Meats with Benefits
Marksbury Farm products are better for palate, health, conscience and ecosystem
Kentucky, the largest beef-producing state east of the Mississippi, does not want for beef in general, nor should we want for locally raised pork, lamb and chicken. There is a place just 90 minutes from Louisville where you can taste and buy meats from livestock grown on green pastures, a place that processes animals using humane methods, where every piece of beef, pork, lamb and chicken is traceable to the farm from where it came. That place is Marksbury Farm.
If you care where your food comes from and how it was raised, if you really care about locally sourcing the best ingredients, it’s wise to know the source and the history of every piece of meat you eat.
If you are fed up with “organic” claims and skeptical about feedlot processing, you should take your cooler and beat a path repeatedly to Marksbury Farm’s retail shop and restaurant, Pasture, at US 27 near the intersection of highway 34, not so far from Danville.
The simple statement “Buy Local. Eat Well.” sums up the deep-seated belief of the owners of Marksbury Farm. Co-owners and founders Preston and Greg Correll, John Mark Hack and Richard McAlister, who are among the great characters in Kentucky’s local food movement, have a clear and compelling strategy.
It is their vision to connect farmers and consumers by dealing directly with the farmers who grow and raise the animals and produce they sell.
These fellows are changing the culinary landscape for consumers who want to know exactly what they are eating. Marksbury, with a USDA inspector on site every day, is what is known as a mixed species plant (beef, pork, lamb, and poultry). All of their producers, mostly from the Bluegrass and south central portion of the state, agree to raise their animals to Marksbury standards. Marksbury buys the animal and markets it under the Marksbury Farm brand name.
Animals processed at Marksbury are treated with unusual care in a stress-free manner; held in large, clean holding pens overnight to calm down from transport; led the next morning into the slaughter chute. They do not die in a state of pushand- shove fear.
“Marksbury is the only grass-based wholesale meat company in Kentucky where the meat is sourced entirely locally,” says Cliff Swaim, sales and marketing manager and a new partner in the operation.
“All animals that we process are natural, pasture raised and free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones. We live by transparency. We don’t put our label on any product that is not grown according to our standards of animal welfare and sustainability.”
THE ART OF BUTCHERING
One of the truest signs of mastering a craft is the ability to make an exceeding difficult task look effortless and that’s the skill of the butchers at the Marksbury kill floor who endure grueling, messy labor day after day to achieve perfection in cutting.
Likewise, the kitchen staff in the abattoir are adept at seasoning and curing hams, all-natural bacon, beefy bologna and zesty sausage with piquant spices that deliver walloping flavor. Fully cooked chickens and hams are smoked on site. More than 1,500 pounds of beef are ground each week, mostly for restaurants and groceries.
PASTURE, THE RESTAURANT
While the majority of Marksbury Farm’s business is wholesale to groceries and restaurants, earlier this year the owners moved and renovated a charming old red barn right next door to the abattoir, converting it into a year-round restaurant and retail market that incorporates fresh as well as prepared foods.
Like the new “Pasture” sign out front says, all the meat sold inside is pasture fed. An innovative addition to the central Kentucky food scene, Pasture is definitely worth a visit if you have a hankering for some of Chef Wyatt Sarbacker’s delicious barbecue, to eat in or carry out.
Exposed barn beams, vintage posters, old photos and an old-fashioned blackboard menu give the place a nostalgic feel. Smartly centered in the middle of the menu board is “Our Promise”—the operating principle of the Marksbury team: 100 percent of the meat sold and served at Pasture is processed by the Marksbury team at our facility from livestock grown by Kentucky farmers on green pasture according to Marksbury standards of animal welfare and sustainability.
The friendly, knowledgeable staff at Pasture will happily answer questions about the heritage of the meats. Already a favorite of locals, Pasture comes highly recommended for a casual meal, be it lunch or supper. The menu is familiar with burgers, smoked chicken, luscious beefy bologna reubens, but it’s the barbecue that keeps folks coming back.
Toppings of lettuce, onion, tomatoes and pickles, along with creamy and vinegar slaws are available as well as sides of salads and pastas jammed with seasonal produce. Sweets are provided by the Bluebird Café in nearby Stanford.
Refrigerated and frozen food shelves lining a long wall are stocked with artisan charcuterie, cuts of fresh and frozen beef, pork, lamb and chicken, with every package having an ID number that identifies the farm and farmer of origin. Photos and information about each farmer are illustrated along the walls of the restaurant. Pasture is also a place to reap the benefits of seasonal produce sourced from local farmers and gardeners. Shelves are packed with sauces, pickles, pasta, local honey, maple syrup, cheeses, eggs and milk.
GRASS-FED MEAT HAS BENEFITS
It is good to understand the true story behind the food we eat. Forage-fed animals that eat grass and clover are critical to creating a sustainable food system.
Marksbury applies their benign methods to the highest-quality beef, cattle that are at least 2 years old and fattened on the best grass. They encourage producers to sustainably take advantage of Kentucky’s abundant and instantly renewable grass resources through ecosystem restoration.
Rotational grass-feeding is not only good for the consumer, it has great benefits for the soil, causing grass and other plants to slough off and regrow roots. The largely carbon dead root matter replenishes the soil, making it naturally more fertile so no synthetic fertilizer is needed. Biodiversity increases as bugs and microbes dig down to digest the dead matter in the soil. Nor can one overlook the natural cultivation value of trampling by hooves.
Knowing Marksbury’s practices makes one ponder how the rest of the beef we eat is produced.
Food systems responsible for feeding most of us have become increasingly industrialized and globalized with limited thought to addressing climate change, resource depletion or water issues. If you love knowing where your meat is coming from, it is important to support places like Marksbury Farm so that the availability of local, grass-fed meat continues to grow.
As consumers we have enormous power to influence the food system. If we choose to eat meat, even on a limited basis, then we need to know that the animal has been raised in harmony with nature, well treated up to the end of its life and carefully butchered. Good ethically produced meat may be more expensive. While many of us are eating less meat, it’s important to eat better.
Our palate, our health, our conscience, our ecosystem and our farmers depend on it.
Lois Mateus is chair of the advisory board at the University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and also sits on the boards of The Berry Center and the Kentucky State Fair.
No time for a drive?
Marksbury Farm meats are available at Whole Foods in Louisville and Lexington, Rainbow Blossom stores in Louisville, Kroger in Prospect, Green Bean Delivery, and the Good Foods Co-op in Lexington.