Will Kentuckians pay a premium for meat from animals that are locally grown, unconfined, grass-fed and hormone-free?
The partners at Marksbury Farm Market, located in Garrard County between Lancaster and Nicholasville are betting they will. At least in numbers sufficient to make their commercial venture a success. Agribusiness Industry Network members visited the 5-year-old facility recently for a first-hand look at Marksbury's products and practices. And they came away impressed.
John-Mark Hack, a partner in the venture, reviewed his company's brief history and its guiding business principles as the group had lunch in the café, toured the slaughter facilities out back and browsed the retail store.
He stressed that Marksbury's grower network supplies animals raised according to the company's guidelines, but that demand is currently outpacing supply as overall interest in locally produced food continues to increase.
The facility processes cattle, lambs, hogs and chickens primarily, and has agreed to begin dressing out deer for hunters during this fall and winter's modern gun season.
He said the firm's logo, a stylized drawing of tall grass, reflects Marksbury's commitment to traditional animal husbandry practices. He added those choices are meant as an alternative for consumers who comprise their target market.
Although small by industry standards, Hack and the other owners have invested about $4 million in the physical plant at Marksbury, and under federal guidelines have to adhere to the same exacting standards enforced at much larger facilities.
The hygiene rules don't bother Hack but he does chafe under the regulatory burdens imposed on their plant. He says their slaughter facility volume is a tiny fraction of bigger plants, but under USDA rules, must adhere to regulations at the same rate as larger plants, meaning Marksbury's relative cost of regulatory compliance is much higher.
"That is a miniscule amount for a large meatpacker, but for us it's a meaningful drain on our resources," he said. "What I would like for the agency to do is consider the scale of risk when imposing their sampling requirements on someone operating at our level."
Despite this and other challenges of operating a "small" business, Marksbury boasts an impressive directory of restaurants and groceries where their products can be found. Such familiar names as Bristol, Lilly's and 610 Magnolia are on the Louisville list, with corresponding outlets in Lexington, Cincinnati, Nashville and central and western Kentucky.
Whole Foods carries the Marksbury brand, as do some Rainbow Blossom stores and the historic Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea. For a complete list of Marksbury retailers and eateries check out the market's website at marksburyfarm.com.
And while there, you may be enticed by the periodic specials served by the on-site Pasture Burgers and BBQ staff, from smoked meats, burgers and barbecue, to their famous Smoked Bologna Reuben. Or if you don't plan to visit Garrard County in the near future, maybe the recipes for salmon curry, Kentucky burgoo or chicken pies will pique your home-cooking interest.
Either way you're in for a top-notch food experience. And it just can't get more local than Marksbury Farm Market.
Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman