M. James Faison (right) with Aaron Cross, executive sous chef of Shagbark (photo by Julianne Tripp)
There is no such thing as a typical day for M. James Faison. At any given time, you can find the founder and president of Milton’s Local touring a hog farm, discussing cuts of meat with area chefs or spreading the gospel of pork throughout the region. He’s come a long way from practicing corporate law in Miami, but life now is no less hectic; he’s abandoned the briefcase in favor of his grandad’s old Dodge Dakota, where Faison says he gets most of his work done.
That job is connecting livestock farmers with chefs and grocers looking for high-quality pork and beef from Virginia and North Carolina — an uncommon business plan inspired by companies such as Applegate Farm in New Jersey. According to the National Pork Board, Faison’s is the only company in Virginia using this model: Not only does Faison’s company sell its own award-winning line of bacon and sausage; it seeks out small, often family-run farms, and brokers business arrangements that benefit both the farm and the restaurant. He’s found a nearly insatiable demand from local chefs, one of whom is Dylan Fultineer. “While we do what we can to source our meat directly from the growers, it can be a bit difficult because, for the most part, we are dealing with farmers that can only sell the whole animal,” says Fultineer, the executive chef for Rappahannock Oyster Co. He adds that having an aggregator opens doors for accessible and affordable local meat supply.
For seventh-generation Orange County farmer Tom “Papa” Weaver, working with Milton’s Local is a means of survival in a competitive market. “We don’t have the time to farm, take care of the pigs and do the marketing,” explains Weaver, who manages all 650 acres of his Papa Weaver’s Pork farm with the help of his two children and father-in-law. “[Milton’s Local] allows me to do a better job taking care of my pigs and making sure I have product to sell.”
Helping farmers like Weaver get their products to market is central to the mission of Faison’s company: “Our idea is that, in order to encourage farmers to be sustainable, they must make more money than from conventional [means of selling product],” Faison says. “If our farmers don’t make more money working with us, there’s less reason for us to exist.”