Through trial and error, Annemarie Sullivan has created a successful pasture-based regenerative livestock farm.
by LISA PORTERFIELD THOMPSON
The idea of farming holds a lot of different meanings to people, depending on who you ask and what experiences they’ve had. Some people think farming means a tractor and an older man wearing dirty overalls with a piece of straw hanging out of his mouth. Some associate farming with livestock and cattle and a nursery rhyme song about Old MacDonald. Other people think of a multi-million dollar operation with large combines and thousands of acres of neatly planted rows of produce and irrigation systems. Still others think of a depressed economy and small-town America drying up when the word “farming” is uttered. Then, there’s Annemarie Sullivan. She’s a farmer, and in reality, she fits in none of those stereotypes that might come to mind when you consider the term. No, she’s built something altogether different, and lovely in its own right—something of a modern-day farm with “old world” techniques and ideas.
Annemarie started Sullifarm and Kitchen in 2016. She describes it as “a pasture-based regenerative livestock farm,” and if you don’t know what that means, it’s okay. She’s had to explain it quite a bit.
“A ‘farmer’ is actually a really broad term,” she said. “We do a lot of things, but usually specialize in growing certain products. Some farmers grow fruits or vegetables; a lot of larger-scale farmers grow cotton, corn or soy. Some farmers raise animals; we also call these farmers, ranchers. I grew up gardening with my grandpa, but I specialize now in raising livestock, especially, but not limited to, pigs which produce the finest pork I’ve ever had. I like to describe my farm as a pasture-based regenerative livestock farm, which basically means, we choose to raise animals primarily on pastureland instead of in concrete-floored growing facilities. Regenerative agriculture is a lofty goal, to utilize agriculture to actually give back to the land and soil and make it better rather than to just constantly extract resources from it. This is done through specific management practices. The main one we implement is rotational grazing, among many others. I use livestock in my farm description to differentiate what ‘kind’ of farming I do, meaning I don’t grow any crops at this time. I just raise animals for meat and plant the occasional herb or vegetable.”
Annemarie is a native of the Texarkana area, growing up on a farm, and also having spent about 10 years of her childhood in Austin, Texas. She is one of nine children, and learned lots of lessons from her big family. “I was homeschooled and finished high school at 18,” she said. “I chose to forego continued education due to my interest in entrepreneurship, and my lack of enjoyment for sitting at a desk. I actually started my farm while finishing high school, not knowing at the time that it would become my choice in career. Farming was definitely not always the plan! Although I think I can say pretty confidently that it is now.”
When asked where Annemarie learned the trade of farming, she tried to narrow down her answer. “If I were to give credit for my learning experience in farming to just a few, it would be my grandpa who first taught me to plant a seed, the internet and it’s infinite wisdom, and plain old trial and error,” she said. “Getting out there and doing it, and then messing up a lot has a way of instructing you on how to get better. My mom always said I should write a book called ‘How Not to Farm.’ It’s actually not a bad idea. “
While Annemarie breaks stereotypes down of being a female managing a farm, she does have help from her family and friends. “My dad tries to fix the equipment on the weekends faster than I break it, but it’s a hard job to keep up with,” she said. “My younger brother can drive and fix most machines better than many professionals. My boyfriend also helps in many ways when he is in town, and he’s usually the one I count on when I need an extra hand for a big project. My mom and farmhand, Tara, deserve recognition, too. My mom has always been my backup when I really need help, and my friend Tara manages the farm when I am out of town. As far as the day-to-day upkeep and the overall management, I try to create systems in which I can get it done on my own. “
Self-sufficiency does seem to be a strong suit for Annemarie, who not only maintains Sullifarm and Kitchen, but recently accepted a job with the City of Texarkana, Texas. “I recently was hired by the City of Texarkana as the Cultural Foods Program Coordinator,” she said. “It’s a new program we began this summer in an effort to create more community events that are accessible to anyone and everyone in our community. It’s all about food, diversity, togetherness and supporting local. Sullifarm is a
full-time job already, but I knew when I heard about this part-time job with the city, I just had to get onboard. I’m busier now than ever, but so far it has been a lot of fun, and I couldn’t have asked for a better second job.”
Busy is a good description of where Annemarie is, and likely will be, for the next foreseeable future. She has big plans for Sullifarm and Kitchen. “My goals for the farm shift and change with time and experience,” she said. “Right now, my goal is to see the farm grow as much as possible in favor of efficiency while still maintaining my ideals of regeneration, soil health, community first and raising animals well. I would love to do more farm-to-table meals. I’d love to get more involved with wholesaling to restaurants, and I’d also love to see the farm grow as a source of education and awareness for the movement toward regenerative agriculture.”
Annemarie admits that she has learned some valuable lessons from the farm along the way. “Every single thing I know how to do now, was a challenge and a process to learn,” she said. “The economics of starting a farm and a business as a teenager with no capital was tough. All I had was roughly $1,500 from working at a restaurant saved up to do it. Learning about regulations and selling to the public was tough. Learning how to keep animals alive was tough. Learning how to keep going failure after failure was tough. Learning how to begin was tough. Learning how to run a business and not just a hobby farm was tough. Funny thing is, all those issues are still tough, and I’m still struggling with a lot of those. Things are getting better for sure, but I can’t say I’ve mastered much of anything. I’m just getting better, and that’s good enough for me to keep going.”