Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship | Courtesy

A team of recent Cal Poly alumni is developing a platform designed to transform how consumers eat meat by connecting the local community with sustainable, local farmers and ranchers.

After raising sheep in Cal Poly’s Sheep and Goat Unit, Fauna Farms Co-Founder and animal science alumnus Arash Goshtasbi found it nearly impossible to sell his animals directly to consumers. The complicated supply chain in place forced him to accept pennies on the dollar for his animal products.

“There’s a whole complicated supply chain of [people] who come in — buyers, auctioneers, meat packers — and they all come in and really just take a piece of what you deserve and did the hard work for,” Goshtasbi said. “But I had no other means of doing [it].”

After reaching out to his local network, Goshtasbi said he found numerous other small farmers and ranchers experienced the same bottleneck in the market.

Fauna Farms Co-Founder and computer science alumnus Paul Studer said today’s small farmers struggle due to the vertical integration of the meat market, established in the 1960s. According to Studer, four companies own 80 percent of the United States’ meat market.

“They own these processing facilities, which cost millions of dollars and are state of the art facilities, to get the animals killed and packaged,” Studer said. “So if the farmer wants to get his product to the consumer, he’s forced to go through this step and there’s really no reason for that.”

That is where the idea for Fauna Farms came in, pairing Goshtasbi’s passion for and knowledge of farming with Studer’s computer science expertise and desire for quality meat products.

“I was just talking to my roommate Paul and we thought it would be really easy if you could just create some back end tools to help manage peoples’ inventory and procurement cycles and sell directly to the community,” Goshtasbi said.

While creating a fairer, more streamlined supply chain for small farmers and ranchers is the heart of Fauna Farms’ mission, Goshtasbi said sustainability is equally important to the platform. He said the current rate of meat consumption in the United States is unsustainable for the environment and that Fauna Farms empowers responsible farmers in the local community.

“Paul and I are actually big believers that people should eat less meat,” Goshtasbi said. “We are big advocates of eating lower on the food chain, but we really do believe that when you do want to eat meat, it should be something that was responsibly raised.”

The team created their own system of standards after finding that “organic” and “free-range” labels were ineffective.

The Fauna Farms’ standards look at every aspect of a farmer’s enterprise, including the animal’s quality of life from birth to harvest, how the soil is treated and what resources are used.

The Cal Poly Sheep and Goat Unit is one of the sustainable enterprises Fauna Farms chose to source meat from. Goshtasbi said they chose the Sheep and Goat Unit because the animals are moved every day and used to manage the ranch land. They are also harvested in virtually the same place they are born, meaning they have a minuscule carbon footprint.

“We believe that through [these sustainable farming practices] we create a more sustainable way to eat meat, and obviously less of it,” Goshtasbi said.

Fauna Farms currently offers chicken, lamb and turkey for Thanksgiving. They plan to offer larger cuts, such as beef and hogs, in the near future.

They source from three different vendors to aggregate demand on the consumer side of their two-sided market. In these early stages of the business, Studer said Fauna Farms has received positive feedback from both farmers and consumers.

“Every week varies,” Struder said. “Some weeks we’ll move a whole lamb, and other weeks it will be a couple of cuts, but we are getting out to more and more customers.”

Through the ups and downs of pursuing entrepreneurship over a more traditional career path, both Goshtasbi and Studer said the impact they can have on their community is worth the many challenges and difficulties.

“There’s really nothing stopping you other than yourself,” Studer said. “Yeah, [entrepreneurship] takes a little more work, but the impact you can have and the things you can do with it are pretty meaningful, so it’s definitely worth it.”

Those interested in buying meat products from Fauna Farms can visit the SLO Natural Foods Co-Op or FaunaFarms.com.

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