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Ames man shares the story behind his business with an audience that includes U.S. Sen. Grassley, Iowa ag. secretary

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

Having the attention of Iowa's U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and state Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig offered an Ames business owner a sense Wednesday that his efforts have been legitimized.

Ray Schmidt, the owner of Farm Story Meats, somehow manages to run his business between working during the day at Iowa State University and taking classes toward a master's degree in business administration at night.

"I'm not sure when I get all this done, but I do," he said.

Farm Story Meats partners with farms and meat lockers — including one in Story City — to let online customers select the bundle and cuts of meat they want and then have the food delivered to their doorstep. If the delivery is close enough, Schmidt drops it off himself.

On Wednesday, Schmidt shared the story of his business and some thoughts about its future with an audience at Iowa State's Economic Development Core Facility — an audience that included Grassley and Naig among loved ones, some of his suppliers and others.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) listens to a farmer Randy Schmidt of "Agriculture partners of Farm Story Meats" during a question and Answer session at Iowa State University Research Park Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

"For me, it was legitimizing what I was doing — positive reinforcement that somebody like Grassley would be interested in what I'm doing," Schmidt said.

Grassley said afterward that what excites him about Schmidt's business model "is he's a perfect example of what we're trying to do through the process of limited government — government lets everybody in America choose their own course and their own opportunities."

Grassley added that he expects Schmidt's business will be a massive success, and "he just seems to be on top of everything. I think of my years farming and I could never put stuff like that together."

Schmidt recently won third place in Iowa Farm Bureau's "Grow Your Future award," a contest that recognizes young agricultural entrepreneurs.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talks to Ray Schmidt of "Agriculture partners of Farm Story Meats" after his presentation at Iowa State University Research Park Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

He started Farm Story Meats in 2019 and had 48 transactions that year. That number grew many times over in 2020, to 852 transactions, amid meat supply shortages and purchasing restrictions at grocery stores due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schmidt said he's had 73 transactions through Jan. 13 of this year, compared to 117 in December, and projects to see more than 2,700 by the end of the year.

Eighty percent of Farm Story Meats' sales come through its website, and he said he'd like to grow retail sales.

As for what Wednesday might mean for his business, Schmidt said, "Anytime you can get awareness of your brand, it's a good day. I'm just going to keep doing what I do, bringing high-quality protein to people, doing it the right way, and I think the rest will handle itself."

He acknowledged that he needs employees to continue to grow, though: "I don't want to grow too fast and lose who we are as a company."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talks during a question and answer session of "Agriculture partners of Farm Story Meats"  at Iowa State University Research Park Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

While Schmidt said his business is "fairly COVID-proof" and his direct delivery method was effective last spring, health concerns remain for Iowa meatpacking workers, and it's unclear when exactly those workers will have a chance to be vaccinated against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

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Iowa is currently offering vaccines to people 65 and older, school teachers, child care employees and emergency responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics; meatpacking and other agricultural and essential workers are prioritized to receive vaccines later, though, before the rest of the general public.

Naig said Tuesday that "we continue to advise anybody who has essential workers to be talking with your county public health director to understand what are the opportunities, what's the availability of vaccine and how can you best get that deployed."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naiglistens listen to a farmer Randy Schmidt of "Agriculture partners of Farm Story Meats" during a question and Answer session at Iowa State University Research Park Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

For his part on agricultural issues, Grassley — a high-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate and a member of the senate's agriculture committee — said he expects the nomination of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to be President Joe Biden's Secretary of Agriculture to be "approved almost unanimously."

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Grassley also said alternative protein sources — such as those from plants or grown in labs — should be federally regulated, and he dismissed concerns about methane emissions from cattle contributing to climate change.

On the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which concluded last weekend with an acquittal for Trump, Grassley said he would let others decide whether the former president should face future criminal or civil charges.

"That's all going to be decided by the executive branch of government or local governments. That won't be decided by the Congress of the United States, and I always let those things take their course," Grassley said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naiglistens listen to local  farmer farmers of "Agriculture partners of Farm Story Meats" during a question and Answer session at Iowa State University Research Park Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Ames, Iowa

He said in a statement last week that while he voted to acquit Trump, "My vote in this impeachment does nothing to excuse or justify (Trump's) actions. There’s no doubt in my mind that President Trump’s language was extreme, aggressive and irresponsible," in challenges to the legitimacy of the November election after his loss to Biden.

"(His acquittal) does not excuse President Trump’s conduct on and around Jan. 6," Grassley added in his statement of the day pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, causing the deaths of five people, and for which Trump was impeached for inciting insurrection.

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