Ky. meats are feature fare on holiday tables
From The Farmers Pride
Three central Kentucky producers are building successful business models while offering fresh, local meats for dinner menus.
Each one loved to farm but realized without marketing the bounty, the joy of farming would merely be an expensive hobby. They’ve succeeded in finding a variety of markets for beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, duck and eggs.
Joe Weber, a/k/a Farmer Joe, of Salvisa, has given his home farm of 40 acres of pasture over to the birds. The “Fresh Farm Eggs” sign fronts the winding driveway back to the farmhouse where Joe was raised. Beyond it, there’s an egg wagon housing a cackle fest then a flock of broilers milling inside a fence guarded by a protective rooster that might peck a visitor’s heel.
Further along, the ducks stream across their grassy paddock. Then there are the turkeys, Broad Breasted Whites mixed in with a few Artisan Golds, craning their necks and deliberately lifting their feet. Skittering around in pairs are the guineas, which Joe keeps, “because I like the way they look.”
Joe raised 600 turkeys in 2018 and most were sold at Thanksgiving. The Broad Breasteds are the familiar white meat variety while the Artisans “are darker, more like wild turkeys, and have a layer of breast fat, where the flavor is,” he said.
After working as an engineer for five years in Lexington, Joe moved home to Salvisa and, inspired by Joel Salatin’s model, was determined to make a living as a farmer.
Today his company – Farmer Joe’s, sells poultry and beef to the wholesale markets Good Foods and Rainbow Blossom, retails it to restaurants in the Bluegrass region, and offers direct sales to consumers.
Customers can drop by the farm anytime on Rte. 127 in Mercer County and buy eggs using the honor system. All the animals are pasture raised, fed a local grain, and are never given antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones. His beef is 100 percent grass fed and finished. “You can taste the difference in every bite,” Joe said.
Add marketing, and the days are long and at times unpredictable. He put 50,000 miles on his truck the first year doing deliveries.
“A crisis with an animal can take up a good portion of the day,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the financial stresses, farming would be the perfect profession.”
Overall, he’s met his goal of producing good food and offering healthy meat to local consumers. “It’s very important to know where your food comes from.”
Currently Farmer Joe offers beef bundles as well as whole turkey, chicken, and duck. Visit his Facebook page or call 859-321-1691.
Tyler Green of Garrard County chose farming for the food. As a child he went with his mother and her loaded picnic baskets to his grandfather’s farm for mid-day meals with the farmers and hands.
“It was like Sunday dinner every day,” said Tyler.
The pleasant experience of community and shared home-made food stayed with him so he decided to replicate that. He built a cabin on his grandfather’s farm and, like his grandfather, began raising heritage hogs.
He purchased a food truck to sell his meat and other products at the Boyle County Farmers’ Market where he developed a loyal following for his Sunwatch Homestead brand.
Last year when the adjoining farm on Ford Fisher Road came up for sale, he bought it and added 150 acres to the 215 his family owns. He greatly expanded his cattle and laying hen production.
The new home’s garage provided the venue he needed for his community venture. It serves as the farm store and as a kitchen. Every day he cooks lunch there and offers it to any farmer or friend in the area.
Usually it’s hamburger, chili or smoked pork but some days it’s pork chips and “all the fixins” like he remembers from his childhood. “I can easily spend $8 on junk food from a drive-through or, for just a little more, I can make a meal that can feed several people and I know exactly where my main ingredients were raised.” He gestures toward the rolling pasture where cattle graze.
On a given Saturday morning, the farm store has customers from as far away as Ohio or as close as the next door. Different generations gather, play banjos, chat, sample the free sausages while customers buy all manner of beef, pork and chicken from 15 freezers.
Customers are given a free breakfast or burger or home-made chili, which encourages more visiting and more community. While Tyler cooks, his wife Brittany managers the register and son, Bowen Fox, 2, “counts” the cash. “It’s $16,” he says, no matter how many dollars he has in his fists.
Tyler sells whole hogs to Middle Fork Kitchen Bar and West Main Crafting Company in Lexington and supplies restaurants, bakeries and retail stores closer to home. He studies genetics and breeding when purchasing stock and is particularly interested in developing a new Kentucky hog breed, the Kentucky Wattle.
In the meantime, he concentrates on bringing people back to good, locally-grown food. “I think we can change our world by getting back into our kitchens. When we care about our ingredients, we demand the best and aren’t afraid to pay a fair price for them. There is an abundance of good that can follow for our farmers, consumers, planet and future generations,” said Tyler.
Visit facebook.com/Sunwatch-homestead or call 859-583-1368.
Sheep farmer Jim Mansfield remembers Christmas Eve family dinners for the meat pie tradition. His mother, cookbook author and foodie Dot Rankin, insisted on high quality ingredients, a characteristic that inspired Jim to raise lambs that produce excellent flavor and thrive on the food forages of the Bluegrass region.
“When I moved to Kentucky from Oklahoma, I saw all this green grass and thought, why fight it? I’ll do something with that.” That something was raising Katahdin hair sheep.
Jim had always desired a career that involved both farm work and marketing.
Fifteen years in, his Four Hills Farm, the New American Lamb Company, offers that combination. Raised on farms in Mercer and Boyle counties, his flock of 400 ewes produce a significant amount of the lamb he markets fresh, weekly to Whole Foods Markets in three states. Additional lamb is raised by farmers for Four Hills Farm using their pastured based production protocols.
“As my friend Roger Johnson said, ‘raising sheep is not hard but you have to stay after it.’” Every day Jim and his wife Lynn work the two farms. He checks the forages, moves groups around the 24 10-acre paddocks, assesses health, fixes what needs fixing. “Sheep have a bad rap in terms of smarts,” said Jim. “But I’ve never met a mean sheep. They are noble creatures.”
Doing store demos to promote his lamb, Jim discovered that 60 percent of the questions are about how to cook “the other red meat.”
“Mostly lamb is a yes or no proposition. People who like lamb seek it out and are thrilled to find some raised locally. Those who don’t know lamb are hesitant to try it. But generally, once they try our lamb, they are pleasantly surprised by its mild flavor,” said Jim.
Jim grew up eating lamb in Vermont. He’s put his mother’s recipes on the cards he hands out at demos. A third-generation foodie, he enjoys the educational aspect of meeting customers face-to-face. And the customers love to meet the farmer.
Four Hills Farm also markets lamb to restaurants in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati, and sells directly to consumers. Visit fourhillsfarm.com or call 859-325-5188.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article is Jim Mansfield’s wife and partner in Four Hills Farm New American Lamb.
By Lynn Pruitt, Field Reporter