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U.S. Rep. Smith travels to area on 2023 Farm Tour

Photo by Christy Porter
U.S. Congressman Jason Smith (second from left) was joined with state and county officials, owners of Simple Grow, in Houston, and their families, and members of the Texas County Republican party during his Farm Tour.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, 8th Congressional District, traveled to two area agricultural businesses this week as part of his 2023 Farm Tour.

Smith is a seventh generation Missourian and fourth generation owner of his family farm. He was elected to Congress in 2013. In January 2023, Smith was selected to chair the Ways and Means Committee, which is the oldest committee in Congress. At 42, he is the youngest member to chair the Ways and Means Committee in modern times, and ironically, he is the first Missourian to lead the committee since John Phelps in 1859, who is the namesake of Missouri’s Phelps County.

Photo by Shari Harris
From left, partners Jeremiah Harris and Kyle Shirley shared their experiences with U.S. Representative Jason Smith, State Rep. Bennie Cook and State Rep. Tara Peters.

Smith’s first stop was Monday morning, at Ozark Valley Beef Company, located on Phelps County Route H, about a mile east of Edgar Springs. Owner Jeremiah Harris converted the office and shop that once housed Gerald Harris Construction, his grandfather’s business, into a plant where he stores and ships Wagyu beef to buyers both locally and across the country.

Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle, but in the case of Ozark Valley Beef Company, it is specifically Akaushi cattle they have chosen to raise. What’s special about Wagyu beef? One of the biggest selling points is that it is the healthiest red meat on the market, with lower cholesterol than turkey or chicken. It is also high in Omega 3 fatty acids. The marbled meat loses much of its fat during the cooking process, as Wagyu fat has a lower melting point than beef fat found in American cattle breeds. Yet the steaks remain tender and juicy, as the Harrises quickly attested.

Another difference in Wagyu beef is the cuts available. Jeremiah Harris compared traditional American beef cattle, consisting of an estimated 6 percent prime cuts, to Wagyu beef, which has an estimated 46 percent prime cuts. The Denver steak, for instance, is a cut off of a sirloin that in an American breed would go to hamburger.

Jeremiah and wife Amy, partner Kyle Shirley, and Shirley’s son, Johnny, are responsible for the bulk of the work that goes into running the business. From working cattle, to deliveries to and from a processing plant in Poplar Bluff that specializes in Wagyu cuts; from filling and shipping orders to updating social media and their website, they cover all the aspects of the business, including for Jeremiah and Amy, keeping up with daughters Madilyn, Sophia and Hannah.

An estimated 90 percent of their sales are through e-commerce, and Rep. Smith was very interested in difficulties they had experienced trying to ship beef into Canada. Smith uses his annual farm tour to not only spotlight business successes in his district, but to learn about challenges and obstacles, or opportunities, that business owners have experienced as a result of government policies.

Smith invites state and local officials to join him on the tour. Rep. Bennie Cook, Rep. Tara Peters, Phelps County Commissioner Gary Hicks and several of Smith’s staff made the trip to Ozark Valley Beef to see this growing niche business.

Photo by Shari Harris
Rep. Smith presented Hannah Harris with a special coin, then gave one to older sisters Sophia, left, and Madilyn (not pictured). Also shown are parents Amy and Jeremiah Harris, and Kyle Shirley, far right.

Photos by Shari Harris

Photo by Christy Porter
Co-owners of Simple Grow, from left, Luke Arthur and Brandon Kell share the processing procedure with U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe and State Rep. Bennie Cook. Not pictured, co-owner Dustin Douglas.

The Farm Tour continued with owners Brandon Kell, Luke Arthur and Dustin Douglas of Simple Grow. They were joined by U.S. Congressman Jason Smith, Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe, State Representative Bennie Cook, Terry Brown, Bob and Leann Green, from the Texas County Republican Party, Texas County Presiding Commissioner Scott Long, Texas County Associate Commissioner John Casey and family for a tour of the Simple Grow facility in Houston.

Attendees participated in a tour of the facility that began with the worm farms, which took some time to propagate by the “worm scientists,” and proceeded to the sifting and bagging of the final product.

During the peak season 100 tons of worm castings per month may be shipped out. At other times 10 tons a week is produced with upwards of 44 tons a month shipped. The product is stored at the facility during the non-peak seasons.

Worm casts is the manure created by earthworms; organic and natural, it provides beneficial microbes and is used as a soil supplement and fertilizer, which promotes plant growth, soil aeration, moisture retention, natural pest resistance and protection from disease. It may be used as a supplement for greenhouses, houseplants, gardening and farming. Water activates the benefits of the organic worm castings with no chemicals.

Owners Kell, Arthur and Douglas, long-time friends, started Simple Grow as a home based business in Kell’s garage in Raymondville. Due to the expansion and success of the worm castings product they moved to their current facility and warehouse. Their families at times participate in the business, including the on-site Farmers Market.

Simple Grow is located at 1475 S. Sam Houston Blvd. and is open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; they also have a seasonal farmer’s market at their location on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Photos by Christy Porter

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