Fireside Chat: Five Marys Farms

by Tanner Colley

The Heffernan family — Brian, Mary, and their four girls—built a community around superb, farm-raised meats, from the ground up.

Brian and Mary Heffernan of Five Marys Farms gave up life in the Bay Area for one on the ranch. When they couldn’t find the right meat to serve in their restaurants, they decided to do it all themselves. 

To the Heffernan family, community is everything. Whether serving eager diners in Siskiyou County or shipping their meat across the country to those lacking access to fresh, grass-fed meat, Five Marys finds their daily challenges rewarding and well worth the effort.

Read on to learn about how Five Marys Farms is doing their part to bring quality, ethically-raised meat to their restaurants and beyond.

Who is Five Marys Farms?

We are the Heffernan family, and we own and operate Five Marys Farms named for the five girls in our family all named Mary. My husband, Brian, and I moved our family to Fort Jones, CA in 2014 from the Bay Area to raise cattle, sheep, and pigs on our Siskiyou County ranch.

We care for our animals together as a family — working hard to produce a premium product with barley-finished, dry-aged Blank Angus beef, pastured Heritage pork and heritage grass-fed Navajo Churro lamb. We sell our meats by-the-cut from our farm store located in Fort Jones and ship them on dry ice to customers all over the country. Next to our store is our restaurant, Five Marys Burgerhouse, where we get to serve our ranch raised meats and favorite cocktails to the community and fans of Five Marys!

The Heffernan Family

What’s an average day like for Five Marys?

Every day presents its own unique set of challenges. A routine is hard since there are times when everything we are planning goes out the window in order to solve the problems at hand. During the school year, I get the girls ready to go in the mornings, and we all help Brian with the morning chores. After we get the girls to school, I help with anything that pops up on the ranch regarding the animals, otherwise, I head to my shop to start processing our customers’ orders. From there, it depends on the season and what day of the week it is! I always end up at our burger house a few nights a week to make drinks or serve a table. During the summers we spend a lot of time outside at what we call “Camp.” We built a pavilion with a kitchen and seating so we can take advantage of Northern California summers and be outside as much as possible. The weekends are now filled with rodeos, hosting retreats, and ranch life.

Mary stays busy

That’s a busy day! What are some challenges you might face?

One of the things about owning a ranch and restaurant is you never know what is going to happen. However, when something does go wrong, it’s an all-hands-on deck, drop-whatever-you’re-doing type of challenge. Caring for our animals comes first. If one needs our attention, we make sure to be there first and foremost. During birthing seasons, the girls and I jump in to help with any mom that may need a little bit of help. It can be a tough job, but there is nothing my family would rather be doing.

Challenges aside, what gets you excited each day?

I love those challenges. Something new is always happening and there are always new things to learn. I also appreciate our customers and the community we have built. I look forward to getting our M5, that’s short for “Five Marys,” meats shipped to their doorsteps and into their hands to feed their families.

We’ve heard about how you’ve been able to help families during the challenging time we are facing right now. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, we are! It’s been crazy here, we’ve shipped meat to over 2250 families in 6 days. It’s been wild, but we are grateful to be a part of helping people have access to quality meats during this time. It’s a reminder about the good things in life.

Five Marys’ wide array of goods

Sounds like creating and supporting your community is a big goal of yours.

Absolutely. Recently, I’ve been able to start a small business course to help other entrepreneurs and small business owners. It’s been incredible to connect with people across the country and pass along some secrets I’ve learned through our time building Five Marys. We’re actually planning to launch a Mastermind Workshop. It’s going to be a fun and amazing opportunity to gather with business owners all over to create a unique opportunity for them to learn and propel their business forward!

How did you get interested in ranching?

My husband and I are from the Bay Area. There we ended up diving into the restaurant business. We love sourcing quality ingredients and are passionate about where our food comes from. Our motto has always been to feed customers food that we would feed our own children. Then we ended up opening a second restaurant with the same passion. After that, we worked on opening a third restaurant that was going to be a high-end burger house. We needed quality ground beef for those burgers. 

What we found working with small farms was that it was really hard for a lot of them to produce quality products year-round. We knew we wanted a barley-finish and for the cattle to love a grass-fed lifestyle. We also wanted a longer dry-aging process than most places do. This process is really important to us, and I think it’s what makes our meat stand out. We dry-age the whole animal after harvesting. So, even our ground beef is dry-aged 21-28 days. That’s pretty unusual.

We got really passionate about all the menu tastings we were having with really talented chefs. But when Brian and I said we wanted everything to be dry-aged for 21-28 days and have a barley finish, we couldn’t find a farm that could do it. We looked at each other with this look and said to each other, “Let’s just do this ourselves.” We could buy our own ranch, raise our animals there, and use the meat in our restaurants. The idea was more than that, though. We get our outdoor recreation property, an aspect of agriculture in our lives, a place to take our kids, all the while filling the need for quality and ethically produced meat we were so passionate about. We started this as part-time ranchers and ended up full-time. We fell in love with the lifestyle and moved our family to Siskiyou.

Everyone stays busy at Five Marys

You mentioned the ranch allowing you to be outside more. What are your favorite ways to get outside?

We never need an excuse to get outside. We are outside all the time! The girls love to horseback ride, chase the dogs, or play in the mud. We built an arena for them to ride their horses and practice roping. The majority of the job involves Brian and I being outside, and the girls jump in to help with their own chores. We never spend a day without being outside. We eat outside and camp pretty much every single evening in the summer.

Why do you love being outside?

One, we love what we do. Brain says, “The worst day of ranching is better than his best day lawyering.” It’s our passion. There is something so beautiful about the open sky country we live in. It’s the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

Part of our motto at Solo Stove is reconnecting with what matters most in our lives. How does Five Marys reconnect to what matters most to you?

We sit down at the end of the day together as a family and enjoy a meal. We believe it’s super important and allows us to reconnect as a family and hear about everyone’s day. We also just love being together.

What’s your motto?

“Nothing is Easy. If it were, everyone would do it.” 

How does your Solo Stove help you slow down and enjoy the outdoors?

We have our Solo Stove set up at camp. There is something about being around a fire at the end of a long workday that is so enjoyable. Being in Northern California, we have quite a few rules to help prevent a forest fire. It’s difficult for most to have an open flame. We love that our Solo Stove allows us to sit outside and enjoy a sunset together as a family!

Rounding out the day

Visit Five Marys Farms to learn more about their story.

How do you think building a sense of community is important in your life? let us know on Instagram and Twitter using @solostove and #solostove.