Paul Greive '07 was working a desk job and struggling with health issues when he decided to make a change. Seeking a lifestyle with greater meaning and quality, he and his family began raising pasture-fed chickens for local consumption. In just three years, Paul's family farm, Primal Pastures, has ballooned to $350,000 in annual sales.
“It’s growing really fast,” says Paul, who was a Business Administration major at Concordia. “There’s plenty of demand but the problem is supply. It’s not like a technology company where we can put in more widgets. We need more soil, more grass, more animals.”
Primal Pastures sells pasture-raised chicken, lamb, pork, beef, turkey, eggs and raw honey directly to consumers in greater Southern California. It is one of just a handful of farms in the area that raises animals for consumption in a rotational grazing method, allowing the animals to eat and live close to nature.
Primal Pastures has 1,500 customers and limits its market to Southern California by design because they believe consumers should be able to see where their food is raised. Paul works with his father-in-law Tom and brothers-in-law Jeff McDaniel ’03, MEd ’07 (and wife Bethany Loesch ’11) and Rob McDaniel who attended Concordia for a year. Paul met his wife Lynsey McDaniel at Concordia.
None of us would have thought we’d be into farming as a career. We had never farmed before and had no idea what we were doing. But one of the most important calls we have as Christians is to be open to God’s Word and obedient to his lead when he calls us to certain things. I feel we've been blessed, big time.
It all started with fifty chicks and an idea to raise them the natural way—letting them eat bugs and worms in an open field. Health problems had prompted Paul and his family members to seek solutions in their diet.
“I was struggling with arthritis,” Paul says. “Eating differently completely cured it. That caused me to study the food system and look for locally-grown organic food.”
But he could find no chicken that was raised outside, ate bugs and worms and had not been fed genetically modified feeds. “It shocked me that nobody was doing this anywhere,” he says. “So we said, ‘Why not raise it ourselves? We have a couple of acres of land.’”
It was a half-serious idea until Paul’s brother-in-law announced, “I just ordered fifty chicks. They arrive in two weeks. We need to get ready.”
The men devoured books on chicken-raising, put the new chicks in a brooder and then onto the lawn. They posted on Facebook, “We’re raising pasture-raised, soy-free birds. Let us know if you want one. We’ll figure a way to get it to you.”
“We were planning on eating most of the birds ourselves,” Paul says. “We were doubtful anyone would pay for it, but all fifty birds sold. That opened our eyes.”
Slaughtering the birds was a challenge, since none had killed an animal before.
“We had a bird in one hand and YouTube on the phone in the other, and we followed the steps literally off YouTube,” Paul says.
Customers were pleased and the waiting list grew to a thousand families. People also asked where they could get pasture-raised beef, pork, lamb and turkey. So Primal Pastures was born and began partnering with local farms that used the same raising and grazing techniques.
The most important thing for us is the Lord. Our bodies are the Lord’s temple. We are passionate about connecting our faith to the way we farm. We've relied on God’s providence throughout the whole business.
Paul, a gifted athlete, grew up in downtown Seattle and was “super involved on campus” at Concordia.
I loved the small classes, the small vibe. Compared to my friends at big public schools I had ten times as many friends. I loved every minute of Concordia and thought it was the best place ever.
He came to play baseball but burned out on the sport and was recruited instead to throw the javelin.
Track was amazing because the team was super diverse. I had roommates from all over the world: Africa, Mexico, Asia. It was a really cool group of people. Coach Blutreich will forever be the ultimate mentor to a college kid. He shared his faith in a way that was so unique and compelling to a college athlete. He was a big part of my life in college. I still want to be like him.
Paul also joined the handbell choir, first as a joke.
Some of us jocks thought it would be hilarious. But the funny thing is we had an amazing teacher, a fun guy, super cool and he got us totally into it. We loved playing handbells.
Paul even received a scholarship for it. “It exposed me to a totally different crew than athletics did,” he says. “That was a blessing. To meet amazing people in the music department opened my eyes to a different side of campus. The relationships and memories of going on tour with all my friends was really cool.”
Paul also helped found the Chinese language club. And when a national race-walking coach visited campus, another surprise awaited.
The whole track team was laughing about how funny it would be to do race-walking, so I said, ‘I will put on the shortest shorts I can find and do this race-walking thing if you guys will.’
But afterward the visiting coach told Paul he had textbook form and urged him to pursue the sport. Five weeks later, Paul had qualified for nationals and earned sixth place at championships, making him an All-American race-walker and javelin hurler.
“I was a hundred pounds heavier than anyone else in the race, but I can probably walk as fast as I can run,” he says. “Something about how bowed legs work with hip movement. I had a short but crazy race-walking career.”
Team USA invited him to try out, but Paul was already heading in another direction. While he was job-seeking, three friends separately suggested he consider joining the military.
“I thought, ‘Maybe God’s trying to say something,’” he says. “I prayed about it a lot.”
Those prayers led him to serve four years in the Marine Corps as an intelligence officer. His year in Iraq was a terrific cultural experience, he says. “I learned a lot about the middle East and learned conversational Arabic. Everyone came home in one piece. We felt like we really had an impact for the better.”
Paul then returned to civilian work, earned his CPA license and landed a job with a good accounting firm. But “I wasn't passionate about what I was doing,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to do entrepreneurship.”
Meanwhile, arthritis plagued him and in desperation he changed his diet. Going paleo – a diet of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats – made him and his family feel healthier and they began searching for pasture-raised chicken to eat. It was the first step toward a new lifestyle – and a new career.
I had no plan ever to go into farming but God opens certain doors for you and if you’re willing to walk through those, amazing things can happen.
After raising the first batch of fifty chickens and selling them on Facebook, Paul and his family members realized they had a viable business. Paul began plowing money into the operation and farming before and after work. They soon won a $15,000 entrepreneurial award from UCLA, which made it realistic to try farming full-time.
“It’s not all fun and games,” Paul says, recalling how difficult it was to leave a regular salary. “At one point we were down to ten bucks. It has been at very rock bottom for us.”
A major boost came from a 2013 Kickstarter campaign that caught national attention and was featured on MSNBC, L.A. Weekly and AOL.com. Dubbed the “Let’s build a farm together” campaign, it raised $60,000.
Primal Pastures arranges leases or mutual benefit agreements with land-owners and smaller satellite farms, allowing them to graze animals on land they do not own and avoid large capital investments. In less than three years their home-based farm and seven partner farms operate on four thousand acres, with several thousand chickens for meat and eggs, a hundred head of sheep, a thousand pigs and five hundred cows.
They learned the hard way that keeping chickens outdoors without protection is a recipe for disaster. Ninety percent of the flock was lost early on to coyotes, neighbor dogs, bobcats, hawks, owls and weasels. So they began using a “chicken tractor,” a large upside down box that shields birds as they graze. They pull the tractor daily to a new location on the grass. The chickens fertilize the lawn as they eat, regenerating the soil.
They also bought nine guard dogs, a mix of Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees, which “are the protectors of our whole farm,” Paul says. “At sundown they start patrolling the property, setting themselves up on a point where they can see what’s going on.”
Today, Paul still slaughters every chicken himself and every part gets used – feathers go to the compost pile, entrails feed the guard dogs and the rest is sold to consumers and food businesses.
Paul, who is finishing up an MBA at UCLA, is planning to expand the rotational grazing ethic of Primal Pastures to a national scale. His idea, called Pasture Birds, involves a proprietary technique to graze chickens in much greater numbers on grass, eating bugs and worms.
“If we want to change the world we need to bring prices down close to what they sell for in the store,” he says. “Pasture Birds will scale the idea way up, producing pasture poultry close to a conventional price using methods that are healthy for the land, the animal and the consumer. It’s a big deal. We are taking lessons we learned three years doing Primal Pastures and putting it on a hyper-scale system. Think of the impact you can have on the land with thousands and thousands of acres every year.”
The Pasture Birds idea has already won $25,000 from the American Farm Bureau, and more than $30,000 in a separate award.
Paul says he is grateful “to rely on my passion for what I do for a living. The ultimate blessing is waking up every morning knowing you’re making a difference. With this venture I feel like I’m having an impact on things that matter.”