Celebrating a sense of place
November 15, 2023
Tucked at the center of Henry County, Kentucky, one will find the small farming town of New Castle, the homeplace of Wendell Berry and several dozen generational family farms. My sights are set on New Castle’s Main Street this particular evening, where The Berry Center is throwing the first annual Beef Bash, celebrating their Our Home Place Meat initiative and the farmers it was designed to support.
Rain clouds hung heavy in the sky as I wove my car along the two lane road, a light drizzle settling over farmland dotted with cattle and hay bales. The smattering of raindrops ceased almost as suddenly as they had begun, gray clouds dissipating to reveal one final stretch of blue sky before daylight began its descent. It made for the ideal fall backdrop to what promised to be an evening of good food, the scents of which guided us from our car to the celebration set just behind the historic Berry Center Bookstore.
The same farmers who pour their soul into the bucolic hills surrounding New Castle’s quaint Main Street made up a fair share of the bustling crowd at the Beef Bash. “I wanted this to be a farmers’ night out,” shared Mary Berry, The Berry Center’s Executive Director. After all, recognizing the critical role of these stewards of the land is at the heart of The Berry Center and the root from which the Our Home Place Meat initiative has grown. Acknowledging the imperative value of preserving our farmland while also meeting the harsh realities of the moment, the Our Home Place Meat initiative has created the Berry Beef and Rose Beef product lines.
By committing to purchasing the extra yearling calves from participating farms at a set price, a new revenue stream is unlocked along with an element of stability not often part and parcel in the business of farming, particularly when the farm is relatively small in scale and committed to sustainable farming practices. Joseph and Abbie Monroe of Valley Spirit Farm, are two such farmers who have found reliability in the Our Home Place Meat model. “It’s easy” said Joseph, the guarantee that a certain number of his herd are spoken for at a fair price, “the way it should be.” Once selected by the farmer, the cattle will make the very short trip to Trackside Butcher Shoppe, located just north of New Castle, where they are processed and distributed to an ever growing list of Chefs and local grocers.
Kevin and Mary McManis echoed Joseph’s sentiment, adding that the existence of Trackside Butcher is an incredible benefit to the farmers and the community as a whole. Owners of McManis Farm, Kevin and Mary credit The Berry Center and Our Home Place Meat for aiding in the transition of their farming business away from tobacco, and they now supply calves for the Rose Beef product line. My conversations with farmers and other attendees occurred over a melange of tasting cups and plates, each one laden with braised, grilled and fried variations of the ever versatile Berry Beef and Rose Beef.
There were five veteran Kentucky Chefs on hand at this inaugural Beef Bash, Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn, Alison Settle of the Holy Grale, Wyatt Sarbacker of Favor, and Nokee Bucayu and Kris Cole of Marigold Catering Company. Each offered entirely unique presentations of both the Berry Beef and the Rose Beef and each spoke enthusiastically about their appreciation for the quality of the beef as well as the importance of sourcing from local farmers whenever possible, a practice that has become more and more of a challenge. The Our Home Place Meat model accounts for this, ensuring that the supply chain of Berry Beef and Rose Beef is stable and consistent, not to mention very fresh. Sam ____ is tasked with selling the product both locally and across an ever expanding region. Berry Beef and Rose Beef are currently featured on restaurant menus throughout Kentucky as well as in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Alabama. This demand speaks not only to the quality of the beef but also to the success the Our Home Place Meat model can offer, be it from the pastoral land of New Castle or beyond.
It all does come back to New Castle, Kentucky, particularly on this idyllic fall night. The sense of place established upon our arrival only continued to reverberate, the full circle nature of Our Home Place meat, Trackside Butcher Shoppe, and the ability to make the meat accessible to Chefs and a community who values the unmatched quality woven into every conversation I had, infused within every bite of food I took.
As a member of the consumer rung of this symbiotic relationship, I have the simplest, perhaps most spoiled role of all in simply supporting these farmers in their efforts to preserve the farmland we so often take for granted. And when it tastes this good, well, it’s hard to find a reason not to. To enjoy this food we must invest in the people who care for the animals that make this food, the animals fertilizing the land which ultimately sustains us, that needs each and every one of us to protect it in the ways that we can. Our Home Place Meat is bringing us to a table that promises to be bountiful, if only we all pull up a seat.