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Sunshine Farms: Better Beef Raised on Local Land
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

In 2013, Rick Henley started a farm with 23 cows on 75 acres of land he leased within the Jonesboro city limits. Six years later, Sunshine Farm’s herd boasts 182 head of cattle on 385 acres of land and provides premium quality angus beef to several local establishments and farmers’ markets.

“Our dad started this farm six years ago and has slowly built up the herd,” said Carrie Henley Elam. “(My brother) Eric and I really became involved in the farm the last year because we decided to branch out more in the community. By that I mean that our mission has evolved to the point where we are passionate about providing the community with a quality local beef product.”

Elam and her brother, Eric Henley, work with their father to operate Sunshine Farms. From the very beginning, they knew they wanted their beef to be different. Sunshine Farms’ cows are raised on natural grass pastures and have free choice, meaning they are given the option of locally grown hay and specialized feed, but they are free to roam the land and eat what they like. This allows the family to raise their cattle without the use of growth hormones, antibiotics or steroids.

“We grow our own fertilized Bermuda hay to feed the cattle,” said Elam. “They’re all free range. The ones that are weaned, which is usually between six and eight months, we move … so they can begin having the free choice of a green finish; they have a choice of natural grass, the hay we grow or grain. We work with a nutritionist out of Hirsch Feed and Farm Supply inThayer, Mo., so the grain we do offer to them is non-medicated with no growth hormones and no steroids. All the cows have access to fresh drinking water. The free choice is what I really want to emphasize with our pastures. We have grain set out, but right now they’re nowhere around it. It’s more of a finishing product. It’s there if they want it, but it’s important to us they have that choice.

“It goes back to that transparency, and I think more people are starting to value that. We have worked this farm personally. We are responsible for every aspect of how these cattle are raised. All of our beef is taken to Yoder Bros Meat Processing in Paris, Tenn., where it is USDA certified and processed. There are no fillers in our beef. There are no antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones. We really create an environment for our cattle to be as happy and as stress-free as possible. It’s just how farming should be, in our opinion.”

A recent venture for the local farm is a partnership with Yesdog Grill in Downtown Jonesboro. Eric and Elam say that when Lisa Godsey approached them, they were excited about the opportunity to provide all of the beef for the well-known chef’s new restaurant.

“What got us into the more commercial side of farming was when Lisa contacted us,” said Elam. “It planted this idea. To us, this is how farming should be as far as a very quality product that is very environmentally and ethically conscious. Our community deserves a product that is local and great quality. As consumers, we should be able to know where our beef comes from. Anyone can come take a tour. We want this transparency so more people will invest in the idea of local – local beef and local produce – at local restaurants like Yesdog Grill.”

For those wanting to purchase Sunshine Farms beef, the family sells their product at the ASU Farmers’ Market, the Paragould Farmers’ Market and the 49 Market in Paragould. Beef is available to purchase by the whole, half and quarter cow, along with a variety of steaks, roasts, ground beef, bratwursts, Italian beef sausage, fajita meat, stew meat, short ribs, soup bones and calf liver. Sunshine Farms also offers three different packages, which are especially popular with grillers during the summer months; the Family Pack is available for $80 and includes one chuck roast, 5 pounds of ground beef, three packs of stew meat and two packs of round steak; the Farmers’ Market Economy Pack is available for $72 and includes two packs of stew meat, one shoulder roast, two pack of short ribs and 5 pounds of ground beef; the popular Griller’s Pack is $140 and includes two porterhouse steaks, two T-bone steaks, two bone-in Ribeye steaks, three packs of bratwurst and 5 pounds of ground beef. During the colder months, customers can call to order and either schedule a pickup or have their beef delivered.

“This year has been a year of tremendous growth for us,” said Elam. “We are excited to get in Truck Patch, and we are working with other business opportunities here locally – anyone who wants to use a local product. … At this point, we want to make sure we are growing at a rate that we can still guarantee the quality of the product and still meet customer and consumer demands. We do have some long-term goals; we are in the process of purchasing a certified Angus bull so that long term, we can grow to where all our beef is certified angus. We have big plans to grow this farm and continue to grow. We have the space for it.”

The future of Sunshine Farms is in good hands. Elam says her father is turning over more and more of the day-to-day operations to his children because he wants the two of them to take over the farm.

“We all really do whatever is needed,” said Elam, a licensed counselor with her own practice who also teaches physical education and art at Blessed Sacrament. “We both work farmers markets, we both feed, we both build fences and anything that needs done. Because it’s such a small family farm, we’ve really had to all get out here and pitch in and help this grow and make sure it’s successful. … We all have a lot of roles and other jobs, but we make sure the farm is covered.”

Eric and his wife, Lindsey, hope that their sons, Tryston, 6, and Brylon, 3, are able to experience aspects of farm life that he and his sister grew up with on their grandparents’ farm.

“I want my boys to be able to come out here and be a part of all this and experience a different side of life,” said Eric. “I work at Hytrol, and it’s difficult managing both – it’s a lot of hours – but I like being outside. I like working with animals and the hard work. It’s peaceful out here. I want that for my boys.”

Elam and her husband, Matt, who owns Silvermoon Trailers, hope that 12-year-old Cade, 9-year-old Nate and 6-year-old Ava Grace will learn the ins and outs of the family farm, as well.

“I want my kids out here in the dirt and in the sun and learning about nature and how to conserve it,” said Elam. “What I enjoy is that it’s a family business and that our kids will grow up experiencing farm life like we did when we were kids. I’m very passionate about increasing community awareness that small farming is available at an economical and feasible price. We can provide an economical option for families and individuals that they can eat quality beef without all the stuff in mass/factory farming. Small farming can work. You can have a successful quality operation that can still take care of the natural resources.

“We are committed to a different way of farming. We want the most ethical environment for our animals – hay, quality drinking water, feed, the fact that they’re free range. To me, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of – the way we feed and treat our animals, and that our children are learning to be good stewards of what’s been given to us. We think it’s important to take care of the animals and the land and the customers.”

For more information about Sunshine Farms, call (870) 530-6994, email sunshinefarmsarkansas@gmail.com, visit sunshinefarmsarkansas.com or find Sunshine Farms on Facebook.