Class of 2017: Graduate finds a calling and a path to service through agriculture
When Michael Granche was a young boy, his family moved from the suburbs to a small horse farm within arm’s reach of the nation’s capital. The farm had everything Granche dreamed of, except one thing.
“We had pastures and fencing, but no animals,” said College of Agriculture and Life Sciences senior Michael Granche. “I always loved cows. So, I reached out to a neighbor who knew a farmer. A few days later, two beef steers were delivered.”
At the time, Granche was in sixth grade. Although his parents, who had no background in farming, were initially surprised by their son’s gumption and temerity, they have supported his aspirations ever since. The budding entrepreneur was able to negotiate a business with them — a business that over the past decade has flourished under the young man’s direction, even bankrolling his entire college education at Virginia Tech. As a result, Granche, who is majoring in agribusiness and minoring in animal and poultry sciences and political science, will graduate later this week, one semester early, and with no debt.
What makes Granche so unusual is that at a very young age, and with unusual confidence and foresight, he pursued a vocation generally reserved for adults, particularly those with an agricultural background. Eleven years ago, while most of his fellow students were struggling to grasp basic arithmetic, Granche was already putting his business acumen, along with his interest in animals, to work. The adolescent learned the ropes by joining 4-H and exploring the internet for information about raising cattle and operating a small business.
“Both of my parents are active readers, and my dad had a book called 'Raising Beef Cattle for Dummies.' I picked up ideas from the book and spoke with many local producers about what was, and was not, working for them,” said the Virginia native. “When it all started, I just knew ‘black cows.’ Now, we have raised Red and Black Angus, Charolais, Shorthorns, and Herefords, and we do our own breeding.”
The Granche family’s farm in Catlett, Virginia, is located less than an hour from the nation’s capital. In a populous region where most of the land is developed, the young businessman has been successful in identifying a market for his product.
“If you are looking for a niche, such as natural and organic, this industry provides the freedom to offer this to consumers. We are a natural, grass-fed operation and we follow organic guidelines,” he said. “I sell to people who work with my dad and friends of my mom’s. It’s turned into a family business.”
Although Granche’s parents and younger brothers are now involved, when the senior isn’t studying for classes or engaged in campus activities, he is likely to be at home overseeing the operation. Nearly every weekend, he packs his car and heads home to care for his animals – and it is the animals he credits with inspiring his earliest enterprising inclinations.
“From a young age, I had an entrepreneurial drive. I had my own dog walking business for a while before we moved to the farm,” said Granche.
While walking dogs in his neighborhood, he bonded with a particularly special client, a Dalmation named Maxwell who became a beloved friend to Granche until the dog passed away. The breed remains his favorite to date and the senior plans to get his own puppy after graduating.
“The sight of dogs with spots warms my heart,” said Granche, whose affability and unabashed love for animals and people has earned the student a close circle of friends.
He credits 4-H and Future Farmers of America with helping him to cultivate the husbandry skills and business acumen required to develop his pursuit into a venture successful enough to finance his college tuition. It is, however, his Virginia Tech education that has taken Granche’s understanding of animal genetics and breeding to a new level.
“We now do all of our own breeding, and the program is going well. When I go out to the field, I am proud of what is out there,” he said, acknowledging the knowledge he has acquired from his classes and from members of the faculty. “We have raised competitive club calves. I even had one grand champion Black Angus.”
Granche has a small cattle herd, and has expanded his operation to include pigs. The young producer is always interested in improving his herd, even at the expense of his sleep. When, for instance, he was a senior in high school, the market prized what he calls “boxier” cattle with a lot of hair. So Granche woke up each morning at 5 a.m. to blow dry his cattle’s coats to encourage follicle growth, a process that while humorous to imagine, took weeks of his time. Happily, his coiffed cows did in fact fetch a higher price.
“It’s been such a positive experience that we are going to expand. We are hoping to buy a larger, 100-acre farm. My biggest challenge is infrastructure,” he said. “We need more land to expand the business.”
The senior, who celebrated his 21st birthday in April, is preparing to meet another milestone — graduation. This month, he will officially bid farewell to his alma mater. As president of the college’s Ambassadors program, one of two social media interns for the college, and an active alumni member of Future Farmers of America, Dairy Club, and numerous other clubs and organizations, Granche is preparing to leave an institution to which he has given his all.
“I got involved with the Ambassadors leadership program during my freshman year. I was elected president during my senior year. This role has brought me more fulfillment than anything else in college. My work as an ambassador allows me to express Ut Prosim. I get to support families and to talk about what makes Virginia Tech special. I also love talking to alumni and hearing their stories.”
“I want to be able to carry this forward,” he said. “I want to earn my master’s degree in agricultural science. If given the opportunity to seek this at Virginia Tech, I want to pursue the leadership track. Many policymakers do not understand what it’s like to be an agricultural producer. Dwight Eisenhower said it best, ‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.’”
Granche’s dream is to seek a career in agricultural policy while continuing to farm part-time. Two summers ago, he worked as an intern for the National Association of Wheat Growers, a bipartisan NGO headquartered in Washington, D.C.
“After working with policy implementation, I got to see how agriculture is presented to the United States Congress and on the Hill,” he said. “Policy implementation impacts everyone. It’s where you can make the biggest difference. It impacts us all as consumers, industry, and everyday people.”
Granche believes that agricultural policy should be made by people who know what it means to operate a farm, and have a grounding in the day-to-day challenges that producers confront in our country. He wants to make a difference, and if ever there were a student who is likely to follow through on that promise, it is Michael Granche.
— Written by Amy Painter