2013 Award winner
After going to France to study butchery, I founded the Portland Meat Collective, a traveling butchery school.
Camas Davis, a food writer, wanted to learn about meat. Really learn. So in 2009, with just eight weeks of French lessons under her belt, she went to Gascony, France, to study the pasture-to-plate approach of the renowned Chapolard family, which for three generations has raised pigs, butchered them, and sold charcuterie. After returning home, Davis gained more proficiency in an Oregon butcher shop while founding the Portland Meat Collective (PMC), a group of farmers, teachers, students, and consumers. “People buy animals directly from local farmers, but we teach them how to break the animal down,” she explains. “In a pig-butchery class, they may buy a pig and go home with parts: bacon, chops, shoulders, and hams—but also leaf lard, fatback, pig head, trotters.” Since PMC held its first (sold-out) class in early 2010, Davis, 36, and a rotating crew of butchers, chefs, and salami makers have taught more than 250 courses. Almost 2,000 students—from stay-at-home moms to high school students—have learned a more mindful appreciation of where meat comes from and forged relationships with local farmers. Davis served as an advisor for collectives in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, and although Pacific Northwest foodies are notable for their commitment to sustainability issues, she insists her model can be emulated anywhere. “The biggest hurdle small farmers have is market- ing to locals,” she says. “And there are good little farms all over the country.”
Do you remember the moment you decided to start your business? What was it like? Upon my return from France, I wanted to open a whole animal butchery shop, but I realized a) I still didn't know enough to do so, and b) that there just wasn't a consumer base in Portland, Oregon to support that kind of business. Wanting to keep learning, and wishing for a more educated public, I decided I wanted to start putting on whole animal butchery and charcuterie classes. The idea was that we'd buy whole animals from small, sustainable, local farms, and we'd hire local chefs and butchers to teach the classes. The Portland Meat Collective was born.
What advice do you have for others who want to turn their passion into a business? I started a business that would teach me what I wanted to do. I suspect one could start a Portland Cheese Collective or a Portland Carpentry Collective using the same basic model. If you can't find a class to teach you the thing you want to know, create a class yourself! Also, it's okay to start small. Test the market. Don't commit yourself to a 3,000 square foot space until you know you have the clientele you need. Lastly, people love a good story. If you are passionate about something and you want to start a business based on that passion, be sure to tell your own story about your own passion. It will connect people to you instantly.
I am inspired by people who do it themselves, by their calloused hands, and the dirt under the fingernails, and all their scars. Camas Davis
What advice do you wish you had when you started?Don't insist on doing everything yourself. Ask for help. I was lucky enough to get a lot of help without even asking, but it took me years to realize I couldn't be responsible for every facet of running the business.
What do you think is the key to being a successful startup?Asking a lot of questions. Problem solving skills. Creativity. And a belief that nothing is impossible.
Tell us about your workspace. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the Portland Meat Collective to be a sustainable business and a flexible business. For me this meant that I could choose the number of classes we offered in any given month. This meant that I couldn't be tied down to paying rent for space that I used sporadically. Instead of committing myself to a storefront or shop, I decided we would be a traveling butchery school. We rent space in shared commercial kitchens and restaurant kitchens to teach our classes out of. This meant that we only paid rent for the time we used the space. I like working out of different spaces, even if it means loading and unloading my car a lot. But every space we teach classes out of must have beautiful natural light, elbow room, and a big table for our students and teachers to gather around. That and a great dishwasher!
Alberta Arts District in Portland, Oregon
Directly from farms.
What inspires you? I strive for transparency and honesty in my personal life and my professional life. And the Portland Meat Collective is all about transparency in our food lives. I'm inspired by the farmers and chefs and butchers and students who strive for those same principles in their own lives. And I'm inspired by the growing number of people who really want to know where their food comes from, who want to change the system by which the majority of our food is produced, and who want to take that production, or at least part of it, into their own hands. I am inspired by people who do it themselves, by their calloused hands, and the dirt under the fingernails, and all their scars.
What's your next business goal or project? This spring I raised $30,000 on Kickstarter so that I could help people around the country start their own Meat Collectives. We've just launched the Olympia Meat Collective and Seattle Meat Collectives, and we've got dozens of people waiting in the wings to start their own. I'm working on a website that will help people do just that and become a resource for students, teachers, and owners of Meat Collectives across the country. Somehow in between everything, I am trying to write a book!