A conversation with a removed consumer, an internship in California and endless support from her family allowed Hannah Esch to build Oak Barn Beef.
Esch grew up on her family’s beef operation near Unadilla, Nebr. With the guidance of her parents, both of whom are entrepreneurs, Esch she developed a deep love for cattle and a fierce impulse to start a business of her own. But, for what seemed like an eternity, she couldn’t pinpoint what kind of business she wanted to start.
Throughout Esch’s first few years at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, she fully submerged herself into the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship program. The program allowed her to brainstorm business ideas, engage in hands-on entrepreneurial activities and develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to go out on her own. During this time, she hoped that someday she would figure out what kind of business to build.
It wasn’t until one profound experience during her time as a 2017 Nebraska Cattlewomen Beef Ambassador that Esch recognized her opportunity to build a meaningful business. As an ambassador, Esch traveled to different schools and events across the state to educate youth about beef and the beef industry.
“I got a lot of surprising comments, but the most surprising one was when a third grader from a rural community told me that eggs come from cows because they’re next to the milk in the grocery store,” Esch said.
And in that moment, Esch knew what she wanted to do: with the help of her family’s beef operation, she was going to close the gap between producers and consumers. She didn’t know exactly how she was going to close the gap, but with resources from the Engler staff and an internship on the West Coast, Esch created Oak Barn Beef.
“One thing (the Engler staff) really empowered me to do was to get an internship in my field, so I started researching other companies like the one I wanted to build. When I came across Five Marys Farms in Northern California, I knew that I could learn a lot from that company,” said Esch.
The operation was a perfect fit for Esch, but there was one small dilemma: Five Marys Farms didn’t offer an internship. Esch said the hardest part about the process was sending a letter to the company, asking for an internship to spend the summer at their rural California ranch.
“And they accepted, and this crazy little Nebraska girl went out to northern California for the summer. That was one of the biggest learning experiences that gave me the confidence to start Oak Barn Beef,” Esch said.
During her internship, Esch said she learned the ins and outs of a farm-to-table operation, how to ship a perishable product and tips on social media marketing.
“When I came back to Nebraska in August I was ready to jump into it,” said Esch.
Today, Hannah Esch is the founder of Oak Barn Beef.
“Oak Barn Beef ships my family farm’s high quality beef across the United States directly to consumers. We use the education on ethical ranching practices and sharing our unique farm story to help educate people about where their food comes from,” said Esch.
Using Instagram, Esch reaches mothers and other young consumers by providing transparency and frequently sharing stories about her family’s beef operation. She says posting about the operation helps consumers feel connected with where their food comes from. Esch also uses Facebook to share deals and information.
Esch, an Animal Science major and Entrepreneurship minor, says her ultimate goal is to be full time when she graduates from UNL in May 2020. She also hopes to start a shipping and distribution center to help other producers ship perishable products.