Who We Are
Heritage Foods USA, based in Brooklyn, NY, is a farm-to-table online butcher dedicated to supporting family farmers raising livestock with old-school genetics on pasture. These farmers cannot rely on the commodity market for sales because their animals take too long to grow. Turkeys, pigs, lamb, goats, chickens, ducks and geese are all purchased nose-to-tail and sold online in cuts to customers in all 50 states as well as 130 of America’s best restaurants. Heritage genetics are famous globally for their gastronomic attributes and ours are raised with no antibiotics, using traditional farming methods.
Patrick Martins first walked onto Frank Reese’s Kansas farm in 2001. At the time Patrick was President of the still nascent Slow Food USA, a nonprofit education organization aimed at promoting the relationship between environment and gastronomy. Slow Food had just begun boarding rare foods onto its Ark of Taste. It was a figurative ark with the goal to protect foods that are part of America's heritage by creating a living catalog promoting these delicious and distinctive foods.
Back then Frank Reese was the only farmer in America raising true heritage turkeys with recorded lineages tracing back more than 150 years. Patrick knew instantly he’d found a unique moment. This was an opportunity to go beyond acknowledging these breeds as being jeopardized and to actually DO something to save them. Patrick asked Frank to ramp up production and made a promise to him that if he would raise ‘em Heritage Foods USA would sell ‘em.
When Patrick started Heritage Foods USA he was only a kid from NYC. He didn’t have any farming or butchering experience, but he had a deep love and respect for food and understood the gastronomic importance these unique and threatened breeds represented. Frank taught him early on the only way to save heritage breeds from extinction was to get more people to eat them. This idea seems counter intuitive but you have to understand this lesson to understand what Heritage Foods USA does. We help create a market for delicious meats from heritage breeds of pork, beef, turkeys, lamb, goat, duck, geese and chicken.
We protect the breeds that have been abandoned by commercial agriculture in favor of new hybrid animals that take half the time to grow and yield more consistent sizes and shapes. What these hybrid breeds lack though is depth of flavor, character and the safety that comes from having diversity in our agricultural system.
Without access to niche markets farmers are forced to sell to the commodity market—one that rewards standardization and pays pennies on the pound for hard work. A system that forces farmers to use cruel practices designed to capitalize on the confinement of animals and ultimately jeopardizes the health of Americans. That’s why we do what we do, selling nose to tail—committing to buying everything our farmers are able to raise so they can continue to grow their operation knowing that we will help them find passionate cooks who appreciate their rare products.
In 2004 after much success with the Heritage Turkey Project, Heritage Foods USA became a full time gig, independent from Slow Food USA. We began to look for other ways to help our partnering farmers.
The pork shoulder was a prime ingredient at one of New York City’s most important Italian restaurants. Patrick invited Lupa Osteria’s then Executive Chef, Mark Ladner along with talented charcutier, Chef Zach Allen, and Lupa co-owner Chef Jason Denton, all from the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich Restaurant group, to come visit our farms. They fell in love with the farmers and the exceptional taste of their heritage pork.
Chef Mark Ladner made a handshake agreement that day on the farm to bring heritage pork to Lupa Osteria. It was not long after that the other restaurants in the B&B group followed suit, followed again by numerous other fine dining establishments in New York, San Francisco and other cities.
As we expanded we grew the number of farms we worked with and the number of different breeds we carried. Everything started with the Red Wattle pig. Next to follow was the Berkshire, the most successful of all the heritage breeds, and soon the rarest breeds like the Gloucestershire Old Spot and Tamworth.
Today we bring in 200 pigs a week 52 weeks a year from a group of 20 farms working closely with our partner processing plant, Paradise Locker Meats, just outside of Kansas City. The list of restaurants that carry our meats has grown to more than 130 from New York City to Los Angeles.
We are passionate about taste and flavor—something that has been lost on our modern food system. We believe gastronomy starts on the farm. We advocate for animals to be raised the good, clean and fair way—on open pasture, free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Which is why we are most proud of our dynamic Mail Order program, the real lifeblood of the organization and the foundation on which Heritage Foods USA was built.
Our curated products are sourced nose-to-tail from farms across the country raising animals and products that carry genetics with long histories in the United States and around the world. The Red Wattle pig, for example, came from New Caledonia to New Orleans in the 18th century; Bourbon Red turkey is named for Bourbon County in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region, where it originated in the late 1800’s; Akaushi steaks are sourced from the Japanese Red Cow, a national treasure in Japan and now raised in Texas; Tunis lamb is the same breed raised by America’s first three Presidents.
All of these breeds are available in individual cuts all year round and are delivered by our trusty friends at FedEx. To request special cuts or special breeds, please call our Customer Service Line at (718) 389-0985.
Just as there are many different varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables, so are there many different heritage breeds of livestock.
A heritage breed is a breed that is bred for certain traits, but the philosophy behind the breeding is the old philosophy of balance. A heritage breed is one that is healthy, strong, and capable of reproducing and foraging, and lives a long time. Heritage genetics are the foundation for a humanely raised, healthy animal.
Heritage breeds have long histories. They’ve maintained a consistency in the formation and taste over decades and centuries, so the Tunis lamb we’re eating today might be recognizable to Thomas Jefferson just like a true Berkshire pig would be recognizable to Oliver Cromwell.
Maintaining heritage breeds is important. Forty-five million turkeys will be sold this Thanksgiving for example, so industrial turkey producers who only raise one or two varieties aren’t doing so badly for themselves. But they are living in a very tenuous place. Because of the reliance on a single strain of the Broad Breasted White, entire flocks are one novel pathogen away from being wiped off the American dinner table. It would be like The Andromeda Strain, or Twelve Monkeys, or The Hot Zone — but for turkeys.
Just to give you an idea of how great the diversity of wonderfully delicious animals is, here’s a list of non-commodity, heritage, and rare breeds from an excellent book,The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds by Janet Vorwald Dohner.
GOATS: English, Bagot, Golden Guernsey, San Clemente, Spanish, Tennessee Fainting, Myotonic, Wooden Leg, Nigerian Dwarf, Oberhasli, Isle of Man, Irish, Scottish, Hawaiian, Arapawa, Saturna Island, Mona Island.
SHEEP: Soay, Shetland, North Ronaldsay, Hebridean, Manx Loaghtan, Jacob, Boreray, Castlemilk Moorit, Welsh Mountain, Black Welsh Mountain, Torddu, Torwen, Balwen, Hill Radnor, Lleyn, Portland, Dorset Horn, Wiltshire Horn, Whitefaced Woodland, Lincoln, Teeswater, Wensleydale, Leicester Longwool, Cotswold, Galway, Devon, Cornwall Longwool, White Face and Greyface Dartmoors, Ryeland, Herdwick, Southdown, Oxford Down, Dorset Down, Shropshire, Norfolk Horn, Clun Forest, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Navajo-Churro, Santa Cruz, Gulf Coast Native, New-foundland Local, Hog Island, Tunis, Delaine Merino, Caribbean Hair, Boricua, Barbados Blackbelly, Virgin Island White, St. Croix, Katahdin, Karakul, Feral Hawaiian.
PIGS: Tamworth, British Saddleback, Gloucestershire Old Spot, British Lop, Berkshire, Middle White, Large Black, Oxford Sandy and Black, Ossabaw Island, Guinea, Poland China, American Mulefoot, Red Wattle, Choctaw, Hereford.
CATTLE: White Park, American White Park, Vaynol, Chillingham, Highland, Kerry, Dexter, English Longhorn, Ayrshire, Shetland, Red Poll, Irish Moiled, Galloway, White Galloway, Belted Galloway, British White, Devon, Milking Devon, Gloucester, Shorthorn, Beef Shorthorn, Northern Dairy Shorthorn, Whitebred Shorthorn, Lincoln Red, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey, Florida Cracker and Pineywoods, Texas Longhorn, Canadienne, Dutch Belt, Lineback, Randall Blue Lineback, Ankole Watusi.