got no way of getting subsidized for my APH or it doesn’t fit a box that would allow me to get another $150, $200 an acre, whatever it is on tramp bucks that are sitting out or whatever it is. So you just like, well, shit, we got here, but anyway.
Jim: That’s interesting. Because it shows that, no doubt, we’re originally programmed to help the farmer may have the tendency to lock the farmer into non-innovative practices.
Jason: Bingo. Yeah. So where I’m getting at is it’s interesting to cut your teeth and learn way nature works with that kind of stuff and have a market for it. But the big killer, I think, or the big value is going to be in doing non-GMO things, more value added things, things that you can pick and people can eat and that kind of stuff.
Jim: Interesting. Interesting. Another couple things you do under your Constant Canopy company brand, one of them I like is turning manure into methane.
Jason: Yup. So, story about that. Jonathan, the office, I’m here at the Innovation Connector at Ball State. Five years ago, I was watching the Super Bowl and he comes on. He’s running for Congress. And he goes, vote for lamb. It was the weirdest commercial I ever saw, and I used to have a college friend of his. Anyway, next day, I tracked him down and I was talking about all the crazy shit I was doing on the farm. And I talked about manure management. And we’ve got 12,000 pigs, so our farms got about 4 million gallons of hog shit.
Jason: And I was talking about how our phosphorus levels are high, and we just got too much of a good thing. So we evolved into whiteboard talks and a lot of research and we came up with this plan to go out and get a bunch of manure under contract to add value to it. So this project has been going on for quite some time. And basically, we’ve aggregately taken … We have over 100 million gallons of hog manure contract of people that have way too many pigs for the space that they farm.
Jason: And we’ll take that additional manure and put it in a process where we can take the methane off the top and pump that into the pipeline and net meter it. And with the whole California RNG market, there’s some money to be made in that space. And then that digestate, we could squeeze out the nitrogen and get an organically kosher nitrogen fertilizer, and then all everything else we incinerate into biochar, which is down to the carbon. We’ve plugged in pieces of different technologies that put this system together and we’re getting closer and closer of making that a real thing soon, but we’re still in the process there.
Jim: So you’re going to be the king of pig shit there in Central Indiana.
Jason: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: That is a project, look like it pencils out, that the investment for the equipment is worthwhile relative to the downstream products.
Jason: Well, it all depends on the day. It looks good. It’s a big project. Part of the problem when you have big projects like that, you know you’re going to attract some probably negative feedback from the community that don’t really understand, they just … Not my backyard kind of thing. So you see that stuff happen. We haven’t seen anything yet in that space, but it works. Just a lot of things going on.
Jim: I’m always interested in the financial dynamics around business. And you think about something like if your main value stream is natural gas, it fluctuates fairly radically in price. Can you get long term contracts? Or do you hedge? Or how do you deal with the volatility of the natural gas product?
Jason: Well, it’s more complex than that with renewable natural gas, renewable energy credits. You’ve got some couple things that will increase the value of that natural gas in the realm of 10x to 20x of regular natural gas, because it’s derived from hog manure.
Jim: So people are looking to the allegedly carbon free, allegedly buy some. Of course, we know it all ends up in the same place, but it’s this bizarre accounting that they do.
Jason: Yes, that’s what it is.
Jim: Interesting. You can’t just hedge that, because it’s very dependent on the supply and demand and probably long term. It isn’t 20x, maybe it’s 2x. But for the moment, it’s 20x. You might as well take.
Jason: That’s right. It’s something we’ve been working on, but we’ve done so many things in the meantime, where it’s there and we’re just kicking the can down the road.
Jim: Now I had a guy on the podcast last week with a very interesting idea. When you can get 10x or 20x and doesn’t make any sense, but his business basically plunks down natural gas fired generators and bitcoin mining factories right at wellheads in Canada, where they would otherwise be flaring off the natural gas. But I thought, there is a clever ass idea.
Jason: Just think of the next cryptocurrency you got a little poop emoji and a shit coin.
Jim: Exactly, right?
Jason: That’ll trade.
Jim: That should be a hot one, right? That explains the whole system in a nutshell, shit coin. Jason is always thinking. My friend, Vince Crowe, said, “You got to talk to this dude, because his brain ain’t never stops spinning.” The stuff keeps going on. Now the next thing you’re doing is biochar. That’s also another very interesting and innovative product. Tell us what that is and why it’s important and useful and valuable, and all that sort of stuff.
Jason: Biochar is pretty much carbon. It’s like you got your Tide laundry detergent, Tide Ultra. This is just ultra-carbon. And there’s a lot of new markets. I mean, they’re talking about potentially making computer components for instead of silicon in the future. But in the ag space, there’s some interesting things you can do with it to really increase the attributes in the productivity of soil. Tell you a little story, I was on MSNBC about two or three years ago. They did a four-hour interview and they only kept the spot where I said a monkey can write a check or something.
Jason: Anyway, I had the local newspaper guy come out, and he’d been a really speaking against these new hog barn. So I thought I’d do a little trick on him. And I put two five gallon buckets of pig shit on both sides of the sidewalk and I cleaned it all up nice and pretty. And one of them I put biochar in and the other one I had alone, so I had him smell both buckets, he didn’t know what they were. And the first one he took a big whiff off. He said, “I don’t smell anything.” The next one he took big whiff off, but fell on his ass.
Jason: I fold them out of pig shit and he looked like he just kissed his sister on accident or something. It’s a funny thing there. But that’s one thing biochar can do, is actually absorb ammonium. And a big problem are big scale environmental issues, a lot of them have to do with runoff. And we can use the biochar to coat nitrogen. I think there’ll be a lot of uses in residential fertilizer and stuff like that. So there’s a lot of things coming down the road of biochar. But as you alluded to, the costs are pretty substantial in the systems. You’ve got multimillion dollars wrapped up in producing the biochar, other than just some hippies that are burning it in a trash barrel in California or something like that. So that’s a big challenge in the short term.
Jim: Yeah. Here where we are in our farm in the mountains, the soils are thin and acidic. And biochar helps in a couple of ways. One, is it increases the pH, makes it more alkaline. And it also holds water because the thin soils tend to, well, we get 40 inches of rain a year most years and like you, you don’t know when the hell it’s going to come. But the soils, because they’re light, they dry out quickly. And biochar seems to hold the water and it also seems to somehow, like you’d probably understand the science of this better than I would, binds the nutrients to the soil better.
Jim: Because again, being light and acidic, our nutrients tend to get washed out in the rain. We fertilize our fields with composted turkey litter from a guy nearby, and he’s imbalanced. He doesn’t have an excess. He has a so called nitrogen management plan where he has deals with various landowners to spread, compost the turkey manure on every other year, so you have just the right amount for your hay fields. But small areas where we put on some biochar from our wood furnace, it definitely helps.
Jason: Yeah, yup. I think there’s going to be a lot of use for it. I think I told you on a previous podcast, we devise a machine with Dawn Equipment a couple years ago that makes biochar with fertilizer and seed, and I had this black medium that we would put in strips when we did our relay cropping and coat it all with biochar. And I did some really interesting things to hold that nitrogen in place over the winter underneath that cereal crop.
Jim: Very interesting. What do you use for your feedstocks to make the biochar? Here, in our part of the country, the typical feedstock are the tops from logging. They’re called pecker poles, skinny little trees that are too small for the sawmill. You can buy them for cheap, and you put them in the kiln and you cook them up, make charcoal out of them. And it’s a pretty inexpensive source of carbon. What kind of inexpensive sources of carbon do you all have?
Jason: So we got our biochar from a company called Ecochar, and they had a project down in Orleans, Indiana, which was turkey shit, so it was just incinerated turkey shit. And there’s also a company I’m really interested in Missouri called Biomass Industries, and they are using wood. They got a lot of sawmills there and they’ve got heating systems for your home that will expedite that a burn, so it won’t burn it all the way down to the powder and ash. Well shit out biochar. I had to speak in Wichita, Kansas a couple years ago. And we visited a farm with an Amish guy that was producing lettuce.
Jason: He had about 10 greenhouses and he was heating all the greenhouses in the dead of winter with this biochar producing heating system, and he just had this big pile outback of regular wood and a big pile of biochar. And the guy would bring him wood and take the biochar away, and I was really interested in that concept. If you can collaborate with some of these large tree companies to create a medium that you could distribute throughout the country in rural America, and have everyone produced biochar for you, and value add, bag it. And I think it’s endless, if you think about how you can share and create a lot of minions that are making it for you. I think there’s some things in that space to come.
Jim: Alright, we’ll keep an eye out on him. Well, so, the man’s not busy enough for the 3000-acre farm and various projects like the king of pig shit. He’s also done bought a meatpacking plant. Tell us about that. How’d you get into that?
Jason: Last July, we took over Munsee Meats, which 1957, there’s a lot of companies like that, that were … After World War II, we came up with a refrigerated truck and some ambitious, Tom dick and Harry’s decided to load up some meat and start selling to these local restaurants. And this guy was one of them. And they actually had the contract for McDonald’s hamburgers and burger chef in the ’60s and ’70s. So it was a very large company with 40 employees, they were doing 15 million in the ’70s. It’s extraordinary old equipment that was still laying around.
Jason: And we actually got it from a guy that worked there in high school and just was on guys that didn’t go out much and just stayed with his craft, and it shrunk the company down somewhat. And we bought and we’ve plugged and played a lot of talented pieces. We’ve got some really ambitious young men that want to cut made. And we actually got a guy from the Ball State entrepreneur program that won the whole entrepreneur thing, and his project was open up a meat company in Carmel, Indiana. And somehow we convinced him to be our COO.
Jason: He runs the show, and he’s the glue. And just about six months ago, we’ve got a man by the name of Nick Huey, and he was director of Sysco Foods. So he knew exactly how the broad liner space worked, he had a lot of relationships, and he has just exponentially increased our sales and restaurants. We’ve integrated a lot of technology. Our goal in the next five years is to grow from primarily a restaurant supply company into a direct to consumer company. So we’ve got to grow the restaurant side to buy the infrastructure, to flip the pond over to residential.
Jason: So we’re putting systems in place where we can actually get fully vertically integrated from buying that livestock, from the farmer processing, packaging it, creating our own shelf space through the automated farmers market, where a lot of gas stations. You don’t have to be in a supermarket anymore. There’s a lot of ways you can do deliveries. We’re doing fundraisers, a lot of things to increase our awareness. And I’d go all day about all the stuff we’ve done. There’s a lot of exciting things. I’ll just let you ask the next question and see where we go from there.
Jim: Alright. Well, let’s dig in a little bit into the meat processing facility. We have one of those here in our local area, which we’ve helped getting set up. What’s your mix of species at your plant?
Jason: It’s primarily pork and beef. Now we have bison and sheep and poultry as well. But a lot of guys from Indiana, they want to drink three beers at night and eat a steak. That’s the primary thing they want to do, and bacon. I could sell anybody pound of bacon. So we go through a lot of those. We got a rollstock machine to where we can take big boxes, big pieces of meat, and cut it all the way down to a pound of bacon, pound of hamburger. And we distribute that now into all these gas stations and AFM, the deliveries. And that’s what we do, is take big things and put them into small and put them in as many hands as possible.
Jim: Yeah. Have you guys gotten into the value added making pepperoni or meat sticks or any of that sort of stuff? There’s good money in that?
Jason: Yeah, we keep buying things and we’ve got a big smoker. We got a patty machine now. We’ve collaborated with a girl that has readymade meals, so she’ll put together lasagna. And the main thing you got to really worry about in the space, if you’re going to go out and create a service company that is processing beef, everyone wants a steak, but you’re going to have all this hamburger. So what we’ve created is, with these value added meals, we put the hamburger in lasagna, we put the sausage and biscuits and gravy.
Jason: We started a brand called the Bitch’in kitchen, which is this, no apologies, we put too much sausage in the biscuits and gravy, and make it so audaciously good that people will talk about it, make it remarkable. But the main thing that we’re doing our automated fundraisers, so we just started this about three months ago. And what it is, is the school organization church, they’ll call us. We’ll put an automated fundraiser on our eCommerce site, which is munseemeats.com.
Jason: And then they’ll send out a hyperlink through an email blast and print out pieces of paper to all the people that support and is around their organization. And then they’ll go to our site and they’ll choose between a $45 and a $75 meat box. So to get that meat box, they have to put in their email address, they have to put the credit card information, and become a Munsee Meat customer in our system. So we would never convince 10 different organizations to be our sales force all at the same time. We can grow this into 10, 20, 30, 40 different things going up.
Jason: Geographically, we can expand. But every day, we’re increasing the awareness of our eCommerce platform, but also our customer base that we can go back and create time algorithms on the back half to simply do this. And this is what I learned as a sales professional. It took a couple years to figure this out, is it’s a lot easier to ask someone how they’d like something that we gave them away to with a purpose and something like that than it is to convince someone to try it. So we can, five days later, call them and say, how do you like this thing?
Jason: And they have an opinion, and we give them an option to follow up and become a subscription customer, something like that. But in the other thing we can do, is now we create this outflow for grinds, for hamburger. So we can kill more and more and more cattle. So more and more steaks, sell the grinds to the fundraiser, but then the fundraiser has stakes in it. So it creates a circle there.
Jim: Interesting. Today, what percentage of your business is restaurant versus to consumer?
Jason: The day we started, we were 99.9% restaurants. COVID hit us extremely hard in November and December in our geographical area, a lot of restaurants shut down. And we were working on designing all the sites and we started the AFM January 11th, the fundraisers in February. Now we’re about 65/35. But we’re seeing exponential growth on our eCommerce platform, it’s going up by the day, and that excites us tremendously. We were at a goose egg just in February, had a little bit of sales in March. So, we’re only three or four months into it. And we’ll do six figures this month, just on our eCommerce platform alone.
Jim: Have you guys ship around the country?
Jason: No, we shipped some during COVID and it wouldn’t get there in time.
Jim: Got you.
Jason: And that’s the whole point of that automated farmers market, was just a locker system with 20 different lockers that can be between 100 and negative 10 degrees. And people go to our eCommerce platform to order an order they can get anything. And then we put that box in a refrigerated machine, and then that machine will send out a code to their cell phone. They roll up to unlock their box and they get it, and the point in that is a lot of people don’t want to buy a quarter cow or half cow and cut a check for $1500 and then their kid unplugs their deep freezer and now they got maggots.
Jason: They want to eat a couple steaks. So if you’re going to sell $50, $75, $100 transactions, you can’t spend $20 in a box of the bubble wrap and the dry ice and the shipping that goes to USPS. So this allows us to cut those costs, put the cooling in one box and then flip each locker multiple times a day.
Jim: Actually, yeah, that was my next point. You jumped in on me. Well, let’s back up a little bit. And yeah, this is the man who doesn’t stop. This is the farm weird dude. We talked about pig shit. We talked about biochar. We talked about co-cropping. We’ve talked about meat cutting. And now, and last but not least, he’s got the automated farmers market.
Jason: Yeah, but this is the last or at least I’ve got. I want to touch on something that I can’t stop thinking about.
Jim: First, give us the whole story on automated farmers market, then we’ll go on to the one you can’t stop thinking about.
Jason: Okay. Basically the automated farmers market is just technology from Bell & Howell, and my mom, her boyfriend, after my dad passed, works for Bell & Howell. And he’d been telling me about this kiosk system. So we basically took it and wrapped it, and Munsee Meats automated farmers market. Literally, it’s just a 20 individual lockers that can be cooled or hot. I described the competitive advantage from a transactional standpoint. But from a broader standpoint, the problem with real estate, commercial real estate, is if you want to be where traffic flow is, it’s expensive as hell.
Jason: It’s $5 million to have that lot next to Whole Foods. There’s billboards everywhere. So what this allows us to do is to go where everyone gets their groceries anyway. And then our prospects are the business owners around that that have parking lots with space next to billboards. Billboards are important because we can plug this machine and we need 220, and all the billboards have 220. So we ask them, how much value are you getting from this corner of your parking lot? And they’ll always say zero.
Jason: And the exciting thing is now that our sales have run rapid in this first AFM, now we can go to the next prospect, which we have a plan to go to Indianapolis and say, well, this guy, we gave him a $300 floor, but we’re giving them 2% of sales. So as sales go from $100,000, $200,000 $300,000, $400,000 a month, that number continues to go up. Yeah, they see more traffic, but that’s a damn good thing. That’s people that come in and get meat, and they notice what they’re selling at their place.
Jim: Yeah, they’ll pay money. They would pay money in a normal case of things. They’d bring somebody onto their lot on the percentage chance that they’ll come in and buy some.
Jason: And that might be something that we go after in the future, the peach truck. There’s a Georgia company that takes this peach truck around, and they’ll sell $60,000 with peaches in two hours. And they get set up for free places because of that traffic flow.
Jim: Interesting. So let’s draw the picture for the listeners. As I recall, you’re telling me this thing is in a shipping container, essentially.
Jason: A similar, similar, yeah. It’s, basically, just a glorified big refrigerators. It’s actually a refrigerator unit. There’s like six of them stacked up against each other, but they’re modular. So we made more space on the pad where we can go from 20 to 28, like that, and just glue it onto the side.
Jim: And these are all separate lockers. Will they get a number code or something to open it up?
Jason: Yup. So the machine has WiFi. So as soon as we put their package in, the WiFi sends out a text and an email to their cell phone and says your package has arrived. So the coolest thing is we put it in a place where they can pull their car right up to it, get out, and if they have their QR code ready, they can be back in their car in less than 10 seconds. So their kids, if they’ve got five kids that have runny noses, they don’t have to clean them up to go into thing, wait in line, wait in line, wait in line, grandma doesn’t have to get her walker out, she can stay in the car, they can stay right there, get their shit and get out there.
Jim: Yeah. Can you keep different temperatures in different boxes? You have some that are frozen, some are refrigerated, some are …
Jason: And some could be hot. And I mean, I’m busy enough, as you can tell, but I mean, there could be a collaboration with Uber Eats or Grubhub or something like that. And when you have all these ghost kitchens and all this shit, you could create an intermediate distribution system like that and just keep food warm till people have it, and then take out that time, that seven minutes where you go into the restaurant, the seven minutes to go up to the apartment to make this intermediate deal. And you could stack that in a couple columns next to frozen, next to the refrigerator.
Jason: I mean, it’s limitless, the commerce and collaborations. Lowery’s Candy, they just kill it in Valentine’s Day. So put something that’s killing it in a seasonal thing in with your thing to draw attention. You can help so many people out in a cheaper transaction. And so, we get a little bit into our expansion plan. We’re going to go to Indianapolis. I got some friends that have a landscape supply company on 126th Street, which is ideally right in the middle of five common gentrified communities in Indianapolis, where all the money is and the average income is $150,000, $200,000 per household.
Jason: And what we’ll do is take a shipping container and put a cooler in there and then when our trucks go to all our restaurants in Indianapolis, we’ll fill that bigger distribution, mini distribution center there, and then we can run busy bees in little tiny or sprinter trucks off of that shipping container and cloverleaf these day AFMs off of that. And then give them a percentage of sales, 1%, 2% to run that shipping containers in a spot in their parking lot. And then we can basically go to metropolitan areas and just only target the place where you’re in the market that you want.
Jason: And then what’s beautiful about that is now, our actual employees, we put the QR code for our employee on the box. So she might have 12 that goes into this AFM, she just scans it. She hits, okay, and then this sends out the Wi-Fi, so she’ll leave that place to the next place. And if she’s on a loop of five, she’s doing 50, 100 transactions that are humanless when she’s gone. And she just comes back in two hours. So now you can take like that hotels.com aspect and say, you got to pick up your package between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Or you get dinged $1 or $2, or whatever.
Jason: And then you can flip each locker now, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times. And now when you get the flip, and you go AX times 20, times 72, a new critical mass. It can’t compete with the box. I mean, I’m excited about it.
Jim: Yeah, but when you told me about this, I go, holy shit, this seems quite revolutionary. Anybody else doing this far as you know?
Jason: Well, there’s really no point. There’s some Albertsons in Chicago that done it, but when you look in the context of going to the supermarket, a lot of people are fine with, you pull up to the parking lot, call the number, and they sit there and veg out on their phone for eight minutes, and they fill their shit on their car. So we’re not really competing in that space. There’s a company in Indianapolis called Market Wagon that has basically boutique local food into a home delivery. And that’s what I think the value is, is collaborating with all these different farmers and then just giving more convenience to the end consumer in that space.
Jim: Yeah, it also helps from one of the ways I like to think about this is collapsing the value chain, so that there’s less steps between the farmer and the consumer.
Jim: More money to be made by everybody, right?
Jim: Interesting. Alright, we have madman Jason here, who’s got all these things go on. But he’s got another idea that he can’t stop thinking about. So alright, lay it on us, bro.
Jason: Okay, so we just got the arrangements to purchase over 200 acres on the interstate by two divided highways, everyone will see it. And we’re going to make a property similar to what you talked about, where it’s a direct to consumer, people live there, the camp. And basically, what our starting point is we have 100-acre field that’s all pasture, tons of fencing, tons of structures. And we’ll use that to turn livestock into smaller pieces of meat. So we’re creating a kill and chill network where people from different regions will have slaughtered there. They’ll just kill and chill.
Jason: We’ll take it here, we’ll cut it down into subprimals for Munsee meats, and then we’ll grind our grinds there. So that will cash flow the whole thing. So we’re going to slow grow the main concept here. And basically, the concept is take your Bass Pro Shop, take your Cabela’s and then put it outside. So instead of you go down the aisle and say, oh, I like that fishing pole, you’re outside fishing. And the pond now is loaded with fish. And if you want a bluegill, there’s a QR code there for a bluegill and we’re collaborated with a hatchery of fish. You can feed the fish.
Jason: We’re going to basically have three major sources here where we have unlimited production, which is all permaculture. So we’ll have grapes, some hops, and raspberries, and popcorn, pumpkins, everything you can think of to grow. In between the crops, we’ll be pruning the perennial vegetation with livestock through a technology called the carbon hyperloop, which is an autonomous solar driven animal pruner. So that allows us to manage the landscape through livestock integration.
Jason: So you’ve got the production of both the plants and the livestock, and then you’ve got the supply. So if you’re a homesteader and you want some baby chicks, then you come here and you hold this chick and you go, oh, where’d you get this? Here you go. So we supply the raspberry bushes. We supply the chicks. We supply everything. So you got production, supply. I always start these tangents, I get so excited. I think about a third here, just general education agritourism. So schools, we want to have schools out there every single day. We want to have people camping.
Jason: We’re going to have concert venues, it’s going to be a place for people to come out. We’re going to have sport landscaping. We’ll have a little league baseball diamond, that’ll make Williams for PA jealous. And it’s just taken this landscaping and creating actual … The thing that kills me is, let’s say, I sprayed a thousand acres of corn today. I can smell the nitrogen on my hands, I’m driving 120-foot sprayer as fast as the horsepower allow me. Why do I have to grow only corn? Why couldn’t I grow 1000 different things?
Jason: And that’s the spot that we’re in where I’ve met so many people and have so many ideas. We want to change the … As Joel Salatin talks about, not having employees, we want to take the resources and the traffic and interconnected to where we have. So many gigs. Going back to the pond, okay, we have a 15-acre pond that they dug out to make the interchange of the highways. So you can buy your bluegill, but there could be a side gig where people pay to fish, they pay for the off take, and then someone shows up at 3:00 and they charge you $3:00 to clean your fish. And that’s a thing. And there are just hundreds of things that are all working together. Does that make much sense?
Jim: Cabela’s or …
Jason: Cabela’s, times 10x.
Jim: Yeah, I love it. That’s crazy idea. You could also sell the produce off the property as well, huh?
Jason: Yup. Right through our AFMs. The third is not agritourism, I’m sorry. It’s vertical integration. So you’ve got the raspberries. We’re going to have tons of pigs. So we’ve got 80 acres of just ragged woods you can’t walk through, and we’ll put pigs in there to clean it up. But then you take the pigs and then you remember, like in 1910, or my great grandma had raspberry pie that was incredible. And the why it was incredible is she had this big old ball jar of lard that she would make the crust with.
Jason: So what you start doing is like Ms. Wick’s pie, they’re famous, is in Winchester, Indiana. You say, Ms. Wick’s, will you make a pie that’s made out of a lard and my pigs in the woods with the raspberries on the bush and create a pie that tastes better than anything that’s remarkable. It’s going to cost a little bit more, but you vertically integrate all the products on the property, and to just make value out of products.
Jim: And make them on the property or make them back at their factory?
Jason: Just mostly the source. Yeah, they can take the bushels of raspberries, and the beautiful thing about livestock also is we can pick all the pretty apples and the ones that fall the pigs eat, and they’re eating the grapes and the apples and all that stuff. So nothing is wasted or have so many livestock, and we’ll be able to move them so efficiently, that we can just manage their impact and just create more nutrient dense food.
Jim: That’s very interesting. Of course, the other thing about producing berries for value added, it’s got a much higher yield than berries for the grocery store. Everything has to be perfect, right? I don’t know what it is, 2x or 3x the yield, when you can just take any old one and toss it in there. The other thing, I think, I sent you an email on this, it’s an area of great interest of mine is robotic berry picking. Have you done any looking into that, where the state of the art of that is?
Jason: So one of the guys that we’re going to collaborate and he’ll have a part of the equity, this man is by the name John Kemp. Google John Kemp, he is a true Amish man. He’s 33 years old. And he, in my opinion, is one of the smartest men alive. And he consults on millions of acres of value added fruit and vegetable and crop production. And he knows every technology that there is to autonomously pick berries, the shaking, and all that stuff. So he’s the guy, along with a man named Mark Shepherd, and a couple other guys that have not only … They’re not just farmers that know their domain, they consult on multiple domains.
Jason: They know how things play out. So we’re going to take these mindsets and design landscapes that are going to manifest over three or five years and be spaced drive, and so I know the people that know how to do anything that has to do with growing things.
Jim: Very cool. Now when you take, like say your 100 acres that you’re producing this permaculture as highly diversified fashion, I’m imagining you’re producing a lot more dollars’ worth of food per acre than you do on hedgerow to hedgerow corn.
Jason: For sure. I mean, it’s limitless. The thing that I always gravitate towards is experience. You don’t remember the way something a surprise you remember, how someone made you feel, remember exuberance and what we’re going to compete against, let’s say you want to go see … Who’s your favorite musician?
Jim: Bruce Springsteen.
Jason: Bruce Springsteen. If you want to see Bruce Springsteen, would you want to go to some New York City stadium, rub elbows with 50,000 people, wait in line 15 minutes to piss when you’re coming out your eyeballs? Or would you rather be with 2,000 people, get there at 5:00 and have a wine slushie and a chicken that was braised between raspberries and have space on a natural amphitheater and it costs 200 bucks? Both tickets are 200 bucks, but the experience you can piss behind a tree. Here, we want to give people that space and freedom to feel like it’s their own property.
Jim: That sounds great. Funny you mentioned that, I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen once when I was 32 years old, that was a long goddamn time ago, in Paris in a park with 2000 people.
Jim: It was a four-hour concert. Unbelievable.
Jim: Totally different. I had imagine you are going to see him at Giants Stadium or some damn thing. I mean, this was literally just a random Paris Park, but set up tent and a stage. And we heard the boss, we all look the 100,998 Parisians.
Jason: Now I’m sure that I’m being awfully naive about this situation. I know that there’s intermediaries and agents and all this shit, but we want to create systems where we can go to a musician and say, hey, we’ll give you … I’m just throwing numbers out here, 75% of ticket sales directly. And then we want to create conduits where were the value goes straight to them, because the connection of having Chris Stapleton and 6000 people come out and spend $200, that’s a lot of loop, even if you take a percentage of it.
Jason: But that’s a lot of people that become aware of the IPA that came from the hops on the property that they can become a fan of back in there, 100 miles away from this property. So we’re going to completely change hopefully the way that we can stack all these entities together.
Jim: I love this. This is complex systems thinking. Don’t reduce it all to one thing that you do by the bazillion, but rather see how the various parts reinforce it. You’re very smart. You say hi, get people to come in for a Chris Knight show or something like that. And they see you and they say, well, let me subscribe to your meat service. And then next thing you know, they’re also buying other stuff from you and they’re bringing their kids out to fish for bluegills and all the pieces reinforce each other, makes a lot of sense.
Jason: We’ve touched on this concept a lot. But one of my favorite sayings that I don’t think a lot of people grasp, is don’t outrun your headlights. And the world is involved around production. But if you think of something and you’re going to say, okay, I’m going to take three to five years to develop the market. And I’m only going to produce enough to where I can sell it with the story behind it a quality. And next year, I, myself, 200 pigs in the woods, the next year, 2000, the next year, 4000. Let things develop. Let the play develop. Let the blockers get up, create the value.
Jason: And if you think that way, then you can do a lot of things really cheaply and do a lot of things and say, well, that’s not a good idea, we’re going to modify it or whatever like that. But farmers in general are just … We need to stay in our lane and grow as good of things, but we’re just getting discounted where we were taking none of the value. The only thing that’s relevant is where we started this conversation. If corn goes to $8, then we’re going to raise the price of fertilizer and they’re going to get it right below or above breakeven. And even if there is money to be made, now the farmers are competing for land, so they’re going to pay every last ounce to cash rent. It’s endless. You can’t outrun it.
Jim: I remember back in the ’70s, there was a big run up in grain prices and farmers all over the Midwest hock themselves to the eyeballs to buy land at 7000 an acre in 1978. And then the prices crashed and a whole bunch of guys sucked on their shotguns.
Jason: Yup, yup. And that’s unfortunate, but I think as rough as my experience was growing up, I think if I didn’t experience that, then I would just be another cog that was just felt like I needed to farm as many acres as possible, until I felt that pain of watching two men pass in their prime and watching how they exuded so much energy because I felt it. The first few years of farming, I wouldn’t sleep for three or four nights to pound a crop out ahead of a rain. And we break our bodies down. We spray all these chemicals, and I’m not saying that any things killing us, but just the concept of us working our ass off and being price takers. It just doesn’t feel like something I want to spend whatever talents I was gifted with chasing after.
Jim: Well, I think that’s a great place to wrap it up right there. What a great statement of Jason Mauck and his amazing adventures and doing farms different. Before we go, we should also let people know that Jason’s got a podcast as well. What’s the name of your podcast?
Jason: That’s Mauck Me. We’re just on episode six. You are the last one to be on there, Jim.
Jim: That’s actually a pretty good episode. I re-listened to it yesterday at 2x and sound like two guys on crank, but it was actually pretty interesting, so Mauck Me. What platforms is it available on?
Jason: It’s on all of Spotify. I think the original one is some rabbit or something like that. We have a lot on YouTube, the video. We’re like 14, 15-year-olds right now just go on a gravel road and see what happens. We’re not very polished yet. But eventually, I think as we get into the fall in next winter, we’ll get a little bit better polished, but I think they’ve been interesting.
Jim: Well, that was almost great. We asked a whole bunch of good question. Alright, we’re going to wrap it right there, Jason Mauck, farm weird.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.