MILLVILLE, Pa. — While Mike and Lindsay Miller may be new to their beef business, Greenwood Valley Wagyu in Columbia County, they aren’t new to farming — both come from fifth-generation farming families.
Lindsay’s father, Loren Ruth, and brother, Mitchell Ruth, run the well-established 150-head Wagyu beef farm, Stonyrun Farms, in Spring City, Chester County, southeast Pennsylvania. In addition, they have a breeding program at Synergy Wagyu, which breeds high-genetic-merit Wagyu cattle from superior maternal lines, according to their website.
The Wagyu cattle breed comes from Japan and the word, “Wagyu,” literally means Japanese (wa) and cow (gyu). Wagyu are classified by four different types — Japanese Black, Japanese Brown (or Red as they are referred in the United States), Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn.
Greenwood Valley Wagyu, Stonyrun Farms and Synergy Wagyu work with Reds and Blacks.
“I grew up in Chester County and growing up we’ve always had cows,” Lindsay Miller said. “My dad did dairy cows, but then about 20 years ago, I switched over to Wagyu beef.”
She said they’ve never looked back.
When Lindsay, 32, and Mike, 35, got married in September 2020, after being together for eight years, they were intentional about their goals for their lives and their livelihoods. They wanted to create a Millville-based Wagyu business on Mike’s 136-acre family farm.
Mike recalled that his grandfather had bought the property around the 1960s. The farm was not set up as a feedlot, but rather as a migrant camp where they grew tomatoes, green beans and pumpkin squash for local canneries like Chef Boyardee in Milton. The farm had transitioned back to raising livestock in the 1970s, including pigs, then beef cattle and crop farming.
“I was about 10 years old when my grandparents sold the equipment,” Mike said. “I spent most of my childhood in these buildings.”
He said the family placed the farm in a government program, renting half of it to a neighboring farm. The Miller family then transitioned to the trucking business.
Now, Mike’s primary goal is to reestablish the pastures, so the cows can graze freely.
“As we progress, the goal is to get most of the cows out (on pasture). Maybe we’ll keep the older stock getting ready to transition to the feedlots, in the barn, and the younger stock can go out in the pastures,” he said.
Discovering Wagyu Beef
Mike said that when he met Lindsay he had no idea what Wagyu beef cattle were, but as their relationship progressed, he bought a Wagyu from her dad.
“This year, we had our first group of (Wagyu) calves on our own farm,” Mike said. “It has been a blessing from both sides — my family had the facility and her dad, the cattle, so things fell into place. Once the ball started rolling, it kind of took off.”
They currently have 52 Wagyu beef in various life stages. The couple hopes to build a new barn within the next year and has plans to gradually increase the size of the herd to 100.
Lindsay, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, currently works full time as a program director and social worker for a private foster care agency in Lewisburg. But, she plans to leave that position in September to solely focus on Greenwood Valley Wagyu and her dad’s Wagyu enterprises. For both farm businesses, she will handle customer relations and beef deliveries, social media, farm market sales, the creation and sale of value-added tallow products, and restaurant outreach.
Mike works full time for a utility company and will continue that work, in addition to the farm.
Since Lindsay’s dad and brother maintain a Wagyu breeding program, the Millers procure their cattle from them since the time they are weaned.
“We keep them until they’re roughly 550-600 pounds and then we take them down to our finishing facility, where they’re finished and they live out the rest of their life in York County,” Lindsay said.
“A lot of them don’t look like traditional beef cattle. They almost take on more of a dairy animal (appearance),” she said. “They’re super-curious. I would say they’re pretty docile and easy to work with. One unique thing that we do that I don’t know that many other beef farmers do… on my dad’s farm, many of them are raised in a tie stall barn. And when you have them out on pasture, you’re able to walk up to them, you can pet them, they will follow you around like puppy dogs, because they want you to pet them. They all have their unique personality.”
The couple markets their beef directly to consumers and say that most of their work at farmers markets is educating consumers about Wagyu cattle as a breed.
“They think it is the cut of beef. We have to educate people that this is a breed, like Angus,” she explained.
With regards to pricing, they try to find a middle ground based on what other Wagyu producers are charging, what their costs are in terms of inputs and processing, and of course, the local market.
The Millers say that recent shortages — related to the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing prices due to inflation — have actually helped the farm’s sales. They said consumers are becoming more accustomed to paying a higher product for meat, and, in their case, receiving a higher-quality end product.
“(There has been an increased interest in) going from ‘farm to table.’ The beef prices have gone up in the store, so people are starting to say, ‘I am spending X amount of dollars at the store, but for maybe a little bit more, I’m going to support the farmer directly,’” Mike said.
With Wagyu beef, which is viewed as a “luxury” product, Lindsay said, marbling is key. The term is used to describe intramuscular fat, or the visible white flecks found within the muscle of a cut of red meat. Considered key to a premium beef product, marbling correlates directly to the tenderness of a given cut of meat.
According to a recent Greenwood Valley Wagyu social media post, throughout the world there are various systems used to grade the marbling of beef. The US uses a scoring system of USDA Select, USDA Choice and USDA Prime that recognizes variations ranging from slight marbling to abundant marbling. Australia uses an AUS-MEAT scoring system that ranges from 1 to 9-plus. Japan uses a scoring system that ranges from A1 to A5. These grading systems use a marbling score (MS) to evaluate the marbling of an animal. The higher the MS, the higher the quality of the cut of meat.
“At Greenwood Valley Wagyu, we use Australian scoring and currently average a score of 8,” Lindsay said.
An Australian marbling score of 9 is the highest level of marbling.
In addition to Wagyu genetics, Lindsay points out that the feeding program and the cow’s environment also are important contributions to the meat’s quality. Working with these factors helps farmers hone in on perfecting marbling for the breed.
The Millers’ Wagyu beef is sold at various locations, including Lewisburg Farmers Market, Bloomsburg Fair Farmers Market, Crossroad Farms, Millville Farm Market & Creamery, and Two Owls Market in Milton. Customers can also place orders through Facebook Messenger and taste the product at John Ryan Brewery in Williamsport, Best Cigar Pub in Drums, and Three Bears Brewery in Sunbury.
Value-Added Tallow Products
This spring, Lindsay started experimenting with making Wagyu tallow into value-added products. The tallow is rendered or melted down beef fat that is filtered and allowed to cool and harden. The texture is similar to that of coconut butter at room temperature.
“Historically, tallow was used for cooking and baking, along with candle- and soap-making,” Lindsay said. “As more easily accessible oils became available, tallow was used less and less. However, tallow is wonderful for cooking and has many health benefits for the skin, which is why we use it as an ingredient in our soaps, lotions and lip balms. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to use more of our harvest and be less wasteful.”
According to Lindsay, tallow contains vitamins A, D, K, E and B12, all needed for good skin health. She said it contains anti-inflammatory properties.
Greenwood Valley Wagyu offers tallow products such as scented and unscented lip balms, lotions in jars and bars, soaps and beard balm.
“I found basic formulas and used them as my jumping-off point, and then searched for other items like soap and lotion recipes,” Lindsay said. “I really was like a little scientist in the kitchen. My dad loves the tallow lotion, because his hands are so dry from the farm. ”
Lindsay said that while she has to educate most consumers about the benefits of tallow, many college-aged customers are already familiar with tallow, because it is used in some beauty items.
The tallow value-added products from Greenwood Valley Wagyu are sold at the Lewisburg Farmers Market, Bloomsburg Fair Farmers Market, the newly opened Millville Farm Market & Creamery, the Buffalo Valley Trading Post in Mifflinburg and Jordanna Adams clothing boutique in Lewisburg. The products will also be available at the Covered Bridge Festival in Bloomsburg and at Heller Orchard’s Applev Festival in Wapwallopen.
For more information about Greenwood Valley Wagyu, search for them on Facebook or Instagram or visit GreenwoodValleyWagyu.com.