Gunpowder Bison Trading Company
by Zoe Saint-Paul
Trey Lewis is not your ordinary farmer, if there’s any such thing. The 27-year-old Maryland native is a trained chef and construction worker who built his home on the ruins of an old barn —and then decided to raise buffalo. In just four years, Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. in Monkton has become the largest meat-producing bison ranch on the East Coast.
With the help of his life and business partner, Angela Weishaar, Lewis has used his skills and talents to transform this beautiful land along Gunpowder Falls into a thriving enterprise. He was raised on the same 75 acres upon which his bison now live, but back then, his father, a financial planner, leased the fields for crops. When he grew up, Lewis had a different vision. “We had all this land, and I wanted to do something with it—something fun that would make some money,” he said.
After a year of researching livestock, Lewis settled on bison. “I looked into all kinds of animals—emus and alpacas and cows, but I liked the buffalo,” he says with a grin, “I had worked with the meat at culinary school, and frankly, I wanted a manly animal!”
To be sure, bison, or buffalo as they’re more commonly called, are not for the faint of heart. They destroy everything in their wake and will clear out a forest in short order. There is a popular saying among bison farmers: You can lead a buffalo anywhere it wants to go. These enormous creatures are usually afraid of people and prefer to stick together, but they’re not domesticated.
“You can’t trust them,” says Lewis. “They’re wild animals and people have been hurt or killed by treating them otherwise.” In fact, Lewis and his helpers don’t get into the pen with them except in tightly planned circumstances. The 60 plus buffalo at Gunpowder are fenced in with two barriers and electric wiring.
Buffalo are extremely hearty and rarely get sick. Three times a year, Lewis treats them with a dewormer but gives no antibiotics or by-products. Lewis’ buffalo are grass-fed during most of the year. In the winter they eat hay and natural feed.
“There just isn’t enough land here to feed them fresh grass all year round,” explains Lewis. “And I think the meat tastes a little better with a bit of natural grain anyway.”
Weishaar, who handles sales and the storefront, says the demand for bison is growing. Many Baltimore area eateries, such as Sascha’s 527, Corks, Indigma, Padonia Station, The Bistro and Hightopps Backstage Grille, feature Gunpowder bison on their menus. Half their business will soon come from restaurants.
The appeal of buffalo meat has skyrocketed in recent years. “Consumers are making healthier food choices and with buffalo, you don’t have to compromise taste for health,” says Lewis.
Buffalo, while tasting like beef, actually has almost a quarter of the fat and is significantly lower in calories and cholesterol than beef, chicken, pork, and salmon. It also contains more iron and Vitamin B-12.
In addition, with so many national beef recalls and scares (like Mad Cow disease), people want to buy local from farmers they trust. Lewis and Weishaar are the kind of people who love what they do and oversee the care of their livestock and the quality of their product from beginning to end.
Once a month, Lewis drives about half a dozen buffalo to a butcher he knows in Lancaster County, PA. The animals are inspected by the USDA and after slaughter, they’re dry-aged for three weeks before being cut and packaged.
On drop-off day, the meat processed from his last trip is usually ready for Lewis to bring back to the store, which is located at the center of the farm.
The Gunpowder store, in the same converted barn building in which they live, reflects Lewis and Weishaar’s talent for organization and creativity. An attractive and sizable space, freezers line the back wall with various cuts of meat. Visitors will also find scarves, wallets, shoes, belts, and other crafts made from buffalo hide.
Lewis and Weishaar’s love of animals is behind another popular product: Ruff & Rowdy Bison Chow—a raw dog food based on the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF).
As for what’s down the road for this energetic farmer and his fiancée, Lewis wants to find more land and become self-sufficient. He envisions having 300-400 bison eventually to meet the growing demand.
Weishaar, who always wanted to live on a farm, enjoys educating customers and hopes to some day add barnyard animals to the farm and open a petting zoo for children.
In the meantime, they are enjoying life with the buffalo. “I love these animals and the freedom of being my own boss,” says Lewis.
For recipes and cooking tips visit their website.
Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co.
Zoë Saint-Paul is a coach, consultant, and writer. Email to email@example.com
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