Chris Lotze and his wife, Evie, moved away from the District three years ago in search of a less stressful life. Today, they raise 40 Black Angus cattle on their 75-acre farm in Kearneysville, W.Va.
"We came here to make a living, not a killing," said Chris Lotze, 61, a former Treasury Department economist.
To sell their beef, though, the Lotzes have had to look beyond West Virginia, toward Loudoun and Fairfax counties and points farther east. "In West Virginia, a lot of people either raise cattle themselves or have a cousin or uncle who does," Lotze said.
Chris and Evie Lotze began selling cuts of beef at the weekly Purcellville farmers market this year. They were buoyed by the results, he said. "We started out selling $200 or $300 worth of beef in an afternoon, but it multiplied three- or fourfold."
The Lotzes' direct-to-consumer approach is gaining traction among cattle farmers in the region, said Gary W. Hornbaker, secretary of the Loudoun Cattlemen's Association, which the county established in February as a marketing and advocacy tool for the local beef industry.
"There is growing interest in direct marketing," said Hornbaker, who is also rural resources coordinator of the Loudoun economic development department. "And there's growing interest from consumers who ask: 'Where can I go buy meat where I know how it has been raised, meat that I know is free of mad cow disease? Meat that I can buy custom cut from a farmer I know.' "
Lotze said he owes some of his early success to the association, which welcomes farmers from outside the county. He has received advice from members on everything from choosing the right kind of veterinary medicines to finding additional sources of beef to sell at the Purcellville market, which closed last week for the winter.
And as an out-of-state farmer, Lotze said the association has given him instant credibility.
"My sign at the farmers market says 'Roxley Farms, Kearneysville, W.Va.,' " he said. "The sign also says: 'Member, Loudoun Cattlemen's Association.' I want people in Northern Virginia to get the feel that, 'Oh, this is not just some hick from out in the sticks.' The association has helped me establish consumer confidence."
The association is off to a slow but promising start, Hornbaker said.
At last count, only 46 of the 586 cattle producers in Loudoun have joined. The 46 are among the largest beef producers, owning about a third of the county's 16,000 head of cattle, Hornbaker said.
"I fully realize we are not going to get everybody to join," he said. "You know, farmers are a tough-sell group. No matter how good the deal is, no matter how good the offer is, you will never get them all. But I am not discouraged."
In its advocacy function, the association plans to monitor any attempts by Loudoun officials to reduce or eliminate tax breaks that farmers get on the land they use for agricultural purposes.
"The political dynamics are: How many . . . supervisors do we have?" Hornbaker said with a chuckle. The answer is nine.
"Well, only two are from the [more rural] western end of the county. Are you following me? I'll tell you, I'm not a real political person, and I don't like to play the political game, but [preserving tax breaks] certainly is a concern in the western end of the county. The Board of Supervisors so far has been very supportive. But we also know that in today's world, it's good to have representation so that when you go to speak, you are not a single voice."
It is no surprise that there is less land being farmed in Loudoun now than five or 10 years ago.
Yet the number of farms of all kinds grew in the county from 1,032 in 1997 to 1,516 in 2002, according to the most recent agricultural census.
"The general trend is, the farms are getting smaller in Loudoun County," Hornbaker said.
The association is a boon to consumers as well as to cattlemen, he said. The group's Web site (www.loudouncattlemen.org) offers a primer on the various types of beef cuts and a directory of members who sell beef by the quarter, half and whole.
Lotze is chairman of the association's first direct marketing committee.
So far, it's a committee of one. But that will change soon, Lotze promised.
"The cattlemen want to be in touch with consumers," he said. "I want the association to throw its weight behind an effort to open more farmers markets. People like myself who raise cattle want to sell directly to the people who eat beef."