Ric Brewer has an unusual passion: snails. And what do you do with such a passion? Start a snail ranch, of course. Ric started Little Gray Farm in 2012. He has been participating in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and recently took time out of his busy snail ranching schedule to tell us about his business and the impact of participating in HEDI.
Tell me about Little Gray Farm.
LGF is, to my knowledge, the only commercial escargot cultivator in the U.S. We are based on five acres in Quilcene, WA, which is on the Olympic Peninsula. Nearly all the escargots currently consumed in this country are canned and from overseas. We have the ability to grow our own, so in a sense it’s a food security issue. Ironically enough, I bought the property before I actually planned on raising snails and then discovered it is on nearly the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, the prime growing area for escargot, so it seemed only fitting that I pursue this.
Snails are gaining popularity worldwide. In France, they cannot keep up with the demand and are now importing 60% of the snails it uses! Seattle is a hub for creativity and innovation so it’s the perfect place to launch a domestic snail ranching industry.
What difference are you trying to make in the food system?
Although there are other people on very small scales selling wild snails in the U.S., I am trying to attempt two things: make a sustainable business that actually grows the snails in a controlled, permaculture based environment so that the life cycle is controlled from egg to adult, and also propagate heliciculture (the cultivation of snails) as a viable industry in this country.
I also want to “democratize” snails; they are an underutilized animal protein that is actually very healthy, when not drenched in butter. Plus they are a very versatile ingredient and can be used in a myriad of menus.
What goals do you have for the business?
A few years ago I put together a recipe book, or general guide, on how to incorporate this easy protein into your diet. I’d love to work with a local chef to develop some unique recipes we can promote together. Some of my favorite ways to eat snails are on pizza on in ravioli with parmesan. They’re delicious!
In the short term, we are looking to buy a commercial, chamber-style vacuum sealer machine to ensure we have a fresh, safely packaged product. People can contribute through May 31st on Indigegogo and sign up for fun rewards like a snail in a sweater.
How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?
I’m not a numbers guy, so when it became time to create a spreadsheet, I looked on it with dread. But when it was explained that a spreadsheet is basically telling a story of your business, it made much more sense. After all, we WANT people to know the story of our business! Even though it’s still not my favorite activity, each iteration of my spreadsheet gets a bit easier.
What advice do you have for other farmers and food businesses?
Expect creating your business to be hard, very hard. There will be times that you want to throw in the towel. There will be times you’re wondering if you’re crazy for doing it. But if you really feel it is your passion, your destiny, then you must do it. Regret is the only thing that lasts forever.