Lifelong pals tailor meat processing plant to the needs of farmers and livestock
By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Proud Connection
CAMPBELLSBURG, Ky. - John Edwards and Chris Wright grew up together, worked for the same company, and now are co-owners of their own Kentucky Proud meat-processing business.
Last November, the lifelong friends opened Trackside Butcher Shoppe at Henry County Commerce Park in Campbellsburg. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected facility has the capacity to process 1,000 cattle, 400 hogs, and 400 sheep/goats annually for area farmers.
“We couldn’t ask for things to be going any better,” Edwards told Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles before giving him a tour of the 5,400-square-foot building in March. “There’s around 170 different producers that we process for. That’s a lot in three months’ time just by word of mouth. That’s close to capacity for us.
“For the four months we’ve been in business, the phone keeps ringing,” he added. “Three-quarters of our business right now is for families. Now that we’ve got our USDA inspector, we’re doing commercial [orders].”
The facility is supported by a combination of grant and loan funding from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, including $127,500 in county agricultural development funds from Henry, Oldham, Owen, Shelby, and Trimble counties. The state is contributing $372,500 in funding. The total project cost nearly $1 million.
“It wouldn’t be possible without Ag Development funding,” Edwards said. “We’re just two average guys. We would’ve never been financed without it.”
The business came easily to Edwards and Wright because they, like most of their current customers, grew up raising a few beef cattle to slaughter for their own consumption.
“We both grew up on our grandfathers’ farms and raised beef for ourselves, freezer beef,” Edwards said. “Most of our customers process one or two animals, one for them and one for their grown kids.”
The facility has six full-time employees, including both Edwards’ and Wright’s wives, and two part-time workers.
“There are two sets of husbands and wives here,” said Hannah Edwards, John’s wife. “We’ve got our kids napping in the back room, so it’s very much a family business.”
Visitors to Trackside are greeted inside the front door by a brightly-lit meat case stocked with fresh lamb ribs, leg of lamb, boneless rolled lamb shoulder, ribeye and T-bone steaks, beef tenderloin, spare and country-style pork ribs, and three styles of roast – Boston butt, picnic ham, and beef rump.
One of Trackside’s unique features that sets it apart from other processors is that farmers can unload their cattle without leaving the comfort of their truck cabs. Wright said he wasn’t aware of another processor that had pull-through unloading.
“Farmers never have to get out if they don’t want to,” Edwards said. “Chris and I both process for ourselves, so we understand what farmers want. Our business is based on repeat business.”
Standing inside the pull-through stall behind the building, Henry County Judge-executive John Logan Brent told Commissioner Quarles, Edwards, Wright, and others within earshot: “This right here is head and shoulders above anything I’ve used.”
Not only is it easier on the farmer, it’s also less stressful to the livestock being unloaded, the owners said.
“It has a humane component,” Edwards said. “One thing we saw right off the bat is it’s easier for farmers to get their animals off the trailer. The cattle are not confined, so they feel more comfortable getting off. That’s so big right now – the humane treatment of animals.”
Edwards and Wright still haven’t given up their day jobs for AT&T. Edwards works in Eminence as a facility technician servicing internet problems, Wright in east Louisville as a fiber cable splicer.
“Business is so good that one of us will be able to quit soon,” Wright said. “It’s way different to be working for yourself.”
The facility is well-positioned for success. It’s easily accessible from Interstate 71, located two miles from exit 34, and it sits alongside the CSX Railroad’s main line from Louisville to Cincinnati. Hence its name, Trackside.
“We want to get so big that they will have to build us a branch line!” Wright joked.