Meat Heather Marold Thomason. Before becoming a butcher, she ran her own graphic design business in NYC and hit up Brooklyn farmers markets on the weekend. As she befriended local growers and sellers, Heather learned how difficult it was for small farms to sell their pasture-raised (read: way more ethical and better for you) meat, and wanted to find a way to improve the process. At 30, she grilled herself about what really mattered, and realized she had the chops to be a local butcher. How did she make the cut? We asked her.

What inspired you to make the career change from graphic design to butchering?

My personal passion was always food… During my time in New York, I started going to farmers markets… and that’s when I first became very tuned into our local food community. I spent all my spare time thinking about local food systems. I knew a chef-turned-farmer, and over the years, my husband and I became close friends with him. And as we spent time together, I learned more about the food system and how it was so broken. It seemed like we could care more about small farmers and give them better service.

How did you do it?

I ended up farming [first]. After a year of that, I was able to identify someone who was taking on butcher apprentices. I spent two years working as an apprentice for no money… But there were definitely moments where I would be so frustrated when I wouldn’t be able to do something as well as I wanted. It was really hard.

Statistically, the majority of butchers are men. Was the gender dynamic in your apprenticeship ever an issue?

I was the first female butcher on the staff. The guys that I worked with were great. There was definitely a thing where they would tease or “big brother” me, because I think they were a bit threatened by me. They were not quick to give praise, so I really had to hustle and surprise them and impress them… I could never just be good… Their good was my great, and we were treated the same. It didn’t frustrate me so much as it motivated me. 

After your apprenticeship, what did you do?

I was hired to be a butcher and shop manager at Kensington Quarters, and within a year, became the head butcher. That was actually great, but really challenging, because it was a hybrid of a butcher shop and a restaurant. I was running my own retail butcher shop inside of it… I was able to get involved with budgets, planning and supply chain for two years before going out on my own.

What inspired you to start your own company, Primal Supply Meats?

I had built this local supply chain. I was working with farmers, dealing with trucking and slaughterhouses, and a lot of chefs started asking me if I could help them, too. I realized I could serve the city, and not just one location. 

Is there anything you wish people knew about butchering?

A really silly, funny misconception is people think meat is bloody and gross. It’s not. I think another thing, which is not specific to butchery but meat consumption, is this idea of supporting local and seasonal agriculture. The farmers we work with use regenerative farming practices, and giving back to the land. These animals are being raised in natural and healthy ways… There’s so much conversation in the media about harmful farming, but that’s not what we do.