Through Rabbit Ridge Farms, owners Alan and Angela Mahan have set out to create community through food and agriculture. Their passions for being good stewards of the land, consuming locally sourced animal protein, and building relationships have converged to create a farm-to-table experience like no other.
Spanning more than 200 acres in Rabbit Ridge, Arkansas, Rabbit Ridge Farms is a family farm that encourages visitors, something Alan admits is unconventional for most farmers.
“Traditionally, we farmers don’t like people on our place. It usually leads to a gate being left open and cows getting out, trash, that sort of thing,” he said. “But we knew that if we didn’t do that, people would never know about us, how we live, how we raise our animals, and the radical transparency that we provide with our farm.”
Rabbit Ridge has always been Alan’s home. Located in Van Buren County, Rabbit Ridge is centrally positioned between three communities in three counties: Bee Branch in Van Buren County; Damascus in Van Buren and Faulkner counties; and Center Ridge in Conway County.
Alan grew up on his father’s dairy farm and ultimately acquired a commercial cattle operation of his own. He worked as a general contractor for 28 years but no longer enjoyed the work and knew it was time to do something different.
“I had grown tired of doing what I was doing,” Alan said. “It was a grind that I was ready to get away from. I enjoyed what I did for a long time, but I was ready to do what my heart wanted to do.”
What his heart wanted to do was farm.
“I had a partner that believed in me enough and was supportive enough that we decided to do this together.”
Alan’s wife, Angela, taught at a community college and also has a background in commercial farming, growing up in the flat lands of northeast Arkansas on a row-crop farm that produced cotton, rice, and soybeans. The couple shared the same values when it came to eating locally sourced meat and committed to feeding their family only meat produced on the farm. They were already raising cows, so they began with beef and later acquired pigs to incorporate locally sourced pork. The Mahans soon realized that other people they knew also were interested in consuming locally sourced meat, so they began selling half and whole cuts of beef and pork to friends and family.
“Eventually you run out of friends and family to sell halves and wholes to,” Alan said.
They also were running out of space. Alan and Angela had seven large, commercial chest freezers located in barns and trailers behind their house. They had to figure out a way to get their products to more people.
“That’s when we had a real heart-to-heart conversation about what do you want to do and what will make you happy,” Angela said. “And the answer was making a living here on the farm.”
Rabbit Ridge Farms was officially established in 2014. The Mahans added chickens to their operation and began selling retail cuts the following year. They drove an enclosed trailer across the state and sold meat from the driveways of friends’ homes. Festivals were another opportunity to sell their products, but conditions could be less than optimal.
“We had a booth at a festival during August – in Arkansas – and it was so hot,” Angela said. “To top things off, our booth was not in an ideal location. We were positioned between kids’ karaoke and the dog park. We have four children and three dogs, so we love both, but you can only hear Miley Cyrus and barking dogs so much. We knew we had a good product, but we couldn’t beg people to take the meat.”
After the festival, the couple went to an area restaurant and brainstormed what they could do differently to not only sell more meat but also to get the message out about the importance of knowing where your food comes from.
“We knew the best way to share that message was to actually bring people to Rabbit Ridge,” Angela said.
Using Alan’s background in construction, Angela and Alan designed and built The Venue at Rabbit Ridge Farms. The two-story, 15,000-square-foot facility was once a school’s gymnasium. It was rebuilt using reclaimed and natural materials and features four spacious suites for overnight guests; a commercial kitchen to allow for catering; a spacious first floor that can seat up to 400 people for weddings, corporate events, and private events; a smaller conference room for meetings, trainings, and seminars; and a farm store.
“The coolest thing about what we do is meeting different people from all walks of life,” Alan said. “We love that the farm has given us opportunities to build relationships with people through food.”
The Mahans said the farm is an extension of their home. They regularly host breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the farm. During the events, the overhead doors remain open, allowing for fresh air and views of the beautiful countryside.
“Initially, people may find it uncomfortable to see a cow roaming across the field, and then you have a steak in front of you,” Angela said. “But what that shows you is the connection between the food, the agriculture, and your plate.
“We do think there is a disconnect between where people get their food from and their plate. We felt like bringing them out here would provide a connection between those two things again.”
These gatherings not only connect people with where their food comes from but also connect them with each other. The Mahans describe meals at the farm as “a unique dining and social experience” where you can “bring old friends and make new ones.” Rabbit Ridge Farms is not a restaurant with set hours; dates are announced as they are available. Angela said the events are akin to having 150-250 of your closest friends over for dinner.
“When we host an event, it’s a combination of family members, friends, friends of friends, people that we have met, and somehow, magically, it comes together,” she said. “We’re able to host and serve people that come out here to the farm in a way that I think is really special and unique.”
On March 13, 2020, Alan and Angela realized their lives were about to change. COVID-19 had been declared a nationwide emergency, and the U.S. was shutting down. They knew they would have to adapt their business model, which relied heavily on bringing people together and selling meats wholesale to restaurants. The Mahans embraced e-commerce and transformed their venue into a distribution center. Since that time, Rabbit Ridge Farms has fulfilled orders in more than two-thirds of the 48 contiguous states they ship to.
“In order for us to be able to create community through food, we want to provide not only a physical environment at the farm that promotes radical transparency and trust but also an online community that educates people and lets them know that our products are ones they can trust,” Angela said.
The Mahans have found that people connect with Rabbit Ridge Farms for different reasons. Some customers want meat sourced only from animals they know have been treated humanely. Others choose Rabbit Ridge Farms’ products because they want to support local farmers and establish a relationship with the people who are producing their food. No matter the reason, it all comes down to trust and transparency.
“I think our personal involvement provides that trust and transparency that people are looking for,” Angela said.
The Mahans are regenerative farmers, which means they use livestock to improve the land without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or commercial fertilizer.
“We’re producing meat the same way my grandfather produced what he ate back in 1900,” Alan said. “It not only improves the land but it gives you a superior product to enjoy.”
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to land management that focuses on regenerating the health of the soil. For example, as the chickens at Rabbit Ridge Farms “scratch and peck,” they leave enough manure in one day to fertilize the soil for one year. This results in what Alan describes as a “constant disturbance of the seed bank,” allowing for new grasses to prop up where the chickens had been, which spread across the farm. Alan likened it to having a variety of lettuce at a salad bar – arugula, spinach leaves, and spring mix, for example – versus simple iceberg lettuce.
“Instead of taking that dominant, nothing-but-Bermuda grass, now we’re mixing in the fescues, the Bahia grass, the Dallis grass, the clovers, the lespedeza, and we’re seeing all of that come together,” he explained.
Alan said the animals at Rabbit Ridge Farms are able to eat and move the way nature intended, which leads to a nutrient-dense meat product. Most of the cattle at Rabbit Ridge Farms are born on the farm and begin their life on grass, making them “grass fat, grass fed, and grass happy.” The hogs roam freely and munch on grass, hickory nuts, white oak acorns, and even poison ivy. The chickens relocate to a grass situation once they leave the brooder and begin to feather, adding crickets and grasshoppers to their diets.
“We’re not what we eat; we are what we eat eats,” Alan said.
Alan added that the quality of the meat not only comes from the way the animals are raised but also the way they are processed. Rabbit Ridge Farms works with small-scale processors certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cypress Valley Meat Company in Pottsville and Natural State Poultry Processing in Clinton. Both operations are committed to humane harvesting techniques that ensure the highest standards for animal welfare and food safety. Furthermore, they package meat in a way that allows it to be frozen for longer periods of time without additional preparation.
“I like to say that our animals have just one bad day,” Alan said. “We’re fortunate to have professional, local people who are packaging and processing our animals and making beautiful cuts of meat.”
Rabbit Ridge Farms sells its proteins wholesale to local restaurants and stores, including Bell Urban Farm in Conway.
“If you haven’t been to Bell Urban Farm, you need to go,” Alan said. “Kim and Zack McCannon do such a good job highlighting so many different people that are doing a fantastic job growing animals and raising crops. We’re proud to be a part of it.”
The Mahans want people to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from. In addition to hosting tours at the farm, they reach online audiences by creating fun and educational videos for social media – from Alan demonstrating how they catch chickens for harvest to Angela preparing recipes using meat from Rabbit Ridge Farms.
“We’re passionate about teaching children and adults alike about where their food comes from, not only the food that we raise, but also letting them know generally that there are a lot of different players in food production,” Alan said.
More information about Rabbit Ridge Farms, including online ordering and links to their social media profiles, is available at RabbitRidgeFarm.com.