BOWLING GREEN, Mo. -- Meat is all Ed Woods has ever known.
From a child running around and getting in the way at his father's shop to a national representative of small meat processors everywhere, Woods has never considered anything else. More than 600 awards -- from meat competitions around the globe including the world's largest meat expo, the IFFA Quality competition in Frankfurt, Germany, what Woods likens to the Olympics of meat -- line almost all of the walls of the 71-year-old's Bowling Green butcher shop.
Woods Smoked Meats began in 1947, when Woods' father, Goodrich Woods, opened a small grocery store in the city of just more than 5,000 people. More than half a century later, Woods Smoked Meats has expanded to encompass all aspects of meat processing and sales, drawing retail sales from across the region and contract processing and private label jobs from across the country.
"It has always been the meat business for me," Woods said, noting that the only non meat-related job he has ever held is a paper route in his youth. "It's all I've ever known."
Woods studied food science and nutrition at the University of Missouri in Columbia after high school. After spending two years in Kansas City working for $1.75 an hour on the sausage desk of a meatpacking plant, he returned to the family business in January 1971, armed with a newfound understanding of the industry and several ideas to keep the shop on the cutting edge of the field.
"My degree just expanded on what I'd already learned here," he said. "Kansas City was also an education. I was a green country boy that was thrown in there with those city guys."
The shop got its first smokehouse in 1971, and the nature of the business began to shift. Woods began curing ham, bacon and other meats on-site, which helped to build up a new base of customers.
When a friend brought in a deer he had shot -- Woods' father was not in favor of processing deer in the business because he thought it was too much trouble -- Woods snuck it out back to process it without being spotted.
"I didn't know what I was doing," he said, "but I talked to a lot of people, got some pointers and figured out how to make it. That first year, we did about 1,000 pounds of deer."
After processing deer became an accepted part of the business, demand increased exponentially. The second year saw 2,000 pounds. The third year was 5,000. At its height, about six years ago, Woods Smoked Meat processed around 250,000 pounds of deer in a single year.
"The deer allowed us to buy better equipment," Woods said. "So we bought a stainless steel, automatic smokehouse, which improved the product, and we just went on from there."
The business has been constantly expanding since the 1970s. The original 2,800-square-foot-building has grown to cover 16,000 square feet. It now houses four smokehouses, and butchering is done on-site -- Woods personally oversaw the layout of the expansion to ensure a steady production line that prevents cross-contamination of raw and cooked meats. The business can process more than 100 different kinds and cuts of meat.
His father stepped away from the business in 1985, leaving Woods in charge.
Woods got hooked on competing after his first contest. Many of his awards are among the most prestigious in the industry. He has won at state fairs and state meat processor conventions, the American Cured Meat Championships and has received 27 medals from the IFFA, including 17 gold medals, and the organization's Cup of Honor. He was inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame last year.
"I just had a knack for it and kind of got good at it," he said. "The more you compete, the more questions you ask and the more you learn."
He has served as president of the American Association of Meat Processors. He married his wife, Regina, at a meat convention in Reno, Nev.
"I didn't know that this level existed," Woods said of his national presence in the industry. "After 50 years, I've accumulated quite a bit of knowledge, but there's always more to learn."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.