Sustainable Meat, by Bike

By Will Mitchell, C2C Fellow

The words that follow reflect Tenleytown Meat Company’s view on sustainability:

Sustainability is something good to strive for, daily, in all that we are. It is the honest, courageous, and exciting journey to create a future in which all people everywhere are able to live peaceful and fulfilling lives, and doing so without blatantly jeopardizing the lives of generations yet to live. It is cherishing that journey each step along the way, and honoring the past as the incredibly unique path that got us all to where we are now. It is the acknowledgment of natural laws and limits that we cannot and will not escape, nor completely conquer, whether they be physical and on a global scale or mental and on individual levels. It is the realization that we are all inextricably linked to one another, and to the rest of the universe. It is taking action to change what we know cannot be sustained on Earth while remaining forever conscious of the harmful methods we routinely use to bring those changes about. We should not pretend to make sustainability exact, simple, or easy, but now more than ever before it’s important to realize that business as usual isn’t sustainable, and we can either change our ways or let other forces outside of our control do it for us. But if sustainability is all of these things, maybe we should stop using the word so much and develop a better vocabulary for how to live on spaceship Earth, our Pale Blue Dot, our only home.”

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Addressing sustainability is important to Tenleytown Meat Company because understanding sustainability is important to me. No matter how wickedly complicated, interconnected, and divisive it can be, sustainability is enthralling; engaging with our world in any other way doesn’t feel right. So, some 5 years ago I started what now is clear to be a lifelong pursuit towards an understanding of how to make this world a better place. 5 years after my experience as a college freshman at Penn State, I started a meat distribution company.

It was scary at first, but Gandhi was there to help me out, of course. In February of this year I was reading his autobiography and a line that I’ll never forget was written on an unassuming page. “I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be morally wrong.” Ironic that my final push to start a meat company came from a devout veggie, but there it was. I had been on the fence about starting a business of my own so soon out of college; there was a lot I didn’t know, and even more I was scared of.

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However, I also had a lot going for me.. In school I was interested in, and worked with, food purchasing, primarily at the institutional level. I had some business experience through a major called Energy, Business, and Finance, and a fairly thorough understanding of sustainability through a geography major and environmental minor. In 2010, I traveled around the world on a study abroad program called Semester at Sea, looking at sustainability and food issues, and I worked on a cattle ranch over the summer of 2012. My dad previously owned a few small businesses in our hometown of DC, and both my mom and dad were kind enough to take me back in (at no extra charge) following my graduation. 3 older brothers ll were tremendously supportive of seeing their little brother follow his heart, especially right out of school. I was handy enough to build a trailer able to carry 100 lbs of frozen meat for the back of a bicycle, foolish enough to say the revitalization of the American meat system is really a battle I want to fight, and courageous enough to ignore any logic that told me “NO” along the way. And finally, I was lucky enough to attend a C2C Fellows workshop in April of 2012 and solidified a personal mantra of “work hard, be aware, be whole, and own yourself.” In a nutshell, that’s how I managed to start a meat distribution company in Washington DC.

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Saying all that, perhaps I should tell you what the business does. Tenley Meat Co will work to make local pasture-raised meat more accessible to people in Washington DC. Currently working with beef, we’ll buy from local farms that practice rotational grazing. Instead of the standard industrial chain (grass first then fattened on (subsidized, destructive, unhealthy, etc) grain in a feedlot), cattle are moved through healthy, productive, carbon-sequestering pastures. They live out their lives on the farm and are treated with respect by farmers we share meaningful relationships with. Come slaughter time, they are butchered at a local Baltimore processing plant,  dry aged and frozen, and brought directly to Tenley Meat Co. Once in DC, shares of the cattle are sold and distributed to households in the area by bicycle. Lamb will be added to the menu next, and as we grow, we’ll be able to buy from and support more farms in the area that are challenging and changing the ways our food is raised. So, a sustainable meat company? Well… I suppose it depends on your perspective.

That’s it folks.. In these earliest stages of starting a business, moving forward is both flexible and uncertain, but the positive responses I’ve received so far have been most encouraging and every piece of exposure is crucial. If you are interested in following our progress, check out the website and sign up for our e-mail list or follow us @TenleyMeatCoDC. To those in the DC area, nudge nudge, place an order and help us grow!

Peace be the Journey, friends.

Will MItchell
Will Mitchell grew up in Washington DC with his parents, 3 older brothers, a dog Winnie, and a group of friends he’s kept close to this day. Always seeing the wonder and beauty in the world, he’s an adventurer at heart and has loved sharing his excitement with those around him. He loves having conversations on snowy chairlifts about deep unanswerable questions, among other things. Will attended a C2C Fellows workshop in Oberlin, OH in 2012. 

About C2CFellows

C2C Fellows are young sustainability leaders from across the country committed to pursuing meaningful careers in sustainable business and politics. Leaders join the national network through participation in a weekend long leadership workshop, and remain engaged with the network moving forward into their careers after college. For more information, visit www.c2cfellows.org.