Light Hill Meats, a butcher shop nestled just 40 minutes south of Nashville in Spring Hill, Tennessee, might seem like the perfect place to stop and pick up dinner on the way home. For Ben Neale, the first-generation farmer behind the business, it’s a dream come true.
The farm-to-table butcher shop is all part of Ben’s vision to provide his customers with an assortment of fresh meats that bring families and friends together around the dinner table.
“We breed the cattle, raise the cattle, feed the cattle and process the meat with the idea of bringing it to this store,” Ben said. “We are a true farm-to-table operation.”
Surprisingly, the idea for his storefront came to fruition during the pandemic, a time when many businesses found themselves closing doors instead of opening them.
“When the pandemic started, we began selling out of what we called a pop-up shop. We set up just off the side of the road and would sell our meat,” says Ben. “We had enough demand and enough interest from return customers that it really encouraged us to build out a full shop.” To turn the idea of a storefront into a reality, Ben had to think outside of the box when it came time to secure financing for his vision. “If you go to a commercial bank and tell somebody that you’ve got 400 head of cows for collateral, they’re not going to be as interested because they don’t understand the business,” says Ben.
When traditional banks did not quite understand what he was trying to do, he found guidance and support in Farm Credit Mid-America’s Growing Forward® program.
Growing Forward® helps reduce barriers for young and beginning farmers to enter agriculture by providing access to capital and creating financial education opportunities that help these men and women build thriving operations.
“Growing Forward® really helped me get my start,” says Ben. “They helped me create a business plan that allowed me to go out on my own, to be able to hire help.”
One of Ben’s favorite things about Farm Credit Mid-America, is that they understand what he is going through on a day-to-day basis.
“For Farm Credit Mid-America to have farmers on the board, they understand our pain, they know what is going on in the market, they know how they can help,” he said.
“When you need a financial relationship, you need somebody that understands what you're doing, what you're accomplishing. There's a viewpoint of business where people think that it’s only about profit, but Farm Credit knows that is not the case for farmers.”
Moving forward, Ben says he cannot wait to continue growing his business with the help of Farm-Credit Mid America.
”We are working with restaurants and other chefs for some other places that are opening up,” he says. “We’re looking at doing some branded products, and there’s always that idea to franchise or license.”
At the end of the day, Ben says his business moves forward because of his team and the customers who keep him grounded during hard times.
“I don’t look at cattle as just a meat product,” he says. “I look at it as dinner, which is different. Whenever you give families and friends the opportunity to come together, to share a meal with one another, you are improving the community one table at a time.”